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How to Clean Printer Heads - A Visual Guide

Scott Gorman
07/09/2021
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An often-overlooked element of your thermal label printer, the printhead is the most important part of your machine. It takes care and maintenance to ensure that high-quality labels are printed and the life of your printhead is not diminished.

The good news is that if you use proper and regular care, the life of your printhead will be maximized. This will, in turn, increase the length of time between buying a new printhead.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A FAILING PRINTHEAD?

Typically, you will know when your printhead is beginning to fail because the images that you are printing from your label printer will become lighter and sections of dots begin to fail to print, leaving behind white voids. This is when you should consider purchasing a new printhead.

Normally, a printhead will fail because of the fast heating and cooling process which happens as the printing elements switch on and off when they pass over the printing material and ribbon. Another contributor to the failing of a printhead results from the pressure applied for the accuracy and quality of the print. The harder the printhead must work, the quicker it will burn out.

A printhead should be expected to print up to one million linear inches of labels before needing to be replaced (about 250 thousand 4-inch labels). However, without the proper maintenance and care, this yield will be substantially reduced. Proper attention and care are critical to you can prevent this burnout and extend the life of your printhead.

STEPS THAT YOU CAN TAKE TO EXTEND THE LIFE OF YOUR PRINTHEAD

With heavy use, buying a new printhead at some stage is inevitable. However, there are steps that you can take to prolong the life of your printhead and delay the purchase of a new one. The first step is regularly cleaning your printhead, something that many people forget to do.

The best way to clean your printhead is by using a printhead cleaning pen. To do this, you simply take the nib of the cleaning pen and run it across the printhead, cleaning the entire area. We would recommend using a printhead cleaning pen each time you use your printer; however, you could reduce this to cleaning the printhead each time you change the roll of labels.

1. Open the Printer

2. Open the print head

3. Clean the printhead and roller with cleaning pen

4. You can also use a lint-free cloth moistened with isopropyl alcohol and de-ionized water

Another technique to extend the life of your printhead is to ensure that you are using the right printer settings. The optimum printer settings that you should be aiming for is the lowest possible temperature and pressure to produce an acceptable printed image. Additional pressure and heat will only result in increased wear of your printhead meaning that it needs replacing sooner.

Finally, to extend the life of your printhead you should ensure that you are using the right ribbons and label media. If you’re using a ribbon that doesn’t exactly fit the printer, e.g. if it is too narrow, you risk scratching the printhead. It also isn’t cost-beneficial to use cheap, poor quality ribbons as you are forced to use more pressure and heat to generate a good print which creates increased wear on the printhead.

For quality, we would recommend using genuine Zebra replacement ribbons. So too, using genuine Zebra certified label media gives the highest possible performance from the printhead. Genuine Zebra media has less dust content than cheaper labels which contributes to build-up on the printhead.

If you’re using direct thermal labels that don’t require a ribbon, then using Genuine Zebra direct thermal labels also helps ensure your printhead achieves the maximum usage before it needs replacing.

Before deciding to replace your printhead make sure that it has been properly cleaned. If after cleaning, the printing quality still hasn’t improved, open the printhead and look at the sensor for damage. If you see white spots, these indicate wear and that it is time for a new printhead. You can watch Zebra's video on the topic here

We’re proud to stock and offer a wide range of printheads for Zebra printers. Call us today to see how we can give you the right tools, expertise and resources to handle your complex management and logistics demands.

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