Diversified Labeling Solutions

thermal transfer ribbons

UNDERSTANDING Thermal Transfer RibbonS



So your customer has decided to use thermal transfer print for their labels. What’s next? Choosing the right ribbon for the desired results. In general, there are three types of thermal transfer ribbons to choose from: full wax, wax-resin blend, and full resin. Here is our guide to the different types of ribbon and how to help your customer choose which one is correct for their use.

Back to Basics: What is a Thermal Transfer Ribbon?

In thermal transfer printing, a ribbon is used to create the image on the label. In essence, when heat is applied to the ribbon from the printhead, the design gets transferred to the label. The ribbon also doubles as a protector to the printhead by preventing direct contact with the thermal transfer media. For this reason, the ribbon should be wider than the label to provide full coverage.

Full Wax Ribbons

Full wax ribbons are the most common type of thermal transfer ribbon due to being more economical than resin. However, depending on the environment, wax ribbons may not last as long as their resin counterparts. Wax ribbons are coated with wax based ink that melts from the heat of the printer’s printhead. These ribbons typically need a lower melting temperature than resin.


Full wax ribbons are recommended for coated and uncoated papers, flood coated papers, tags and synthetic papers.

Wax Ribbon Applications Include:

  • Shipping Labels
  • Shelf and Bin Labels
  • Retail Labels
  • Warehouse Labels

thermal transfer pallet label

Wax-Resin Ribbons

Wax-resin ribbons are a step above wax regarding durability and longevity. These ribbons are mid-range on the affordability scale and result in a more durable printed area than the full wax. These ribbons provide more resistance to chemicals and temperature changes and are multifunctional for standard and weatherproof thermal transfer labels.


Wax-resin ribbons are compatible with coated and uncoated papers, tags, synthetic papers, BOPP, PET, and PVC films.

Prescription labels

Common Wax-Resin Applications:

  • Barcode Labels
  • Shipping Labels
  • Pharmaceutical and Prescription Labels
  • Shelf and Bin Labels

Full Resin Ribbons

The final type of ribbon available for your thermal transfer label printing is full resin. Resin is the most expensive of the ribbon options but also the most durable. Materials printed with these ribbons can withstand abrasion, moisture, extreme temperatures and sun exposure and can be resistant to some chemicals or oils.


Typically, resin is recommended for use with plastic or synthetic paper labels.

Uses for Full Resin Ribbons:

  • Medical Labels
  • Chemical Labels
  • Heavy Duty Labeling

Shipping labels

Factors to Consider Before Choosing Ribbons


Precipitation/ Weather

One of the first questions you and your customer should be asking is where the label will be placed. Outdoor labels exposed to rain, snow, or even sun may require ribbons that can provide more durability and higher levels of water resistance.



In addition to elemental exposure, the temperature that the label will be located in is also a key detail. Since both resin and wax have different melting points, the print of each will hold up to separate temperatures. Therefore temperature is an important consideration for long-lasting quality labels.


Handling and Movement

If your customers plan to use their labels on products that are frequently being handled, ribbon durability could be essential. Some thermal print is more prone to scuffing or fading over time.

Money symbol


Budget could ultimately be a deciding factor in ribbon choice. Keep in mind that the higher the print quality and durability provided by ribbons, the more expensive they will likely be.



Chemicals and Substances

In regards to the possible longevity of a label, contaminants, chemicals, and other substances could also play a part. Knowing what substances your customers' labels are exposed to is essential when choosing the best ribbon for the job.


Colorful thermal transfer ribbons

Ribbon Colors

While black is the most popular ribbon color, there are typically several other colors available in the wax, wax-resin, and resin variations. These ribbons can print on white or colored labels to help accomplish the desired effect for your customers.

Your Ultimate Source for Thermal Transfer Ribbons and Labels

At DLS, we pride ourselves on delivering not only the best labels for the job but also being subject matter experts for our distributors. If you are looking for more information on ribbons or thermal transfer labels, please reach out to one of our team members to get your customers the products they need.