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Your thermal barcode printers are an important part of keeping your operations running smoothly. Keeping your thermal printers operating reliably is important for maintaining quality barcode labels that meet your own internal standards, as well as those of your customers. If the printers fail, or if they print substandard barcodes, you could wind up making costly mistakes or experiencing downtime. That’s why its important to keep up with thermal printer maintenance.

Below are four keys to ensuring proper maintenance of your thermal barcode printers:

  1. Maintain the printheads: Printhead build-up is common for both thermal transfer and direct thermal barcode printers. As you use the printers, dirt and media residue can build up on the printhead, along with label adhesive. Clean the printheads regularly to remove this build-up and prevent premature printhead failure.

There are a variety of ways to clean the printheads. Generally, you can use isopropyl alcohol and a lint-free rag, cleaning cards, cleaning pens, or built-in print head cleaners that come with some printers.

While performing thermal printer maintenance, take care not to touch the printhead element surface, and follow all manufacturer maintenance/cleaning recommendations for the printheads.

  1. Use the correct labels, media, and ribbons: Identify the right labels and adhesives to use with your printer. This will let you run the printer at a lower energy setting while still ensuring quality labels. Using cheap media can cause dust or debris to build up, and can cause label quality issues that result in poor scanning or the labels failing to meet customer specifications.
  2. Follow all manufacturer recommendations for cleaning and service: This is a critical part of a thermal printer maintenance program. Be sure to clean the printhead and platen roller every time you install a new ribbon in a thermal printer. (For direct thermal printers, clean those components after every two or three rolls of labels are used.)

Only use the print speeds necessary for your application (faster speeds will generally shorten the life of the printer). Don’t increase the darkness and pressure settings. And be careful when changing labels that you don’t damage the platen roller.

  1. Invest in a service/maintenance plan for your barcode printers: Odds are your staff members aren’t experts in maintaining barcode printers. Most manufacturers and value-added resellers offer service and maintenance plans that will cover regular maintenance, periodic printhead replacement, emergency repairs, and other service issues.

Zebra Technologies, for example, offers its Zebra Authorized Service Provider (ZASP) program. All ZASP providers have completed extensive training, and are certified to provide on-site installation, maintenance, depot repair, and technical support.

Imprint Enterprises’ professional services division provides several different repair and maintenance programs. The basic break-fix/depot repair plan allows customers to ship broken barcode equipment or devices to the company for repair. Customers send printers to the depot, and Imprint repairs them and then ships them back. The company also offers on-site service from trained technicians when necessary.

Some service plans also provide the option of receiving replacement equipment if a device has to be taken in for service. This helps minimize any downtime.

Properly following thermal printer maintenance recommendations, adhering to manufacturer recommendations, and leveraging manufacture and/or VAR service plans can help you keep your printers up and running for years to come.

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