There are three basic types of thermal transfer ribbons, and each covers a certain type of label facestock material. The three types are:
All of these ribbons are used for making long-lasting labels. The difference is only in the material used, and what conditions they can withstand.
Wax ribbons are mostly used for paper labels, matte or semi-gloss. These labels can last long, but they have to remain dry. Also, they are not resistant to abrasion, oils, chemicals, or anything that could dissolve the wax image. Wax ribbon is the most-cost effective option for thermal transfer printers.
Wax-resin ribbons are used for very fine, smooth papers, coated paper labels (semi-gloss or gloss) or synthetic stocks. The printed images are fine, but more durable than images printed using wax ribbons. However, they also should not be exposed to moisture. Wax-resin ribbons are less expensive than resin ribbons, but more costly than wax.
Resin ribbons are used for printing plastic and hard film labels. These include polyester, vinyl and polypropylene, which are very durable materials. The resin ribbon ink is designed to slightly dissolve into the facestock which adds strength to the label. Depending on the resin ribbon and label material, these labels can withstand exposure to chemicals, oils, harsh weather, water, smudging etc. They are often used for labeling automobile and aircraft parts, hazardous chemicals, etc. Again, it is important to specify what kind of elements the label will be exposed to, in order to choose the right combination of resin ribbon and label facestock.
These are the three basic types of thermal transfer ribbons, but among these types there are many options. Here are some of the most commonly used ribbons:
The added cost of thermal transfer ribbons certainly pays off, because thermal transfer labels resist harsh weather, direct sunlight, multiple barcode scanning, aging, etc, while maintaining exceptional quality and sharpness of the printed image. This goes for black print. If you want labels in color, that might diminish the quality of the print and make the labels sensitive to abrasion.
Now that you know what you can choose from, you can pretty much decide what the best option for your label will be. Just remember to specify the type and model of your printer when purchasing thermal transfer ribbons.