Training your staff to use the thermal label printer


Training your staff to use the thermal label printer

You’ve been given the task to train your staff how to use your thermal transfer printer. 

With more than 20 years training people to use label printers, we’ve created a handy activity sheet to keep trainees active during training.  You can print it out and use it.

  • A note about learning
  • Know your printer
  • Switching your printer on
  • Loading it with labels and ribbons
  • Cleaning your label printer
  • Speed and darkness settings on thermal printers
  • Printhead problems  – and using the pressure toggles (found on industrial printers).
  • Useful links

A note about Learning

Having spent a couple of years as a teacher – I’ve come to understand how people learn.

I expect you know this intuitively – but let me summarise…

People learn best by doing – so have your trainees get hands on with the printer.  Use exercises to help learning.

If you talk at people they’ll switch off – so train your team by asking questions and have them think.  It might be slower, but it will produce better results.

Use our downloadable handouts and have your staff makes notes they can refer back to.

A Tour of your Label Printer

Let’s start with a look around your label printer.

Desktop Label Printer

On the outside of the printer you’ll find a latch or latches so you can open the case to load it.

The latches are yellow – in the case of Zebra printers – or might be purple or green with other brands.

Zebra ZD420 Printer

The on/off switch can be at the front or back of the printer.

Status lights such as power on, paper out, network connected and ribbon lights are at the front usually.

Finally – most printers have buttons to feed labels, pause printing and cancel print jobs.

Zebra ZD230 Rear Image

Usually at the rear you’ll find the USB, network connectors and power socket, as you can see with this ZD230 printer.

You can also see a slot for labels at the back of the printer.  If you need to use fan fold labels this is where you feed the blank labels into the printer.

Zebra ZT411

Industrial Printers

Usually, with these larger printers,  one side opens up entirely.

Inside you have easy access to the label hanger, printhead, ink ribbon supply and take up spools.

Controls are at the front of most industrial printers.

The thermal printhead is what a thermal printer is all about. It’s the printhead that heats up and either melts the thermal ribbon onto the label – or heats up and reacts with the heat sensitive coating on a direct thermal label.

A dirty printhead will mean that tiny white lines will appear on your labels. 

Dirt also increases printhead wear to a point where it will need to be replaced.

Media Gap Sensor

The gap sensor locates the gaps between the labels. It’s the red light in the picture to the left.

It can be slid across the width of the labels.

If the sensor is not positioned where it can ‘see’ gaps (i.e. if you’re printing two across labels and the sensor is positioned in the centre where it doesn’t see the label material pass overhead) then the printer will malfunction and continue to feed labels through the printer until it indicates an error.

Ensure the printhead is correctly positioned and keep it free of dust.

The label gap sensor on a desktop printer is more accessible than on its industrial printer counterpart.

Slide it left or right so it is positioned where it can ‘see’ the gaps between the labels or tags.

Desktop Printer sensor

How to Load your Thermal Printer

Loading a desktop printer
Loading a desktop printer

Desktop Printer

  1. Open the printer case.
  2. Place the roll of labels or tags on the ‘media’ hold.
  3. Feed between the guides to the front of the printer.
  4. If you’re loading thermal ink ribbon, follow the printer instructions (there are too many different desktop models to describe here).
  5. Close the label printer case.

Industrial Printers

  1.  Open the printer case.
  2. Slide the roll of labels onto the ‘media hanger’ towards the rear of the printer.
  3. Feed the paper through the printer following the ‘media path’ i.e. under various rollers and under the printhead.
  4. Slide the ‘media guide’ (the yellow rectangle in the image to the right) across the width of the printer so it’s gently touching the outer edge of the labels or tags.
  5. Load the thermal ribbon onto its supply spool.
  6.  Feed the end of the thermal ribbon under the printhead and up onto the take up spool.
  7. Close the printhead and make sure it’s firmly in place.
Load labels into your printer

How to Clean your Printer

There are just a few things to keep clean with a thermal printer.  Keep the printhead clean (more details below) and keep the inside of the printer dust free using a soft cloth or vacuum cleaner.

Sensors (the gap sensor in the picture above) should also be kept clean and dust free.  Dust or adhesive build-up could lead to the sensor failing to recognise the gaps between labels. 

Blow dust out if you can.  If there’s adhesive on the sensor, use isopropanol alcohol to clean it off.

The Printhead

Clean the printhead

Industrial Label Printers

Keep the printhead clean by wiping with isopropanol alcohol.  Wipe it across the printhead a few times to remove the build-up of dirt.

Pre-saturated swabs are the most convenient.  Contact us for some free cleaning swabs.

Ideally, clean it every time you change the ink ribbon.

If you don’t use a ribbon then clean every time you change the label roll.

Cleaning a printhead on a desktop label printer

Desktop Label Printer.

The printhead on a desktop printer is a little more accessible than with industrial printers.

If you remove the thermal ink ribbon from the printer, you’ll be able to get to the printhead more easily.

As with the industrial label printers, clean the printhead with an IPA-soaked cloth. 

Darkness and Speed Settings

Two of the most important settings with any thermal printers are the darkness and speed settings. 

Whilst they can be set on most printers using the buttons on the printer, the easiest way to adjust them is via the printer driver. 

These print driver settings are from Windows 10.  They’re broadly the same as previous Windows versions. 

Darkness settings are different with MacOS drivers. 

Printer drivers differ in layout.  To download one of the best drivers for label printers – visit the Seagull Printer Driver page and download a free printer driver.

Finding your printer settings
Where to find your printer settings

The printing preferences option gives you access to all the printer settings you need – the most important ones being setting up the label dimensions. 

The other key setting is the speed and darkness settings.  These settings have the biggest effect on the print quality of your labels.

Click on the Options tab where you will find the speed and darkness settings.

Keeping the darkness as low as possible will extend the life of your printers printhead (and save you money).

Label printer printing preferences
Printing preferences
Darkness and speed options
Darkness and speed options

Untick the Use Current Printer Settings and adjust the print speed.  The slower the print speed, the better the print quality.

To adjust the print darkness, Untick the Use Current Printer Settings and adjust the darkness.  If you’re printing faster, then you’ll need to raise the darkness setting.

Increase the darkness setting if you’re printing with resin or wax resin ribbons.  It’s not uncommon to find the darkness set to maximum if you’re printing onto plastic labels or tags with a resin ribbon.

Printhead Pressure Problems

Incorrect printhead pressure

Sometimes labels can appear faded on one side or another.  This is often because the printhead pressure needs adjusting.

Printhead pressure adjustment isn’t possible with desktop printers. 

On an industrial sized printer, you can adjust the printhead pressure using toggles.

The images to the right show two examples of pressure toggles on different industrial printers.

Use the rotating toggles to increase or decrease pressure across the printhead.

It is better to keep the printhead pressure low.

ZT220 Printhead Pressure adjusters
ZM400 Printhead pressure adjusters

Start Learning How to Use your Label Printer

This is the basics.  Every printer is different, but the fundamentals are the same.

If you are delivering the training – print out our PDF activity sheet for trainees to use.

Label Printer Activity Sheet for Students PDF.

Useful Links


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