Factors the Affect Printer Performance


The physical condition of your printer and the environment in which it operates are key indicators of the reliability of its performance during periods of high print demand. Other indicators, known as wear factors, will also affect the reliability of your thermal transfer printer over time or during heavy printer use.

More common wear factors include:

Exterior Elements:

Enclosures that aren’t secured as they were intended or that are left open during the printer’s operation affect printer performance. Debris such as dust, lint, grease and oil get inside your printer and erode performance. The result can be dirt marks on your labels, marks in the rollers and broken print head pins. Interface cables that are loose and not connected properly can break away, causing damage to the connector pins and will interrupt printer communications. LCD panels that don’t work can lead to damage or print failure when operators miss warning indicators.

Interior Elements:

Debris, grease, oil or other harmful elements in your machine can cause label or ribbon sensors to misread. When this happens, labels won’t print or feed at the correct location. When worn parts aren’t serviced in a timely manner they can produce light print, ribbon wrinkle and printer failure. Using the wrong tools to clean up label jams or adhesive residue can cause damage to the machine and black spots on labels.

Overall Print Quality:

Printer settings including, print head, label/ribbon combinations and volume ratings or a printer all contribute to the quality of printed output. Scheduled preventative maintenance is important for reliable performance. It is important to use the right repair tools to maintain your printer’s ability to produce quality output and avoid accidental damage.

Age of the Printer:

The age of a printer can be the leading indicator for performance reliability. The older the printer, the greater the chance for worn parts and roller separation, it can also lead to sensors and print heads that are out of line. When the manufacturer’s warranty expires, repair costs go up and replacement parts can be expensive and even obsolete.


Different printers are rated for different print production volumes. Running a printer at a higher rev or longer than its rated time can cause motors to burn out, printheads to fail and print quality to fade rapidly.


It is important to perform proper and frequent cleaning to avoid permanent damage from media fibers and ribbon residue that is part of the printing process. Some media have highly abrasive surface materials and require higher pressure and heat to print. This causes added pressure and stress on the print head. This type of wear over time can impact your printer’s output quality.

Print head

A thermal transfer print head is the most critical, and expensive, part of your thermal transfer printer and also the most delicate. It is considered a consumable, meaning it isn’t a lasting part of the printer, but one that will need to be replaced after a certain amount of time. The amount of wear that a print head can handle is relative to the environment, type of media, settings, usage and maintenance.

The improper use or care of a print head lead to many print quality problems. However, most problems can be avoided or easily corrected with proper installation and ongoing maintenance to maximize the life of the print head. Some factors to be aware of to protect the print head include:

  • Common reasons why print heads fail is because of insufficient cleaning or using the wrong cleaning solutions. A cleaning should be scheduled at regular intervals (inches printed, ribbon changes or by days/weeks) depending on machine use.

  • High heat, pressure and poor quality ribbons can cause pins to wear down or break, resulting in barcodes that don’t scan and low quality human-readable text. Your printed output on labels will lose that crisp, dark contrast, high-read rate.

  • Do not use sharp tools or allow debris build up, since this can permanently damage the print head and rollers. Also, care must be taken when removing a print head to avoid damage to the print head’s image line.

  • Always use thermal transfer ribbons that are slightly wider than the width of the print head to protect all print head elements from abrasion.

  • Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) can cause print head dots to fail. In more severe cases, it can cause the entire print head to fail. Use anti-static measures when handling the print head for cleaning or jam removal to prevent this damage.

The investment you make in caring for your printers will pay off over the life of a printer by reducing the total cost of ownership. You could save problems and costs with regular maintenance and timely repairs whether you choose to maintain your thermal transfer printers using your own staff or contracting with a professional service technician.

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