Frequently Asked Questions

Thermal Printing and Ribbons

What is thermal printing?

Thermal Transfer Printing

For most applications, thermal transfer printing provides the superior solution because the image produced is of the highest quality and the most durable. In many cases it provides the only solution. Thermal transfer printing creates an image by fusing pigments to a label surface at high temperatures. Heating elements inside the print head selectively turn on and off in a pattern thereby forming the printed image (alpha-numeric, bar codes, and graphics). Thermal transfer printing uses ribbons coated with various formulations of pigments. These pigments are designed to work specifically with matched label stocks.

Direct Thermal Printing

Direct thermal printing is acceptable for some applications, which do not require a long label life or are not exposed to environmental extremes. Because no ribbon is used, direct thermal printing eliminates ribbon considerations. However, you must choose labels that are specifically designed for direct thermal printing. Direct thermal printing creates an image by causing a chemical reaction on a specially coated paper that, when heated, turns black thus creating the image.

It should be noted that direct thermal printing generally requires slower printing speeds. Print head life is reduced as a result of abrasion caused by direct contact between the print head and the label material. Print head life is also shortened as a result of higher printing temperatures required by direct thermal printing. These elevated temperatures amplify thermal shock to the print head.

What can I do if my printed text is too light or too dark?

If the printed image is light
There are many possible reasons why the image is not printing dark enough. Here are a few things to check either in your software or your printers settings:
  • Energy Setting
    Increase the energy setting gradually until you get the desired darkness.
  • Speed Setting
    Check to make sure the print speed is set per the ribbon specifications. Lower the print speed to match the ribbon specifications.
  • Label Material
    Your printed image is still too light, check the labels compatibility with the ribbon. The label must be designed for use in thermal transfer printers. If it is not a thermal transfer label material, it will not print properly. Topcoats or varnishes can change the surface of labels, which can require a different ribbon formula for thermal transfer printing.
If the printed image is dark and it spreading
The printer energy setting is too high. Lower the setting.

What can I do if my printed text is streaking or my ink ribbon is wrinkling?

If there are voids or streaks through the printed image

If there is a continuously printed line or streak in the direction of printing, the print-head needs to be cleaned. Review your printer manufacturer instructions for print-head maintenance and/or cleaning print-heads.

If there is a continuous void in the direction of printing, first clean the print-head per the printer manufacturer instructions. If this is not successful, the print-heads heating element may have burnt out. Consult the printer manufacturer about replacing print-heads.

If the ribbon is wrinkling

Check for any or a combination of the following:

  • Ribbon is too wide for the label:
    This causes one side of the ribbon to travel faster than the other. Make sure the ribbon is only a few millimeters wider than the label.
  • Tag stock is too thick:
    Adjust the printer head tension, or consider using a thinner tag stock.
  • Print-head pressure is too tight and/or tilted:
    Slightly loosen the printer head tension and make sure the pressure is adjusted evenly across width of print-head.
  • Print-head is mounted incorrectly:
    Follow the printer manufacturer instructions on print-head installation. Make sure print-head is facing the correct direction and the print-head elements are level with ribbon and label surface.
  • Heat has caused the label's adhesive to ooze:
    Clear any residue in print path.
  • Unused ribbon and used ribbon spindles are out of sync:
    Adjust ribbon tension on both spindles as needed.
  • Too much heat:
    Lower the printer energy settings.

What type of sensor does my printer have?

Your printer manufacture specifications should list a Media Sensor Type such as;
Trans-missive = Die-cut label, Gap Sensor or "See Through" sensor.
Reflective = Black Mark Sensor for black striped liners.

What type of thermal transfer printer sensor works with your clear or transparent labels such as the THS series?

Your thermal transfer printer needs to have a "see-through" sensor. This is also sometimes called a gap sensor. Either term is correct. The printer sensor must be in line with the passing liner notch or hole in order to calibrate correctly. Due to the many printer designs, most labels we manufacture have multiple notches in the liner in order calibrate in as many printer brands as possible.

A less common way for a printer to calibrate a self-laminating label is by using a printer with a "black line" sensor in combination with a label that is manufactured with a thin black line appearing on the reverse side of the paper liner or label backing. Each black line represents the top of the label on the front side. The thermal transfer printer sensor should have the "black line" feature enabled in order to use these types of labels. Not all thermal transfer printers are equipped with black line sensors so check your printer specifications before using "black line" labels.

