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Extend the life of your printheads

The printhead is the most critical component of your printer and one of the most delicate. Most print quality problems are a direct result of improper care of the printhead. A consumable that wears over time, much like the brakes on your car, it requires proper installation and ongoing preventive maintenance to ensure a long life of service for your printer. Maximizing printhead life is important to users of thermal printing technology because it reduces printhead replacement costs and increases productivity. However, with proper installation, ongoing careful attention, and maintenance, you can maximize the life of a printhead.

Below are photographs of three printheads. The first printhead is brand new. The second has printed over one million linear inches of thermal transfer labels and has been properly maintained. The third printhead has printed far fewer labels, but without proper care and maintenance, signs of abrasion and contamination buildup are evident.

new-printhead good-printhead bad-printhead
New Printhead Properly Maintained Printhead
(Over 1 Million Inches)
Poorly Maintained Printhead
(Less Than 1 Million Inches)

Common Factors of Premature Printhead Failure

ABRASIVE WEAR – Normal abrasive wear of the printhead’s protective coating occurs due to friction, regardless of the materials used or the maintenance performed. This abrasion may be more aggressive when the following conditions occur.

Contributing Factor Recommendation
Use of Direct Thermal Media for NonRibbon Applications
Direct Thermal media requires the paper surface to be in direct contact with the printhead elements. This increases friction and can cause a reduction in printhead life when compared to a similar application using ribbon. The quality of the media and its compatibility with the thermal printing is important.
To minimize abrasion, be sure you are using high-quality Direct Thermal media from a proven supplier.
If applicable, you may want to consider using a Thermal Transfer media with a ribbon.
The buildup of Paper Dust
Paper dust can collect on the platen at the outer edges of the media or ribbon, creating a grinding wheel effect. This can abrade the printhead glaze, which will result in printhead failure.
Clean all paper dust buildup on the platen and printhead. Brush or blow the dust in the media path and clean the platen with a lint-free cloth and isopropyl alcohol around the entire circumference of the platen.
Printhead Pressure
Excessive pressure increases friction on the printhead assembly, resulting in higher abrasion. Printhead pressure should be evenly balanced across the media. A balance of darkness and pressure should be used to generate an acceptable image on properly matched materials.
Printers with a single moveable head pressure toggle should center the toggle over the media width.
Printers with dual-pressure toggles adjust both evenly over full-width media or reduced outboard pressure for narrower widths. This allows the pressure to focus on the narrow media more efficiently.

CONTAMINATION – Labels can contain or be introduced to abrasive contaminants that pass through the printhead and scrape or cut through the protective coating on the printhead.  If premature or random printhead failure occurs as a result of a scratched printhead element, the labels or the environment may be introducing contamination.

Contributing Factor Recommendation
Contaminated Labels Consult a thermal printing supply expert – 877-456-3102.
Environment Protect the labels from exposure to contamination.
If printer location is problematic, consider using a protective enclosure.

CORROSION – Substances in contact with the printhead elements can become corrosive and generate caustic agents when heated, causing corrosion of the printhead’s protective coating and printhead failure.

Contributing Factor Recommendation
Unapproved Printing Supplies
Some labels may be coated with chemicals or flood coats unsuitable for direct thermal printing.
This is often characterized by a rapid failure of the printhead in the area of the flood coat.  Consult with your label supplier if this failure is suspected.
Physically Touching the Printhead Element Surface
The human skin can cause contamination detrimental to the life of the printhead.
Clean any surface with an approved cleaning solution before operating the printer. Consult the printer user manual for recommended cleaning procedures.
Improper Cleaning
Use of unapproved solutions to clean the printhead.
Use only approved cleaning items for printhead cleaning.

ELECTROSTATIC DISCHARGE (ESD) – Electrostatic discharge can damage a printhead’s internal electronic circuitry.

Contributing Factor Recommendation
Improper Handling
…of the printhead assembly.
See your printer user manual for more information about how to prevent ESD when handling the printhead.
Static Buildup
…from the labels and/or ribbon.
Ensure that any static brushes (if applicable) and printhead mechanism wiring are properly secured.

Depot Repair service is an extended service agreement beyond the standard manufacturer warranty. These service agreements provide options for one, three, or five day turnaround times and include all labor, parts (not including printheads and scan engines) and shipping back to the customer location (inside the U.S.A.).