Thermal Transfer Cartridge Printers.

Thermal Ribbon Cartridge Printer

Thermal Transfer Cartridge Printers.

I’ve not been keen on the idea of thermal transfer cartridge printers.  Cartridge printers use a roll of thermal ink ribbon in the form of a plastic cartridge. If you want to change a thermal ribbon, simply pull out the used ribbon cartridge and put in a new one.  No threading thermal transfer ribbons.  No need to clip cores into the printer.

I’ve not been keen because I’ve always felt uncomfortable being tied in to a specific supplier or manufacturer. I’ve been concerned we couldn’t get hold of a full range of ribbon materials – including different colours.  I’ve felt the benefits didn’t really amount to much – but I’ve changed my mind.

What’s so good about a thermal transfer cartridge printer?

Simply: it’s so quick and easy to use.  Anyone can change a ribbon in a fraction of the time it usually takes.  Take a look at this video an you’ll see just how easy it is to use.

Zebra’s ZD420 Thermal transfer cartridge printer

The only cartridge printer available today is Zebra’s ZD420.  

Zebra ZD420
The Zebra ZD420

The cartridge model is one of Zebra’s ZD420 family of printers – the others being a healthcare model, a standard roll fed model and a direct thermal model. 

It quickly established itself as a popular and easy to use desktop label printer since it’s launch in 2016. 

Where you’d use a cartridge printer

We’ve been working with a company that has untrained volunteers  printing labels on demand for customers.

Imagine you have a competition. You’re labelling clients’ bags before transporting them to the end point. You have a couple of volunteer staff looking after clients, entering data, putting bags in a van and looking after the printers.

There’s a small queue of customers and suddenly the ribbon runs out. Your volunteer has never changed a roll of ribbon and has barely seen a thermal printer before.  He tries to figure it out for himself. He looks at the diagram on the printer, he asks his colleague and he even asks the people waiting. Then he gives it a go.

Five minutes later the ribbon is changed – but it’s been a struggle, it takes time and it prevents staff from looking after their customers.

With a cartridge printer he’d have opened the printer, unwrapped the cartridge, pulled out the old one and slotted in the new one. All done in a matter of seconds – without the need for training. No need to look at instructions.

Ribbon Cartridge Size Options

Zebra Thermal Printer Cartridge
Zebra Thermal Printer Cartridge

This is where the ribbon cartridge struggles, compared with standard ribbons. There are only three different cartridges available – Wax, Wax resin and Resin. All ribbons are 110mm wide and 74m long.

All thermal cartridge ribbons are black.

In the past twenty years I imagine we have only sold a few dozen boxes of coloured ribbons, so the limited colour range is unlikely to affect many of you.

Another big downside – the cost of a ribbon cartridge is around twice as much as a standard Zebra ribbon, at around £5 per cartridge. If you are printing a 100mm x 100mm paper label, that still only works out at 0.7p per label for ink.

Summing up – Thermal Transfer Cartridge Printers

  • Extremely convenient and fast – minimises downtime and customer inconvenience
  • No training needed – anyone can quickly use the printer
  • Limited range of ribbons – not a problem if that suits the label or tag you’re printing
  • Expensive in comparison to standard ribbons.

Further Help

Want to know more about cartridge printers? Want to buy a cartridge printer or cartridges? Contact us here or complete our form below.

Useful links

Learn more about Zebra’s ZD420 printer on the Zebra website.

Updated 11 Jan 2020


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