Guide to Ribbons

Determine the Best Ribbons for Your Requirements.

Guide to Ribbons

We have put this guide together for customers who need to know about ribbons for label printers. If you are looking for a quote or to purchase thermal ribbons then please click here.

This guide is suitable for users for the following manufacturers: Zebra, Sato, Intermec, Honeywell, Datamax, Citizen, Cab, Toshiba / Tec, TSC, Datamax, Microplex.

Determine the Best Ribbons for Your Requirements

What you use the labels for will determine the strength and durability you need from your thermal transfer ribbon. Finding the right printing ribbon is an important step to ensure that your labels are scannable, readable and reliable.

There are three types of printer ribbon: Wax, Wax-Resin and Resin.


Wax thermal transfer ribbon is coated with a wax-based ink. Being the most economical choice of thermal ribbons, they are ideal for basic, general uses such as shipping and retail labels. This material requires a lower melting temperature resulting in a lighter print. It’s less durable but also less expensive.

  • Most common type material
  • Recommended for coated and uncoated paper stock
  • Softer image durability
  • Inexpensive
  • Good for shipping, retail, and warehouse labels
  • Ideal for short-term use


Full resin ribbon is coated with a resin-based ink and made of pure resin. They dissolve into the printed on material and melt at a much higher temperature, which results in extreme durability. Determining if your project or requirement necessitates their durability is vital, as full resin ribbons can have overkill and in certain cases the more economical materials are more suitable for what you require.

  • Most expensive
  • Non-paper use, use on synthetic stocks
  • Most durable
  • Used for medical, chemicals, textiles, automotive and flexible packaging
  • Ideal for long-term/permanent use
  • Best to endure extreme environments and exposure


Coated with a combination of wax and resin, Wax-resin thermal transfer ribbons are more durable than the full wax. They create sharp and clear images on a wide range of media types, whilst also providing excellent resistance to scratching, moisture and abrasion. They are the perfect choice for printing labels that will be exposed to extreme conditions such as industrial refrigerators and freezers, as well as for applications that involve heavy or frequent handling.

  • Ideal for both standard and weatherproof labels
  • Resistant to occasional heavy handling, moisture, and temperature changes
  • Intermediate cost bracket
  • Good for barcode, shipping, pharmaceutical and shelf labels
  • Ideal for medium-term/standard use

Size and wind direction matter.

Most printers can only take one style of wind direction.

There are two categories: coated side out (CSO) and coated side in (CSI).

Considering some sizing criteria will also save you time, hassle and money.

Winding Direction

Coated side out ribbons have the ink coating facing outwards. The ink is on the outside of the ribbon roll and that it unrolls from the bottom before making contact with the printhead and label.

Coated side in ribbons have the ink facing inwards. The ink is on the inside of the ribbon roll and that it unrolls from the top before making contact with the print-head and label.

Ribbon Size

Label width. Being conscious of ribbon waste and picking the ribbon width closest to that of your most commonly used label, will save you money through unused ink wastage.

Ribbon length. Typically, ribbons with a shorter length are intended for desktop printers with the longer lengths intended for industrial use.

Core size. Small printers tend not to have much space to accommodate large ribbon cores. A 1 inch core is usually standard, smaller printers use a 0.5 inch core.

Are your label sizes fit for purpose? We also specialise in providing labels. So why not see if we can make you more efficient or save you money.