Top 15 Tips For Zebra Thermal Barcode Printer Maintenance

zebra thermal barcode printer maintenance tips
Timmy Thermal TM15 maintenance tips to keep your Zebra thermal barcode printer operational.
by Timmy Thermal

If a Zebra thermal barcode printer isn’t operational, it can greatly effect productivity. So many times we get calls for repair that could have been prevented with proper maintenance.

As an IT guy, it’s definitely frustrating dealing with employees complaining about not being able to do their job. That’s why we collected the top 15 maintenance tips for Zebra thermal barcode printers. We hope this helps.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #1

One of the greatest failures occurring in thermal barcode printers is due to the printheads not being cleaned regularly.

A good rule of thumb is to clean the printhead on each of your Zebra thermal printers every time you replace a ribbon or roll of paper. It takes only about a minute and this action could save you thousands of dollars over the life of the printer.

Follow the instructions in your User’s Manual as to the type of cleaning solvent to be used for your specific model.

If you cannot find your User’s Manual give us a call and we will steer you in the right direction.

We hope this Tip will help you save money and allow your printers to run longer.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #2

If you feel you are burning out printheads too often on your Zebra printer, you may want to check your User’s Manual for the recommended heat and darkness settings. An incorrect setting often will reduce the printhead life and could cost you thousands of dollars over the life of the printer.

If you cannot find your User’s Manual give us a call and we will steer you in the right direction.zebra thermal barcode printers

We hope this Tip will help you save money and allow your printers to run longer.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #3

Dust residing on the Media Sensor can cause major service issues. The Media Sensor is the mechanism that insures that the gap between the paper and the printhead remains constant.
Most people purchase a bottle of “canned air” and simply give the Media Sensor a few quick blasts of air, which will usually clear out any dust residue left over from the roll paper. You should consider doing this regularly, every time you change the ribbon or a roll of paper. It will only take a few seconds and it will ensure more up-time.

If you cannot find your User’s Manual give us a call and we will steer you in the right direction.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #4

If you are using a ribbon in your thermal printer, be sure that it is a good quality ribbon. Lower cost ribbons are often not manufactured to the exact wax and/or resin specifications of your printer and could cause a wax build-up on the platen.
Wax build-up can cause poor print quality resulting in barcode reliability issues.

If you cannot find your User’s Manual give us a call and we will steer you in the right direction.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #5

If you are using a thermal printer that does not use a ribbon (typically called a Direct Thermal printer vs. a Thermal Transfer printer that does use ribbons) and you are constantly having problems with defective printheads, you may want to consider either changing your printer to a Thermal Transfer printer or using a better quality paper.

A Thermal Transfer printer, due to the position of the ribbon between the printhead and the label paper, can greatly extend the life of thermal printheads, as paper is not directly rubbing against the printhead itself and causing friction.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #6

A good rule of thumb, when purchasing new ribbons on thermal transfer printers, is to purchase a ribbon that is slightly wider than the actual labels that you are using. For instance, if the label that you are using is 4.1″ in width, then you may want to consider purchasing ribbons that are 4.33″ in width.

This extra width will help keep more lubrication on the printhead and help extend printhead life.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #7

Are you wearing out printheads? If so, here is something you may want to check.

Be sure that you are not using low grade label paper if you are using Direct Thermal printers. Often bargain priced rolls of paper really are not a “bargain”.
Why?
Because low grade paper often is coarser and can cause more wear on the printheads. We have seen situations with even as high as 50% more wear on the printhead. As you may know, printheads in thermal printers are very expensive.
It may make sense to pay a little more for paper, as it is a fraction of the cost compared to replacing printheads more often.
Remember, the manufacturers of thermal printers consider the printheads as consumables that the end-user is responsible to replace. These consumables run into the hundreds of dollars each.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #8

Have burned-out printhead elements on your Zebra printer? Here is how to tell with a PAUSE TEST.
There may be situations where it looks like information is missing on your labels and/or barcodes when they are being printed. There is always a chance that one or more of the print elements in your Zebra printer printhead may be burned out.

Before calling someone for a Zebra printer repair, you may want to try this simple test that only takes a few moments to see if in fact it is your print elements. Keep in mind that Zebra considers printheads as consumables and they must be replaced from time to time. Typically this is performed by a qualified printer repair technician.

This self test can be used to print test labels when you make adjustments to the Zebra printer’s mechanical assemblies to determine if any of the printhead elements are not working.

Complete these steps to run the Pause Test:

  1. Turn the Zebra printer off.
  2. Press and hold the Pause key while turning the printer on. Hold the Pause key until the first control panel light turns off.
    • The initial test pattern will start printing 15 labels at the Zebra printer’s slowest speed, and then it will automatically pause the printer. Each time the Pause key is pressed, the Zebra printer will print another 15 labels.
    • While the printer is paused, pressing the Cancel alters the self test. Each time the Pause key is pressed, 15 labels print at 6 inches per second.
    • While the printer is paused, pressing the Cancel again alters the self test a second time. Each time the Pause key is pressed, 50 labels are printed at the Zebra printer’s slowest speed.
    • While the printer is paused, pressing the Cancel again alters the self test a third time. Each time the Pause key is pressed, 50 labels are printed at the 6 inches per second.
    • While the printer is paused, pressing the Cancel again alters the self test a fourth time. Each time the Pause key is pressed, the printer will print 15 labels at the printer’s maximum speed.
  3. To exit the self test at any time, press and hold Cancel.

