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Printer Technologies

There are many types of printing out there, including the kind that MAX International uses to put logos, sense marks and such on their rolls (that’s called “flexographic”). But that’s not what I’m going to tell you about. The printer technologies I’m going to talk about are used in those roll applications, and there are only two principal types: “impact” and “direct thermal.”

Impact Printing:

Impact Printing is exactly what it sounds like. Something solid like a key or a small needle (dot matrix) either hits a piece of fabric or other material that has been saturated with or coated by some form of ink (i.e. a ribbon) or provides enough pressure to activate a special coating (carbonless and self-contained).

Printing With Ribbons:

 Using a ribbon usually means that you can use an inexpensive grade of paper such as form bond or tablet.

These grades tend to be available in colors as well as white.

The paper also can be easily printed both front and back with marketing material, return policies, phone numbers or any other information your customers would find useful.

Multiple plies can be used using a carbonless coating on mated sheets.  In most applications a ribbon is still required to image the first ply of a multiply roll, but the coatings will transmit the image from the impact to subsequent plies.

Advantages of Using Ribbon technology:

  1. Inexpensive single-ply paper consumables
  2. Flexibility of visual impact of receipt (ribbons can be made with color; the pins can be programmed to execute simple line graphics
  3. The shelf-life of the paper is maximized (although paper may change color, imageability is determined by the ribbon ¬ not by chemical coatings)
  4. Technology tends to less expensive up front to purchase
  5. When using carbonless papers, once the plies have been separated, neither ply can image without ink.

Disadvantages of Using Ribbon technology:

  1. More complex maintenance a. Ribbons require changing b. Printheads require regular cleaning
  2. More downtime due to maintenance
  3. Less able to withstand wide-ranging weather conditions
  4. Will not operate without ribbon
  5. Carbonless for multiple plies increases cost substantially
  6. Greater inventory management required – matching ribbons to paper

Ribbonless Impact Printing:
Ribbonless impact printing uses the same technology for equipment, but uses one of the specialty coatings on the paper to create an image instead of a ribbon.

Single ply ribbonless or carbonless is known as self-contained. Here is what it looks like in 1ply.

This is true ribbonless printing. It, too, can be combined with subsequent plies. This is a diagram of self-contained-coated-back.

Advantages of using Ribbonless technology:

  1. No carbon is necessary for multiple plies nor must several copies be printed to obtain duplicate images.
  2. Consumable maintenance is reduced because there are no ribbons to change.
  3. A plain or uncoated sheet (e.g. a deposit slip) may be placed in front of the self-contained paper and imaged by a ribbon.

Disadvantages of using Ribbonless technology:

  1. Coatings on the first ply (true ribbonless) can create maintenance problems with the print heads.
  2. Consumables substantially more expensive than plain paper or even mated carbonless.
  3. Self-contained remains active even out of the printer and other pressures can obscure the image.

It is important to note that both ribboned and ribbonless impact technology is being utilized less and less in the US. However, it is still quite common in other countries, although there is strong movement to direct thermal technology in most of the above listed applications.

Direct Thermal Printing:

Direct thermal is a specialty form of ribbonless technology. It utilizes a heat-sensitive coating that, when brought in contact with a thermal printhead generates a deep black image. Here is what a thermal printhead looks like.

Thermal printers and papers come in a variety of heat sensitivities designed for specific applications.

Advantages of Direct Thermal printing:

  1. There are few moving parts in a thermal printer, thus minimizing things that can go wrong.
  2. There is no variation of the image from the beginning to the end of a roll
  3. In most cases the printhead does not move, again minimizing maintenance.
  4. The maintenance cost and cost of replacement printheads are low
  5. Will perform in almost any climate or atmospheric conditions.
  6. Ideal for on-demand labels

Disadvantages of Direct Thermal printing:

  1. Heat-sensitive paper is more expensive than bond or carbonless papers.
  2.  Can be susceptible to image fading without proper handling and storage.
  3. Does not have the “feel” of “plain” or “bond” papers.  

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