What Are Thermal Transfer Ribbons?

Not all thermal ribbons are created equal. There are hundreds of different ribbon formulations in the market. That is why Zebra’s Supplies R&D (Research & Development) Team has tested and selected only those ribbons that deliver the best print quality and durability.

To get the Zebra name, each ribbon must pass a series of print quality and durability tests. These tests include evaluating:

  • Material compatibility – To ensure proper adhesion of the ribbon to a wide range of materials
  • Environmental performance – The level of resistance to chemicals, outdoor exposure and abrasion
  • Performance at high print speeds
  • Performance at 600 dpi and when printing small font sizes, intricate regulatory symbols, and rotated barcodes
  • Ribbon backcoating build-up – We measure the amount of backcoating build up on the printhead to ensure minimal printhead impact
  • In addition to performance, consistency is important. Unlike some competitors, Zebra never substitutes ribbons. You receive the same formulation every time you order, ensuring consistent print quality and durability in your application.

Zebra ribbons are compliant with indirect food contact regulations. In addition, all wax/resin ribbons are UL/cUL-certified with specific Zebra materials.

When you purchase Zebra thermal ribbons you can rest assured that the:

  • Print will be readable and scannable every time
  • Print will withstand the environment in which it will be used in
  • Backcoating will not cause premature printhead failure
  • This ensures your operations run smoothly and enables you to meet regulatory and customer requirements

Why Is Testing of Ribbons Important?

By running a series of stringent tests, we ensure that you receive the highest-quality and top-performing ribbons every time you order from Zebra. Our supplies R&D team also pre-test Zebra ribbons with a variety of Zebra’s labels and wristbands to ensure the ribbon will meet all your application needs.

Zebra’s Innovation lab has industry-leading testing equipment that can evaluate media print and adhesive performance in extreme temperatures, against a variety of chemicals, abrasion and environmental exposure performance, along with many other testing capabilities.

What Is the Significance of a Ribbon Being Ul Certified?

Industrial and consumer electronic products certified by UL are required to have a UL certified label and ribbon that provides product and date of manufacture information. A UL certification on a Zebra ribbon indicates that UL has tested the ribbon to meet their durability requirements. To view a list of Zebra UL certified labels and ribbons visit http://www.ul.com.

Why Is the Ribbon Backcoating Important?

The backcoating is the part of the ribbon closest to the printhead and its main function is to protect the printhead from excessive heat, static. A poor-quality backcoating can cause friction between the ribbon and the printhead, causing damage to the printhead. Zebra ensures our ribbons have top-quality backcoating to prevent backcoating build-up and any other printhead damage.

What Is the Difference Between the 3 Grades of Ribbons?


Wax ribbons are the simplest and most economical ribbons on the market and can support higher print speeds. They are designed for applications that use coated and uncoated paper materials in environments with little to no exposure to chemicals and abrasion.


Wax/Resin ribbons offer a slightly more durable ribbon with moderate print speeds. They are optimized for use with select paper and matte synthetic materials in environments with moderate to extreme chemical exposure and exposure to moderate abrasion or where UL/cUL approval is preferred.


Resin ribbons are the most durable ribbons on the market and require lower print speeds. They are designed for use with synthetic materials in environments with harsh to extreme chemical exposure and/or exposure to excessive abrasion and where UL/cUL approval is required.

With more than 1,000 combinations of high quality and reliable labels, tags, receipt paper, wristbands, and ribbons, Zebra has a media solution for virtually any application. Whether you’re facing shipping, electronic component manufacturing, prescription labeling, or even electronic citation applications, Zebra and our certified partners can provide an in-stock or custom-made solution for you.

Learn More about Zebra's Range of Ribbons