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Understanding Thermal Printhead Life

When we use the printer to improve our work efficiency, the print head is a necessity and consumable at the same time. The printhead is a very delicate and important part of any thermal printer. Care must be taken with any part of the printer, but it is especially important for this component. The purpose of this document is to show you how to get the most out of this key component.

Some items on thermal printers are consumables. We traditionally think of consumables as labels or ribbons, but some wear items also need to be considered consumables. Some of these items will be the print head and platen.

The printhead is the item that is in constant contact with the moving product; this is of course the label, ribbon, and platen roller (the roller directly below the printhead). The quality of labels and ribbons and proper care and maintenance will directly affect the life of the printhead.

It’s a lot like the tires on your car, if you don’t rotate, balance, and align them regularly, you’ll end up replacing them sooner than the manufacturer recommends for maintenance.

Methods to Protect the Thermal Print Heads

1. Cleaning of the print head

It is recommended that you clean the printhead and platen rollers after every ribbon change for thermal transfer operations or after every media change for thermal operations. Make sure to use only SATO packaging cleaner or a non-abrasive, lint-free cloth and isopropyl alcohol (90%+) for cleaning. Doing this regularly is the easiest way to get the most out of your printheads.

Monitor how dirty the cloth you just cleaned the printhead is and adjust the length between cleanings. Certain materials and environments may cause residues to build up and may require more cleaning, or in combination with SATO printhead cleaning sheets.

Make sure not to touch the printhead with bare hands. Oil or other contaminants on your hands can negatively affect printhead life.

You can use a brush and/or compressed air to clean any dust fibers in the media path or inside the printer. Use only one approved can of compressed air. You would never use compressed air from an air assist hose or compressor as there is often water vapor or other distillates that can cause problems with the life and operation of these components. If compressed air is used, care should be taken not to spray it directly onto the printhead as thermal properties may damage the protective coating on the printhead elements. When both printheads saw the same number of labels, one was cleaned regularly and one was not. Both have been cleaned and it turns out that one printhead is broken, the other is still working fine.

2. Select the appropriate media

As mentioned earlier, printheads are wearing parts that will eventually fail. The big question is: when will it fail?

Failure to clean the printhead can cause unwanted residue to build up on the printhead. While the printer may still be printing, you will have to keep increasing the heat of the printhead to get the same darkness, and the quality will start to degrade. As heat increases and residue builds up, so does the heat at the print head. This residual heat can eventually cause the protective layer to crack, which can damage the printhead.

The amount and rate of buildup of residue depend on the label, ribbon, and environment, as your maintenance, and cleaning frequency.

There is constant friction between the printhead and the ribbon and/or label. This friction eventually wears down the protective layer of the printhead. Once this protective layer is gone, the printed elements are exposed and damaged.

A few terms:

Direct Thermal: Use thermal label paper. The labels change color when the right amount of heat is delivered in a specific area.

Thermal transfer: Use ribbon and labels. The ribbon is then melted to the top layer of the label.

Adhesive Slime: The label has adhesive on the back that sticks to the product you want to label. If there is too much adhesive or the roll is wound too tightly, the adhesive can seep to the surface around the edge of the label.

Perforation: A slotted cutout, usually at the top of a form, to allow the label to be easily peeled from the printer after it has been printed. This is usually done when the printer is far away from applying the label primarily to the product.

When using either printing method, it is important to choose a quality product.

When working with thermal labels, it is especially important to pay attention to the quality of the label as this will be in constant contact with the print head. If the panel is of poor quality, if there is too much adhesive bleed, or if the perforations are cut towards the surface of the stock, you will have premature printhead failure.

When using thermal transfer, it is important to ensure that the ribbon and label are of good quality and are properly matched. The back of the ribbon is always in contact with the printhead, and if it is of poor quality or exposed to environmental factors outside its specification, it can leave unwanted deposits on the printhead.

It is always recommended that the ribbon be slightly larger than the label stock so that the labels are not exposed on the printhead. If the ribbon is of good quality, it will protect the printhead from abrasion from the label material.

Ribbons can also build up ESD (electrostatic discharge), which can damage printhead components. Be sure to use all genuine parts to operate the printer and keep the lid closed while the printer is running.

3. Printer maintenance

While cleaning your printer and printhead will greatly extend the life of the printhead, so will proper maintenance and setup.

Use only genuine Sato parts to guarantee warranty and proper printer function.

Printhead replacement:

When a printhead does fail, have it replaced by a trained technician, as incorrect printhead alignment and balance can affect not only print quality but also its longevity. Like a tire on your car, if it’s not aligned, it will leave a grove in one area of ​​the tire while the rest is left intact. The same rules apply to our printheads. The problem with both cases is that your part is unusable due to uneven wear.

Misaligned printheads will require more heat to transfer the image to the paper. The more heat is applied to the printhead, the greater the chance of premature failure. If adjustments have been made from factory settings during the installation of the previous printhead, it is recommended to realign it with the new printhead.

Use only enough heat to transfer a high-quality image to the label. Overheating is not required, too much heat will affect the life of the printhead.

Always consider ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) when maintaining your printer. ESD can cause component failure, including of course the printhead. Be sure to properly ground each time you replace parts.

Roller replacement:

Over time, the platen rollers wear out due to the thickness of the media and the pressure exerted by the printhead assembly. When there is wear on the platen roller, other adjustments are made most of the time to compensate for the circumference of the platen roller and the pedaling effect of the operation, which increases friction/wear and tear on the printhead. Platen rollers are warranted for 30 km but should be checked regularly to ensure proper diameter on the shaft. If you can see a noticeable misalignment on the platen, you need to replace it and make appropriate adjustments to the alignment and printhead pressure so that it is equal across the entire print area, not just the width of the media.

4. Environment

The environment can adversely affect printers and labels.

Using the printer outside of printer specifications may adversely affect the life of the printhead. You may want to consider installing an enclosure for the printer if there is potential for exposure to water, heat, or cold.

You may damage labels and ribbons if they are stored outside of their storage specifications. This can lead to unwanted changes in the properties of labels and ribbons, which in turn can cause unwanted printhead reactions and/or leave unwanted residues that would not normally contaminate the printer if properly stored.

Hope the above methods can help you. Click here to enter our homepage, you can learn more about us.

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