Creating High Marks
Today's thermal transfer printers and materials are keeping up with the ever-escalating demands on package printing.
THERMAL TRANSFER PRINTING has been around for years. It's the old reliable when it comes to coding and marking on packaging—printing clean bar codes, lot numbers, and other variable information time after time. But even proven technology has room for improvement, especially in the changing world of packaging.
Demands on package performance are rapidly escalating with today's consumer security issues and graphic requirements. And as the capabilities of package printing technology and equipment are enhanced to keep up with changing expectations, so too are thermal transfer printers and materials.
"Using thermal transfer printing has always required a matching of the substrate and ribbon. Now, the ribbon companies are providing ribbons specifically designed for certain applications," said Mindy Nyberg, marketing manager at Dynic USA Corp. "Package printing uses a wide variety of film and synthetic substrates, and there are now ribbons designed for use on those substrates, engineered to run at speeds that won't slow down your line.
"The focus has changed from just providing a product to selling one that includes value-added features so that it meets all your application-specific needs, and providing the service to back it up," Nyberg added.
One such value-added feature is IIMAK's Clean Start, a printhead cleaner that is built in between the leader and the ribbon. "Even though printer OEMs recommend cleaning the printhead after every ribbon, we estimate only about 15 to 20 percent actually do," said Amy Schmitt, company marketing communications manager. "Clean Start encourages printhead cleaning by making it more convenient."
Thermal transfer product manufacturers are also keeping a close eye on RFID. Even though printers and converters are still learning about ways to implement the technology, it's become apparent that coding and marking technologies have to be considered when it comes to printing on smart labels. This is because in the manufacturing of thermal transfer ribbons, an electrical charge builds up due to the production process, explained Candice Kamody, marketing coordinator at Sony Chemicals Corp. of America. Since the electrical components of RFID tags and labels can be damaged by static discharges, printers need to consider the affect thermal transfer ribbons can have on the readability failure rate of smart labels. "The thermal transfer ribbon should be designed to have a low static ink formulation, which will dissipate the electrical charges," Kamody said.