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Printhead Care Guide

Four Simple Practices to Prolong Your Printheads Lifespan

Why your printhead typically fails, and four simple things you can do to extend its life and save you money!  

Table of Contents
Printhead Maintenance Best Practice

Want some good news?

With suitable treatment and regular maintenance, your printhead’s lifespan (for direct thermal or thermal transfer printers) can be substantially extended by as much as 90%. 

Yes, that’s right—as much as 90%!

It’s useful to consider your printhead as a consumable, similar to labels and printing ribbons. With that said, a printhead is, in fact, one of the most integral parts of your printer. It is additionally the most fragile and can cost a lot more money than your labels – beginning at around $300 and rising to over $1,000 or more, depending upon the particular printer model you have.

So by now, you are probably wondering – why do printhead’s fail?

Why Printheads Fail

There are three main reasons why printheads fail.

Fast Heating & Cooling

Due to the rapid heating and cooling down action used as printing elements turn on and off when they pass over a paper or printing ribbon.

Printing Pressure

Too much pressure applied to fine-tune print quality.

Physical Damage

Physical damage, most often caused by improper cleaning techniques, a lack of cleaning altogether, or low-quality label media.

So what does it look like when a printhead is failing?

Signs of a Printhead Failing
Poor Print Quality

Lighter Images

Images end up being lighter, fading, and poor picture quality. The images are lighter because dots are failing to print

White Gaps

White gaps appear in the print because dots are failing to print or they are being worn out or have been damaged.

Lines & Blurs

If there has been physical damage to the printhead, you will get obvious visual signs of deteriorating image quality like lines, gaps, and blurs.

Four Easy Ways to Prolong a Printheads Lifespan

Ok, you’ve made it this far. Now for the good stuff.

Let’s recap briefly. A typical printhead made to print as much as ten million labels can readily burn out after just a million labels if it is not appropriately maintained – a 90% reduction in lifespan. With regular printhead care and maintenance, you can significantly lower the overheating of the elements and burnout, the primary cause of print quality issues.

So let’s dive in.  

1. Frequent Printhead Cleaning​

It may sound obvious that cleaning your printhead will prolong its lifetime, but it does play a significant role in increasing its operational lifespan. It is also the primary reason for poor print quality.

Here are some cleaning practices to consider:

  • Clean before and after every roll of labels you print. 
  • Clean each time you replace your ribbon (or direct thermal printers, whenever you change a roll of labels). 
  • Clean before and after every print job.


Printhead Cleaning Best Practice

It is essential to only clean printheads with isopropyl alcohol. You can make use of a lint-free cloth or pre-saturated wipes. Printhead cleaning cards, or printhead cleaning pens are an additional option.

But remember this.

Never use anything sharp to clean your printhead. Scratching the glass surface, which covers the elements, is a sure-fire way to ruin your printhead.

Cleaning a Thermal Printhead
2. Use the Right Print Ribbon

For the Thermal Transfer printing method, ensure you print with ribbons that reach at least as wide as the label; ideally, they should be wider.


Because it functions as a shield between the printhead and the label, aiding against abrasion and reducing heat accumulation. If you use ribbon that is too narrow, you also run the risk of scratching the print head.

The bottom line is this.

It never pays to use a cheap, low-quality printing ribbon if it means you must use even more heat or pressure to obtain a suitable print outcome. You will inevitably produce even more wear to your printhead, causing reduced print contrast and barcodes that are less readable by scanners.

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3. Use the Right Printer Settings

Your thermal printer settings play another critical role in extending the life of your thermal printhead.

Here are some common ones.

  • Ensure your temperature settings are appropriate for the kind of media and printing ribbon you are working with, as this lowers heat accumulation.
  • Print at the lowest print speed practical whiled still achieving acceptable print outcomes. This will help lower mechanical wear.
  • Use the lowest contrast setting practical, which uses less heat, ultimately lowering heat accumulation.
  • Apply the lowest printhead pressure feasible to decrease friction.
Printer Settings
4. Use the Right Label Media

Particular varieties of label materials have rough exteriors requiring more significant heat and pressure settings to transfer an image. Typically it is cheaper low-quality media (but not always), or simply the wrong type of media for your label printer that’s the culprit.

The good news is this.

At Triton, when it comes to labels, tags, and other print media forms, we know what good value and quality are and, most importantly, what type of media is right for your specific thermal label printer. We have been doing this for over 35 years.

We have an extensive range of high quality, fit for purpose label media for your printer to provide outstanding print outcomes, and prolong the life of your thermal printhead. Visit our category page for our Label range here or speak to our experts in the live chat widget in the bottom right.

Thermal Labels
Platten Roller
An Extra Tip - Cleaning The Platten Roller

When you do clean your printhead, keep in mind to additionally clean your platen roller. A platen roller functions as a hard surface area to which the label is pressed against the ribbon as it draws labels through the printer. As the platten roller gets older and naturally wears out, it ends up glossy and might cause labels to slide. By maintaining it and keeping it clean, you prolong its life.

DO NOT USE sharp tools to clean your printhead or the platen roller. If the soft platen roller is nicked it can completely spoil print quality leaving every label with a line or nick on it. Additionally beware not to scrape or ruin the glass exterior.


So it all adds up to this:

  1. If you clean your printhead regularly
  2. Use the right ribbon 
  3. Apply the correct settings 
  4. Utilise the right, fit for purpose media


You will significantly increase your printhead’s lifespan.

At any stage, please reach out to us with any questions as we are always willing to help.

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