Understanding Thermal Ribbons

The security of your products can be increased by using different measures such as security labels. One type of security label is the thermal ribbon. Available in several types, the thermal wax ribbon is used in a thermal printer and can handle the printing of very fine images.

Thermal ribbons are usually black in colour, but can also be blue or red, and are best used in situations where long-term labelling is required.

Choosing the right kind of thermal ribbon is crucial, as this will ensure that your labels are printed with the level of durability required for your application. The wrong label can result in the entire job being unable to be used. For the printer, the wrong type can force print operators to reduce printer speed, increasing the overall time for completion of the printing job.

Thermal Wax Ribbon

The thermal wax ribbon allows printing to be done at lower temperatures due to its lower melting point. It has a high percentage of wax-based substances in its colorant portion. Because thermal wax ribbons are softer, they are best used in situations where very little abrasion or physical contact will occur, or where printing isn’t needed for a long period of time.

This type of ribbon is coated with wax-based ink. During printing, the heat from the printer head will melt the ink and transfer it to the label’s surface.

Most often, the thermal wax ribbon is used to label shelves and bins, appears on garment tags and price tickets, and in various warehouse applications as well as compliance labelling.

Resin Ribbons

Resin ribbons are used for situations where printing on plastic labels is required. The ink of a resin ribbon will either dissolve into or adhere to a plastic surface of a blank thermal label. This allows it to become very durable.

A plastic resin ribbon can withstand both sunlight and exposure to all kinds of weather. It can also withstand full immersion in water. Sometimes of resin ribbons are chemical-resistant and oil-resistant. These labels are most often employed in the manufacture of aircraft and automotive parts, being visible on items stored outside as well as on vessels containing hazardous chemicals that need to remain identifiable in changing conditions.

Other typical applications using resin ribbons include circuit board labels and agency-recognised labels.


This type of ribbon is a combination of wax and resin, with a higher percentage of resin. Consisting of two or more layers, the wax/resin ribbon has a high melting point. They also offer more resistance to abrasions, scratches and smudges.

The printing process for wax/resin labels is very similar to the thermal wax ribbon, where wax and resin-based ink is melted to transfer to the surface. This type of printing results in a clear and sharp image with higher durability than its wax counterpart.

This type of ribbon, like its thermal wax counterpart, can be used for shelves, bins, garments, warehouses and price tickets. They are also seen on horticulture tags and healthcare labels.

Before You Order

Before ordering any type of thermal ribbon, it can be a good idea to first request a sample of each from the printer. This is because the print quality between ribbon types can vary widely, and if you’re having your labels professionally printed, you will want to ensure that you only pay for a single job.

On the other hand, it is possible to improve the print quality if you do choose the wrong labels for your application. For example, the printer will be able to change the settings for speed and temperature. While this may not always be the solution, it can’t hurt to ask your printer if they can do this in the event that the wrong ribbon is chosen.