How to Keep Your Thermal Printer Printhead Healthy

Release Time: 04/21/2011 09:38 Font Size: Large Middle Small

A thermal printer printhead is the most important and the most delicate component of a thermal printer. It isn’t designed to last indefinitely-technically, a printhead is a consumable just like thermal labels and ribbons. But like any product that requires care and maintenance, it can and should deliver consistent quality and performance over time, provided that you and your team use it properly and maintain it with diligence and forethought.

What contributes to printhead wear and tear, and early printhead failure? There are seven primary factors:

1. Corrosion. Your printhead’s protective coating can become damaged if substances which contact it are themselves corrosive. To prevent this, avoid physically touching the printhead surface itself; printing on substrates or media that are not recommended by the printhead or label manufacturer; or using cleaning agents that aren't specified by the printhead manufacturer.

2. Contamination. When thermal labels or other media come in contact with abrasive materials and then pass through the printhead, they can cause contamination. As a result, this can scrape or cut through the printhead’s protective coating and lead to premature failure. Again, it’s wise to consult with the printhead and/or thermal label supplier up front to determine the proper materials for use with your printhead.

3. Abrasion. Abrasion is most often caused by friction. In particular, paper dust can collect on the platen toward the outer edges of the media or ribbon and, in turn, abrade the printhead glaze. To minimize it, you can regularly clean paper dust buildup on the printhead as per manufacturer instructions. You should also keep sharp objects (e.g., razor blades, screwdrivers, knives) away from printheads to avoid scratching the delicate surface.

4. Residue buildup. Buildup of thermal ribbon or media coating on the printhead can cause overheating and eventual failure. While the volume of residue can vary based on label media, ribbons and external conditions (see below for more on environmental factors), it’s important to make sure you institute proper and regular cleaning and maintenance.

5. Printhead pressure. Related to abrasion, excessive pressure increases friction on the printhead assembly. This, in turn, can cause wear and tear and ultimately, premature failure. To avoid this, utilize a balance of darkness and pressure.

6. Electrostatic discharge. Characterized by a sudden, unexpected electrical flow between two electrically charged objects, electrostatic discharge can cause significant damage to a printhead’s internal circuitry. Factors that often lead to electrostatic discharge include static buildup and non-specified or improper maintenance. To minimize this, work toensure that any static brushes and/or printhead mechanism wiring are properly secured.

7. Environmental factors. The environment in which your printer (and by extension, your printhead) operates plays a role in how long that printhead can last over time. Additionally, the area in which label media and ribbons are stored can cause printhead damage. In both cases, it’s wise to minimize exposure of thermal label printers and printheads to water, excessive temperatures and external contaminants. An established and leading label converter can consult with you on additional operational and storage strategies for your facility.

To avoid these and other thermal printhead issues, and prolong the life of your thermal printhead, we recommend five basic tips:

1. Follow consistent and proper cleaning and maintenance protocols as specified by your thermal printhead manufacturer. Many manufacturers recommend cleaning a direct thermal printhead and platen roller after every ribbon or media change.

2. Use the highest-quality thermal media-notably, direct thermal labels and thermal transfer labels and ribbons-from the commercial label printing industry’s leading manufacturers.

3. Again, avoid directly touching the printhead surface. If doing so is absolutely necessary, only use manufacturer-recommended materials and clean the printhead surface afterward with an approved solution.

4. Set the printhead pressure correctly and utilize the print speed you need to get the job done right.

5. Cover your printer when not in use.

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