Understanding Flathead and Near-Edge Thermal Transfer Printing Technologies
Friday, January 22, 2021
Thermal transfer utilizes a digital printing process which makes it ideal for printing one-off, unique barcodes on tags, labels, and packaging. It’s also ideal for printing alpha-numeric information such as lot codes, expiration dates, and serial numbers.
How Thermal Transfer Works
Simplistically, a thermal transfer is a digital technology that melts ink from a ribbon onto a substrate to create an image. This is accomplished by the printhead, which features heating elements with a resolution from 203 to 600dpi (dots per inch).
Flathead and Near-Edge are two types of printhead technologies utilized in thermal transfer printing today. While both technologies offer increased efficiencies to manufacturers, there are a few differences between the two.
Flathead Thermal Transfer Printers
Flathead thermal transfer printing is an accepted technology for digitally printing barcodes, as well as other variable information onto tags and label stocks. Common flathead printer brands include Zebra, Sato, Honeywell, TSC, and Datamax.
In flathead printing, the printhead is horizontal, and the heating elements are located in the center of the printhead. As the ribbon passes over the heating elements, ink is transferred to the substrate. From there, the “spent” ribbon and substrate travel horizontally towards the front of the printer giving time for the molten ink to re-freeze. The ribbon is then separated from the substrate and directed to the take-up spindle.
Graphic: Flathead Printer
| Key Points:|
Near-Edge Thermal Transfer Printers
Near edge printhead technology meets the need for increased throughput and efficiencies with faster printing speeds. Other industry terms that indicate a near edge printhead are “corner edge” or “floating head”. Common near-edge printers include brands such as Toshiba TEC and Novexx for tag and label printing, and Markem and Videojet for printing directly onto flexible packaging (TTO Thermal Transfer Overprint).
To achieve higher print speeds, the near edge printhead is angled, with the heating elements located at the edge of the printhead. With the substrate only coming in contact with the ribbon as it passes under the printhead’s heating elements, the transfer of ink must be instant. The distance between where an image is printed and where the ribbon and receiver separate from each other is significantly shorter when compared to flathead printers. Therefore, near edge ribbons must contain a release layer that allows the ink to quickly release from the ribbon after melting, without the need to resolidify. This unique ribbon chemistry limits ribbon type to wax/resin and resin black and color thermal transfer ribbon formulations.
Graphic: Near-Edge Printer
| Key Points:|
|Printer Platforms||Tabletop, Desktop, Mobile||Tabletop, TTO|
|Ribbon Types||Wax, Wax/Resin, Resin||Wax/Resin, Resin|
|Substrates||Common tags and labels||Same as FH + thicker materials |
Flexible Packaging (TTO)
|Print Speeds||Up to 14ips||Tabletop: up to 14ips |
TTO: up to 40ips
Common Printer Platforms
Tabletop Thermal Printers are Both Flathead and Near-Edge
Desktop and Mobile Thermal Printers are commonly Flathead Technology
Thermal Transfer Overprinters (TTO) for Flexible Packaging are commonly Near-Edge Technology
Please contact IIMAK Tech Support at 1-888-372-0137 for additional information.