Thermal Printhead Care

Your printhead deserves better!  So how do you care for and extend the life of your printhead?

thermal printhead

Printhead Care and Maintenance

Your thermal printhead is the most critical component of your thermal printer.  If your thermal printhead is not cared for properly, your print results can be poor and the life of the printhead reduced.  To add to the fun, it can be fragile and expensive to replace.  Because there is friction as the media passes over the printhead, it is considered a consumable component.

Enough of the bad news.  Let’s look at how to extend the life of the printhead.  Shall we?

There are 4 primary causes in shortening a printhead’s life (bonus #5 for our techy friends):

1-Half-InchExcessive Abrasion

Your printhead has a protective layer (top coat).  Excessive abrasion will cause the top coat to wear prematurely and expose the heater element.  Yep, this is bad.

  • Poor quality media can have abrasive particles embedded.  When they come loose and contact the printhead, they act like sandpaper.
  • Introduction of external contaminants are a BIG NO!  Particle dust in the printer cabinet, dirt from a shop floor, dust in the air, all bad.

Frequent cleaning of the printer cabinet is key (compressed air is your friend) to printhead longevity.  Also, we know it’s convenient to keep the printer door open but your printhead hates it!


Critical to the life of your printhead is maintaining the protective coating on the heating element.  When we see buildup on the printhead, it’s just so tempting to scrape it off with something sharp (screwdriver, pocket knife).  Just DON’T!  We give some head cleaning advice below.  Try that instead.


Impurities can open and/or short circuits in your printhead (creating dead spots on the head).  Most times the impurity is introduced when pure (99%+) isopropyl alcohol is not used.  Isopropyl alcohol is the only cleaning product that should be used.  Also, avoid high humidity when handling the printhead.  Your printhead is not friends with moisture.


What is overdrive?  Overdrive is when your printhead does not make proper contact with the media.  When this happens, the printhead element can’t dissipate its energy as desired and shorten’s its life.  We see this show on the head as white lines or dots on the element.

What causes overdrive?

  • Residue buildup on the printhead (clean the printhead often)
  • Unusual wear on the platen roller.  If you run your finger across the roller, can you feel ridges, valleys?  Did someone take a chunk out of it removing a jammed label?  Platen rollers are cheap.  Replace it.
  • Lastly, dont open the printhead while printing is in progress.  You are changing the flow of energy through the head potentially causing overdrive (same with plugging and unplugging cables. . . power down first).


5-Half-InchESD (bonus)

ESD is Electro Static Discharge.

“Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is the sudden flow of electricity between two electrically charged objects caused by contact, an electrical short, or dielectric breakdown.”

ESD protection is a must when:

  • Handling or changing a printhead
  • When cleaning a printhead, don’t touch the element with your hands/fingers
  • Media passing over residue/material on the head.  Make sure the printhead is clean.

Improper printhead maintenance can be costly in dollars and downtime.  Are you doing all you can to insure your heads operate at their very best?

Need to discuss printhead maintenance?  Purchase OEM or aftermarket alternative printheads?  Give us a call.  Our Labelmatch Business Consultants will be pleased to assist you (8:30 am to 5:00 pm EST).


Labelmatch is an authorized reseller of these market leading OEM printhead products.

Zebra-230X82 Datamax-230X132 Sato-230X51