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Labeling Glossary

Glossary of Labeling Terms

Curious what a particular labeling industry term really means? Get the answer here in our Labeling Terms Glossary.


In labeling, a "core" usually refers to a cardboard or plastic roll that supplies are loaded or rewound onto. In thermal transfer labeling, both the ribbon and the vinyl tape come loaded on cores. The ribbon comes loaded onto one core, and as it is used it is rewound onto an empty core. Most cores are cardboard, and can be recycled or disposed of after use.

Flange Side

When loading ribbon in a thermal transfer printer, you may hear the term "flange side." This refers to the spool on which the ribbon core is loaded. The ribbon spool will have a smooth side and a flange side; the flange side has a lip, and a notched area that links into the printer. When the "flange side" is referenced it will usually be with a direction, right or left, and is mentioned to help the user load supplies in the proper direction. Loading supplies with the flange side facing the wrong direction can result in print errors.


When you hear about "ribbon" or "thermal ribbon" in relation to labeling, the reference is usually to the ink-bearing material that is used in the thermal transfer printing process. "Ribbon" is generally a long sheet of very thin plastic, with a resin ink coated onto one side. The ink is transferred onto a substrate during the printing process, and the ribbon is discarded after an entire roll is completely used.


To load a thermal transfer printer, you must place the supply cores onto spools, which then fit into the various printer assemblies. The vinyl tape fits loosely onto a stationary spool, usually a rounded plastic bar. Ribbon is loaded onto spring-loaded spools, for a tight fit. Ribbon spools have a notched flange, which links into a motor-driven precision assembly. Spools are generally made from high-impact plastic.


A "Substrate" is literally one layer under another. In the labeling industry, the "substrate" refers to the material being printed on. Most quality label substrates are vinyl, but cheaper substrates might include polyester or coated paper. Vinyl substrates are more durable, and form-fitting. They are generally scratch, UV and chemical resistant, making them perfect for labeling applications. Special resin inks are required for printing to a vinyl substrate.

Thermal Print Head

In label printing, the "thermal print head" is a key component of the label printing equipment. Usually the shape of a long bar, the thermal print head determines how wide of a print area your thermal label printer can cover. A thermal print head has a row of heat actuating pixels, controlled by a computer, which work together with the rest of the printer to transfer the ink onto the label to create an image. The thermal print head has no moving parts, and works entirely by heating up individual pixels.

Thermal Transfer

The term "Thermal Transfer" refers to the movement of ink into a substrate through means of heat. Another term would be "heat transfer." The "Ink," in this case, is usually coated onto a roll of thermal transfer ribbon, or thin plastic sheet. The sheet passes over a thermal print head, which has a number of pixels that are controlled by a computer. They heat at just the right time to transfer the ink into the substrate, usually a vinyl, polyester, or paper. This process in its entirety is known as a "thermal transfer."


When it comes to labeling, vinyl is the material of choice for durability, readability and longevity. Vinyl, an organic compound, can he stretchable and form fitting, making it ideal for application to non-smooth surfaces. Labels made from vinyl can last for years in outdoor or harsh environments, and if properly formulated are UV, chemical and scratch resistant.

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