Wire Markers and Tapes

Why do my wire markers begin unwrapping (flagging) from the applied wire?

The most common problem that causes wire marker tapes to unwrap is improper installation. This is often caused by handling the tail end and contaminating the adhesive which is the most critical part of the marker. Oil from fingers or dusty or dirty environments can cause the tail to unwrap and cause problems. Please make sure to avoid exposing the adhesive to oil, dirt, or dust prior to application.

What do the gauge numbers mean?

The American Wire Gauge system is based on a total of 44 standardized wire sizes: 0-40, as well as the additional 00, 000, and 0000 gauges (the thickest of all). It may seem a little counterintuitive, but the higher a gauge number is, the thinner the wire will be. This is because each gauge is named after the number of sizing dies the wire needs to be drawn through to reach the correct diameter; for example, a 24 gauge wire is drawn through 24 different sizing dies. Some common sizes are shown in this cross reference chart.

AWG 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Inches 0.0641 0.0571 0.0508 0.0453 0.0403 0.0359 0.0320 0.0285 0.0253 0.0226 0.0201 0.0179 0.0159 0.0142 0.0126
MM 1.63 1.45 1.29 1.15 1.02 0.91 0.81 0.72 0.64 0.57 0.51 0.45 0.40 0.36 0.32

Which wire gauges am I most likely to encounter?

Even though 44 different wire diameters are recognized within the AWG standard, they're not all widely used, and most people are likely to encounter only a small range of them. Below are a few common cable types we use every day, as well as the AWG sizes that correspond to them:

  • Speaker Cable: 14 and 16 AWG
  • Coaxial Cable (for cable TV and a few Ethernet applications): 18 and 20 AWG
  • Cat5, Cat5e and Cat6 cables (for LAN and Ethernet): 24AWG
  • Telephone Cable: 22-28 AWG

Compliance and Industry Associations

What is GHS?

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is an internationally agreed-upon system, created by the United Nations. Specifically, GHS governs the physical design of a printed label used on chemical drums transported across an ocean. GHS is an add-on to the BS5609 specification.

What is BS5609?

The BS5609 is an internationally recognized durability specification for chemical drum labels being transported by sea with exposure to saltwater, both immersion in salt water and abrasion from salt water. It is important to understand that ink alone is not compliant. BS5609 approval is a requirement for self-adhesive labels on drums of chemicals which need International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) certification.

To obtain BS5609 approval, your label material and ribbon must be approved by a two-part test which is conducted by an independent, third-party laboratory:

First the adhesion and durability of the material (blank label) is tested and second the print permanence of the printed label is tested. Successful completion of the above allows for a specific ribbon and a specific material to be offered as meeting BS5609 specifications when used together.

What is UL or Underwriters Laboratories Inc.?

While the most current information is located at we are happy to direct you through our products for a UL or RU compliant label solution.

What is RoHS?

RoHS, also known as Lead-Free, stands for Restriction of Hazardous Substances. RoHS, also known as Directive 2002/95/EC, originated in the European Union and restricts the use of six hazardous materials found in electrical and electronic products. There are many sources you can visit to learn more, and is just one of them. Ziptape does have RoHS compliance on many or our products and we can provide our RoHS statement and content list upon request.

What is ANSI?

American National Standards Institute; As the voice of the U.S. standards and conformity assessment system, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) empowers its members and constituents to strengthen the U.S. marketplace position in the global economy while helping to assure the safety and health of consumers and the protection of the environment. You can find them at for more information.

What is NEMA?

National Electrical Manufacturers Association; NEMA is the trade association of choice for the electrical manufacturing industry. Founded in 1926 and headquartered near Washington, D.C., its approximately 450 member companies manufacture products used in the generation, transmission and distribution, control, and end-use of electricity. Visit for current information.

What is TIA?

Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) is an association that began with the Electronic Industries Alliance. TIA is also accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to develop census-based industry standards for all types of telecommunications products. Such as cellular towers, structured cabling, data centers, satellites, vehicular telematics, smart device communications just to name a few. Learn more by visiting them at