The most critical – and most delicate – component of a thermal printer is the printhead. It is not intended to last indefinitely—in fact, much like thermal labels and ribbons, a printhead is consumable. However, like with any product that needs care and maintenance, it may and should provide consistent quality and performance over time if you and your team utilize it correctly and maintain it with attention and foresight.
What factors play a role in printhead wear and tear, as well as early printhead failure? There are seven major things to consider:
- Corrosion. The protective layer of your printhead may be harmed if the chemicals that come into contact with it are corrosive. To avoid this, avoid directly contacting the printhead surface; printing on substrates or media not suggested by the printhead or label manufacturer; and cleaning with non-specified cleaning chemicals.
- Contamination. Contamination may occur when thermal labels or other media come into touch with abrasive objects and then travel through the printer. As a consequence, this may scrape or cut through the protective covering of the printhead, resulting in early failure. Again, it’s prudent to check with your printhead and/or thermal label provider in advance to ascertain the appropriate materials for usage with your printhead.
- Abrasion. The most common cause of abrasion is friction. Paper dust, in particular, may accumulate on the platen at the outside edges of the medium or ribbon, abrading the printhead glaze. To reduce it, clear the printhead’s paper dust accumulation on a regular basis according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Additionally, you should keep sharp items away from printheads (e.g., razor blades, screwdrivers, and knives) to prevent damaging the sensitive surface.
- Residue accumulation. On the printhead, a buildup of thermal ribbon or media coating may result in overheating and ultimate failure. While the amount of residue produced varies depending on the label medium, ribbons, and external circumstances (for more information on environmental variables, see below), it is critical to implement appropriate and routine cleaning and maintenance.
- Pressure on the printhead. In addition to abrasion, high pressure causes the printhead assembly to become more brittle. This results in wear and strain and, eventually, premature failure. Utilize a mix of darkness and pressure to prevent this.
- Discharge of static electricity. Electrostatic discharge, which is defined as a rapid, unexpected electrical flow between two electrically charged objects, may cause severe damage to the internal circuitry of a printer. Electrostatic discharge is often caused by static buildup and non-specified or poor maintenance. To avoid this, take care to secure any static brushes and/or printhead mechanism wiring correctly.
- Environmental determinants. The environment in which your printer (and, by extension, your printhead) works has an effect on the printhead’s lifespan. Additionally, the storage space for label material and ribbons may result in printhead damage. In both instances, it is prudent to keep thermal label printers and printheads away from water, high temperatures, and external pollutants. A reputable and well-established label converter can advise you on extra operating and storage methods for your facilities.
To prevent these and other thermal printhead problems and to extend the life of your thermal printhead, we suggest the following five simple tips:
- Adhere to the consistent and appropriate cleaning and maintenance procedures recommended by the manufacturer of your thermal printhead. Numerous manufacturers suggest cleaning the printhead and platen roller of a direct thermal printer after each ribbon or media replacement.
- Utilize the highest-quality thermal media – specifically, direct thermal labels and thermal transfer labels and ribbons – from the top manufacturers in the commercial label printing business.
- Again, avoid contacting the printhead directly. If absolutely required, use only manufacturer-recommended materials and follow up with an authorized solution to clean the printhead surface.
- Adjust the printhead pressure appropriately and use the print speed necessary to complete the task.
- When not in use, cover your printer.