Before we can discuss the differences between flathead and near edge printing, we first need to understand how thermal printing works. So, what is a thermal printhead?
A thermal printhead is a device or component that prints using thermally sensitive materials, like thermal paper and ribbon, to transfer ink onto a substrate. It sends electrical signals to initiate a generation of heat to specific areas in order to print on a corresponding image.
How does thermal printing work?
Thermal printing involves a heat-sensitive, carbon ribbon. As the ribbon passes over the heated printhead, the ink melts and transfers onto the substrate below, creating the desired image or text.
Flathead and near edge printing refer to two different types of technology utilized in thermal printing, with both offering distinct variations in printing to users.
Simply put, the main difference between the two technologies is the way the printhead comes into contact with the ribbon and media it prints on. However, each type affects the print quality, speed, and ribbon used, and can be separately found in certain brands of thermal printers.
Let’s take a look at both the flathead and near edge printing, and see why they’re important to thermal printing.
Flathead thermal transfer printing
For flathead thermal printing, the printhead is fixed in a horizontal position. It lays flat against the ribbon and media with the heating elements localized in the center of the printhead. As the ribbon passes over the heated thermal printhead, it transfers ink onto the media.
Both the ribbon and media move together for a short distance after, giving the ink time to cool and solidify. This means that for this type of thermal printing, the substrate and ribbon come into contact with the printhead for a longer period of time.
Flathead thermal transfer is the more traditional choice for thermal printing technology, making it more commonly found in printers on the market. Flathead printing operates best in medium volume sized printers, which includes all industrial and most desktop printers.
Known brands that use flathead printing include:
- Avery Dennison
Flathead printing supports slower print speeds more easily, around 14ips or inches per second, on average. While it does require less maintenance than near edge printing, users should still be mindful of regular printhead maintenance in order to prolong print quality and printhead life.
Near edge thermal transfer printing
While it isn’t as common and costs a little more than flathead, near edge printing is still beneficial to thermal printing technology.
With this type of printing, the thermal printhead is angled at 45 degrees, which is often why near edge is referred to as “floating head” or “corner edge” in the printing industry.
The substrate comes into brief contact with the ribbon as it passes under the heated printhead, making the transfer of ink onto the substrate instant. Because of this, the distance between where the image is printed and where the ribbon separate from each other is shorter than with flathead printing. The angle also allows the printhead to cool down between prints, preventing a continuous rise in temperature, which in turn reduces printhead wear.
Near edge printing requires a specific ribbon type in order to print. The ribbon material is limited to wax resin and resin, and must contain a release layer for the ink to quickly detach from the ribbon and transfer onto the substrate. However, this type of thermal printing is able to accommodate colored ribbons besides black, such as white, red, and green.
Known brands that use near edge printing include:
- Toshiba TEC
- Avery Novexx (tag printing)
- Markem & Videojet
So if it’s not a standard form of printing, why is near edge printing even used? There are actually several benefits that come from using near edge printheads that make it a great advantage in print production for certain industries and products.
Primarily, it is used to achieve fast print speeds while maintaining high quality printing. Printers that utilize near edge printheads can operate at more than double the speeds, which are considered fast for other printers, generally between 25-40ips. This also helps to maximize productivity.
Multiple Substrate Materials
Near edge printheads are also able to print on a wide range of substrate materials. With near edge printing, because the printhead “floats," it doesn’t require any necessary adjustment for media thickness and automatically calibrates to the substrate being printed. This helps to drastically reduce setup time and allows for faster and more efficient production.
Near edge printing operates for the purpose of eliminating waste by using less supplies on a maximum number of products. It is a more efficient way to print on materials that might not hold up to label applications or that require very small fonts to be placed directly on products. Because of the angled thermal printhead and the instant transference of ink, near edge stops the ribbon when printing is not needed, ultimately saving ribbon on usage.
The thermal printhead is undoubtedly the most crucial part of a thermal printer. Failing to properly clean and maintain your printhead will result in a less than desirable print quality, which can lead to losses in operational time and resources. It can also lead to more frequent printhead replacements, which can rack up costs quickly as they are expensive to buy.
Regularly cleaning your thermal printer when necessary will help ensure high print quality and consistent print performance. Most problems with poor print quality can often be resolved by maintaining proper use and care of your thermal printer.
Some companies will provide cleaning supplies, such as cards or swabs saturated in alcohol, with their printer when purchased.
However, if this is not an option, users can also utilize a microfiber rag dampened with 70% isopropyl alcohol to remove any ink residue on the printhead.
For more information, see the original article posted on www.smithcorona.com.