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Print heads - Flathead and Near Edge: What are they and what are the pros and cons?

If you've decided that you need thermal transfer technology, then the next thing you need to know is that there are two types of print head used in thermal transfer printing::

It’s certainly worth understanding the difference and assessing which one will suit your business best. (Especially if you might need the useful additional feature only available with Near Edge -see point 5).

The names ‘Flathead’ and ‘Near Edge’ refer to angle of the print head and the positioning of the heating element. This determines the way that the print head makes contact with the ribbon and the label surface, which impacts:

In Flathead technology, the print head lies flat against the ribbon and the label stock, with the heating element in the centre.
The heating element is further from point where the label exits the printer, so the label takes longer to travel from heating element to exit. This gives it time to cool down, so the labels leave the printer already cool. That’s why this technology is often referred to as the ‘cold peeling method’


The type of print technology you choose will very much depend on what you are labelling and why. You’ll need to take into account how the labels will be used - their expected life and their treatment during their life, remembering that the primary goal of your label is to remain legible,

Near Edge
In Near Edge technology, or the ‘hot peel method’, the print head sits at an angle to the ribbon and paper, only making contact for a much shorter time. The heating element is at the lower end, close to the exit point. The heating element therefore has to heat and transfer the ink much faster, because of its limited contact time. With the heating element close to the edge, the labels are warm and the ink still setting as they exit the printer.


So much for the explanation, but what does this all mean for your business? What are the pros and cons of each type of print head and which one is right for you?

Flathead - Pros

Flathead - Cons

Near Edge - Pros

Near Edge - Cons

So when you’re deciding on your printer purchase, and are looking at thermal transfer, do consider the type of print head which will best suit your business.

Matching the print head and the ribbon
One other point on print heads - whichever one you choose, be aware that the ribbon needs to match the print head. There are different ribbons for Flathead and Near Edge. This is because a ribbon is made up of layers (five), one of which determines the way the ink is released. The ink release mechanism is different for each print head type, so it’s essential to match the ribbon type and the print head type.

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