Ink Ribbon Unraveled: Your Comprehensive Guide to Buying and Using

Ink Ribbon Unraveled: Your Comprehensive Guide to Buying and Using


Demystifying Ink Ribbon: What You Need to Know Before Buying


What is Ink Ribbon?

An ink ribbon is, well, a ribbon of ink.

It is a type of printing technology in which an ink-soaked strip (made of a variety of materials) is impacted to transfer ink to paper.

Known for its affordability and efficiency, ink ribbon dates back to the first typewriters.

It is commonly used in many of the tools that we sell, such as printing calculators, fax machines, point-of-sale systems, cash registers, and so on.

Ink Cartridges vs Toner vs Ink Ribbon

These days, there are a lot of ways to get ink onto paper.

Each way has its upsides and downsides: different printing styles work for different printing needs.

Here is a quick overview of three of the most common ink technologies out there:

Ink Cartridges

Ink cartridges, used in inkjet printers, are filled with liquid ink that is sprayed onto paper through tiny nozzles. When we say tiny, we mean it- we’re talking the size of a human hair.

Ink cartridges are commonly used for home and office needs, but often run out quickly and can be costly to constantly replace.

Sometimes, they can even dry out if not used often enough, (try to print at least once a week to keep your inkjet healthy).


Toner, on the other hand, is actually a very fine powder that is used in laser printers.

This technology uses a static charge to map out what you are printing on a metal drum inside the printer. The laser then binds the toner to the map with heat.

Because of the low moisture content, toner has a longer shelf life than other ink technologies. It also comes in larger containers and is cheaper than liquid ink.

Ink Ribbon

Ink ribbon comes in spools or cartridges that contain a roll of material covered in ink. These ribbons can be made of different things, including cloth, plastic, nylon, and more.

When printing, the ribbon and paper travel in unison beneath the print head as the ink from the ribbon is transferred onto the paper.

Ink ribbon is used in impact and thermal printers and is excellent when cost and quantity are more important than the intricate detail of an image.

Let’s break down this technology, shall we?

Impact Printers

Impact printers are the best way to create two copies of the same information at once.

The ink ribbon is physically impacted by pins in the printer in the pattern of what you want on the page.

The rolled paper utilized by most impact printers creates less waste by only distributing the amount of paper you need for that particular transaction.

Thermal Transfer Printers

Thermal Transfer printers actually heat up wax or resin ink ribbons to print the image onto heat-sensitive paper. The paper is pressed between the printhead and roller, and the ink is melted onto thermal paper. Very shortly after the ink is cooled, it

The paper is pressed between the printhead and roller, and the ink is melted onto thermal paper. Very shortly after when the ink is cooled, it is permanently adhered to the paper.

There are a few types of ink used for different thermal print jobs, including the following:

  • Wax thermal ink ribbons are most commonly used for items like price tags, mailing labels, and paper garment tags.
  • Combination wax/resin thermal ink ribbons have the advantage of being smudge-resistant and are typically used for glossy materials, like printing bar codes and many food labels.
  • Resin thermal ink ribbons are used to print on manufactured items like cloth garment labels, automotive labels, and pharmaceutical labels.

Dot Matrix Printers

Dot Matrix printers are the closest printer out there to its grandpa: the typewriter.

Using the same impact technology as typewriters, dot matrix printers signal pins to hit the ribbon, physically transferring the image you need to be printed on the page.

Dot matrix printers use cloth or plastic ink ribbons and are mainly used for high-volume label or form printing.

This type of printing comes in handy when printing duplicate or triplicate forms is necessary (like in a restaurant, for example).

Questions Before Buying

Does one size fit all?

While some printers can only use one specific type of ink ribbon, other printers are able to print with a variety of ribbon types.

Calculator and typewriter ribbons come in two main forms: spools and cartridges.

Spools are made of two cylindrical reels on which the ink ribbon is wound.

Cartridges are similar to a cassette tape in design: they contain spools in a case for protection and to minimize mess.

Deciding between a spool or cartridge only depends on which your printing calculator or other device is compatible with.

Care and Maintenance

Because the ribbon has a degree of moisture by nature, it can’t be stored indefinitely.

A ribbon of ink can be stored for about 2 years without drying out.

To maintain the darkest print, we suggest changing your ribbons after replacing 3 paper tape rolls.

How to buy:

Rolls and ribbons can be purchased singularly or in packs.

Packs of ribbon typically come in 6 or 12, and you can even buy combo packs of 6 ribbon cartridges and a dozen paper rolls.

When buying ink ribbon, you want to look for a great value for a highly saturated ink.

Monroe’s ribbon cartridges produce the darkest printing black/red ribbon cartridges on the market using our exclusive True Red™ color, which doesn’t have that watered-down orange tint and is virtually smudge-free.


To sum things up: this type of printing isn’t going away anytime soon.


Aug 10, 2017 Jason Marsdale

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