SCCA Ribbons 101

Thermal Transfer Ribbon Technology
In simple terms, thermal transfer printing involves the transfer of ink from a ribbon substrate onto a paper or film label stock through a combination heat/pressure process. The ink is transferred to the label stock as it passes through the printhead and pressure roller in a thermal transfer printer.

Printer Mechanics

Thermal Transfer Ribbon Components
Thermal transfer ribbons are constructed of a polyester or high-density tissue coated on one side with either a wax-base ink, resin-base ink or a combination of both. The non-ink side of the ribbon is coated with a lubricating agent that helps prevent wear or damage to the printer's printhead. A release tab and leader tape precede these imaging components, while a trailer tape may or may not be at the end of the roll.

Leader Tape
The leader tape may be Sony blue, clear or custom. There are several functions of the leader tape. They include:
  • Ease of use - leader tape aides in the loading of the ribbon into the printer.
  • Customization - allows for the application of a customer name or logo. Helps with identification, marketing and promotion.
  • Protection - guards against damage to the ribbon.

Imaging Components

Imaging components of the ribbon include the ink, a primer, the base film and a backcoating.

  • Ink Layer - the ink layer gives us the printed image and can be manipulated to match the application requirements (chemical resistance, environmental resistance and smudge/scratch resistance).
  • Primer - helps ensure consistent release of the ink from the film.
  • Base Film - the base film carries the ink and primer through the coating/printing process and helps promote heat transfer.
  • Backcoating - the backcoating is applied to reduce static and protect the printhead while providing consistent heat transfer.
  • Topcoat - a topcoat can also be applied to improve the adhesion of the ink to the application surface or to increase chemical/environmental resistance.
Ribbon Type Basics

Selection of the most appropriate ribbon ink type depends on the requirements of the end-use application.
  • Wax-based ribbons - economical choice typically used for general purpose applications where long range durability is not an issue.
  • Wax/Resin-based ribbons - an appropriate selection where both durability and economy are important.
  • Resin-based ribbons - the ideal selection where extra smudge/scratch or chemical/environmental resistance is important.
Label Substrate Components

The label substrate is typically made up of a topcoat, a paper or film substrate, an adhesive and a release liner. Again, the end use dictates which material is most appropriate for the application.


Sony ribbons are made to OEM specs for all printer types.

Trailer Tape

The trailer tape is essentially a ribbon sensing mechanism. It allows the printer to sense the end of the ribbon. The printer type determines the type of trailer tape to be used. There are three different types of trailer tapes:
  • Aluminum (Silver) - designed for reflective type sensor that reflects light indicating that the ribbon is at its end.
  • Transparent (Clear) - designed for transmissive type sensor that allows light to shine through to indicate to the printer that the ribbon is at its end.
  • None - this is for a mechanical type sensor where the printer's response to tension tells that the ribbon is at its end.
Ribbon Cores

Cores are either fiber or plastic, depending on OEM specifications and customer needs. Sony fiber cores are moisture-controlled in order to prevent tunneling, telescoping and/or ribbon slippage during printing.

Qualifying an Application

In order to correctly identify the ribbon needed to perform a specific task, the following issues should be addressed:

What printer will be used?
What substrate are you printing on?
What are the image durability expectations?
What are the image format requirements? (i.e. rotated bar codes, high density, low density)
What are the cost parameters?
What surface are you applying the label to?
What are the abrasion attributes of the application?
Will the label be exposed to fluorescent or ultraviolet light?
What is the temperature range of the application?
How long does the label need to remain readable?
Will the label be exposed to grease, blood, cleaning solvents, etc.?
Will the label need to be UL recognized?
How fast will the labels be printed?

For help answering these questions, selecting the most appropriate ribbon or testing a ribbon/substrate combination in a certain printer or application, call your local Sony Technical Department.

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