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Terms Explained

The thermal transfer industry is vast with many different sectors. This can sometimes make it hard to understand or explain – especially with so many different terms! Below, we have compiled a list of some of the most used terms and phrases with an explanation for each. You can also learn more about thermal transfer, the industry and where and how it can be used by joining our TTS Academy here.

Term Description
Grade When we refer to a ribbon ‘grade’ we are referring to what type of ink formulation it is. There are 3 different ink types – wax, wax resin and resin. These are combined to create different formulations or ‘grades’.
Jumbo A master roll of coated thermal transfer ribbon – typical size is 910mm wide by 18,000m (18 kilometres).
Slitting Process The process of turning a jumbo into finished ribbons.
Winding The winding of a ribbon confirms whether the ink is coated on the outside or the inside of the roll. Therefore, there are two types of winding – inside wound and outside wound. Different printers take different windings.
Inside Wound (IW) When the ink on the ribbon is wound on the inside as required by the printer.
Outside Wound (OW) When the ink on the ribbon is wound on the outside as required by the printer.
Technology Type This refers to the type of technology of a printhead. There are 2 different printhead technology types available – flat head and near edge. Both technologies print in a different way and mostly require different types of ink formulations.
Flat Head Flat head technology printheads have the pixels or dots located in the middle of the printhead and tend to lay down flat. Flat head technology was used when thermal transfer printing was first developed.
Near Edge Near edge technology has the printhead positioned on its edge or corner. The pixels or dots are positioned at the front of the printhead. Near edge technology was developed after flat head technology to help achieve higher printing speeds. It requires ribbons with ink that transfers very quickly. Most near edge ribbons are a very thin coat weight of wax resin and resin inks.
Backcoat A special coating that is applied to the non–ink side of the polyester film. This layer prevents damage to the polyester film when in contact with the printhead’s heated elements. Without this coating the ribbon would just stick to the heated elements within the printhead and snap or melt.
Cuts / Multiples This is the amount of ribbons that we can produce from a single cut / single production run of the jumbo width.
Scratch Resistance Scratch resistance is the degree to which a printed image resists scratching on the label or substrate surface.
Rub Resistance Rub resistance is the degree to which a printed image resists rubbing on the label or substrate surface.
Heat Resistance Heat resistance is the degree to which a printed image remains legible after exposure to heat.
Solvent Resistance Solvent resistance is the degree to which a printed image remains legible after exposure to Solvents.
Barcode Symbol A sequence of rectangular shapes and intervening spaces used to encode a string of data. A bar code symbol typically consists of five parts: 1-a leading quiet zone, 2-a start character, 3-data character(s) including an optional check character, 4-a stop character and 5-a trailing quiet zone. Bar codes can be created in multiple barcode languages.
Burn Temperature The varying temperature required to transfer the ribbon ink from the carrier film to the substrate. Various ribbon grades require different burn or heat settings to transfer the ink. This will also vary by the substrate type being printed.
Heat Setting This is the heat setting that can be adjusted on a thermal transfer printer to help ensure a good transfer of ink from the thermal transfer ribbon to the substrate being printed.
Speed Setting This is the setting on the printer that can be adjusted to increase printing speeds. Normally the higher the speed the more heat is required to transfer the ink from the thermal transfer ribbon to the substrate being printed.
Core The cardboard or plastic tube that are used to wind thermal transfer ribbons onto.
Direct Thermal A specially coated label material that contains microscopic capsules of ink. The ink capsules burst when exposed to heat. New legislation regarding BPA will start to limit applications for direct thermal.
Inches per Second (IPS) Stands for inches per second. This stands for the print speeds at which thermal transfer printers image.
Pixels These are the dots within a thermal printhead. For example, a 203dpi printhead will contain 203 dots per inch in a line across the printhead.
Ink Melting Point The temperature required to melt the ink from the thermal transfer ribbons onto a substrate.
Ladder Barcode A bar code printed in a vertical position so that the printed barcode looks like a ladder.
Leader Tape This is the first panel that is found on a thermal transfer ribbon as you open it. This panel is normally thicker that the ink coated ribbon and is there to help protect the ribbon and also to help load the ribbon into the printer.
Notches Some printers require notches to be cut into the core so that the ribbon will fit correctly onto the ribbon spindle within the printer – not required for many printers.
Picket Fence Barcode A barcode printed in a horizontal position so that the printed bar code resembles a picket fence.
Printhead Electronic thermal transfer printing element using that contains a row of pixels / dots that can be individually energized to transfer the ink from the ribbon to a substrate.
Ribbon Sensor This is the mechanism on a thermal transfer printer that uses an electronic eye to see if a ribbon is correctly loaded within a thermal transfer printer.
Label Sensor This is the mechanism on the thermal transfer printer that uses an electronic eye to read the print field area on the label material. Some sensors utilize a gap between labels in order to identify light. Other sensors require a black mark or a hole punch on the back of the liner.
Take Up Core Some ribbons are packaged with an extra core so that they can be loaded onto a ribbon rewind spindle so that after printing, the ribbon is collected on this take up core. Of course used cores from an unwound thermal transfer ribbon can also be used.
Trailer Tape / Panel An un ink coated portion of material found at the end of a thermal transfer ribbon. The trailer sends a signal to the printer that the ribbon is out. Some printers use a silver trailer that uses reflectivity as a sensor. Others use a clear tape, or no tape to the core.