The actual Pause Test label will indicate on it if one of the print elements on the printhead is defective as part of the test pattern. Part of the test pattern printed is total black, and if there is a defective printhead, this portion of the test label will indicate white spots. This indicates that there is a bad print element and the printhead will need replacing. At this point you may need to call a printer repair company.

A good printer repair company sees this issue often and will be able to supply you with a new Zebra printhead and will also fully check out your Zebra printer. A steady program that includes Zebra printer maintenance will help you keep your printer up and running longer.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #9

What are printer and print server alerts? Should you pay attention to them?

Alerts give you the ability to proactively manage your Zebra printer and print server. If the printer or print server has an error, you would be sent an alert notifying you of the situation. ZebraNet Bridge gives you control to monitor your bar code printers from anywhere, and documents the alerts to a log file.

A soon as ZebraNet Bridge receives an alert, the alert appears in the Events tab. If you have not viewed the alert yet in the Events tab, the box in the status bar at the bottom of the application shows:

  • New alert
  • Alert type
  • Alert severity by color

You can configure ZebraNet Bridge to notify you by blinking the application tab in the task bar. Remember, ZebraNet Bridge only logs alerts that occur while the application is running.
A good Zebra repair company sees this issue often and will be able to supply you with a new Zebra printhead and will also fully check out your Zebra printer. A steady program that includes Zebra printer maintenance will help you keep your printer up and running longer.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #10

Clean the exterior and interior area of your Zebra printer often.

To keep your Zebra printer running optimally, remember to clean the interior and exterior of the printer. When these areas are dirty, the chance of debris getting into the wrong area is increased.

To clean the exterior surfaces of the printer use a lint-free cloth. Do not use harsh or abrasive cleaning agents or solvents. If necessary, a mild detergent solution or desktop cleaner may be used sparingly.

You should inspect the interior area after every four rolls of media. Remove any dirt and lint from the interior of the printer using a soft bristle brush and/or vacuum cleaner.
A good Zebra repair company sees this issue often and will be able to supply you with a new Zebra printhead and will also fully check out your Zebra printer. A steady program that includes Zebra printer maintenance will help you keep your printer up and running longer.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #11

Don’t forget to clean the Printhead and Platen Roller!

To keep your Zebra printer running at its optimum it is a good rule of thumb to clean it regularly. If you recognize inconsistent print quality, such as voids in the bar code or graphics, this may indicate a dirty printhead. For best results, perform the following cleaning procedure after every roll of ribbon.

Note: You do not need to turn off the printer before cleaning the printhead. If the power is turned off, all label formats and images, as well as any temporarily saved parameter settings stored in the printer’s internal memory, are lost. When the power is turned back on, you will need to reload these items.

To clean the printhead:

  1. Open the printhead
  2. Remove the media and ribbon (if loaded).
  3. Moisten an applicator tip with solvent and wipe along the print elements from end to end. (The print elements are on the brown strip just behind the chrome strip on the printhead.) Allow a few seconds for the solvent to evaporate.
  4. Rotate the platen roller and clean thoroughly with solvent and an applicator.
  5. Brush/vacuum any accumulated paper lint and dust away from the rollers.
  6. Reload ribbon and/or media, and close the printhead.

A good Zebra repair company sees this issue often and will be able to supply you with a new Zebra printhead and will also fully check out your Zebra printer. A steady program that includes Zebra printer maintenance will help you keep your printer up and running longer.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #12

Extend the life of your printhead and reduce consumable costs.
The printhead is the most critical component in your printer, and possibly the most delicate. It is a consumable item just like the brakes on your car, which eventually wears over time. However, with ongoing careful attention and maintenance, you can extend the life of the printhead!

Below are photographs of three printheads. The first printhead is brand new. The second has printed over 1 million linear inches of thermal transfer labels and has been properly maintained. The third printhead has printed far fewer labels, but without proper care and maintenance, signs of abrasion and contamination build-up are evident (see below).
zebra printhead maintenance
A good Zebra repair company sees this issue often and will be able to supply you with a new Zebra printhead and will also fully check out your Zebra printer. A steady program that includes Zebra printer maintenance will help you keep your printer up and running longer.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #13

Remember to clean the Sensors on your Zebra printers!

The Media, Ribbon and Label Available Sensors should be cleaned on a regular basis to ensure proper operation of your Zebra printer. (To locate these sensors – see diagrams below).

Printhead:
zebra printhead components
Upper Media Sensor:
zebra upper media sensor
Lower Media Sensor:
zebra lower media sensor
Brush and/or vacuum any accumulated paper lint and dust off of these sensors.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #14

Do you know what the Snap Plate is? You should and it should be regularly cleaned for optimal operation of your Zebra printer.

The Snap Plate should be cleaned to remove label adhesive or a label that has adhered to the underside of the Snap Plate (see below).
zebra snap plate

  1. Insert a small-blade screwdriver or similar tool into the loop on the left side of the Snap Plate. Lift the Snap Plate. Caution: Take care not to bend, twist, or otherwise deform the loops!
  2. Repeat step one on the right side of the Snap Plate.
  3. Remove the Snap Plate from the printer.
  4. Clean the Snap Plate with cleaning solvent and a soft cloth.
  5. To reinstall the Snap Plate, insert the two tabs on the bottom of the Snap Plate into the two slots of the media pathway.
  6. Slide the Snap Plate toward you.
  7. Press down on the loops to lock the Snap Plate into place.

Zebra Thermal Barcode Maintenance Tip #15

Does your Zebra printer have the optional cutter module?

Be sure to clean this to ensure it is working optimally.

If labels are not being cut properly or if the cutter jams with labels, turn off the printer power and unplug the printer. Then, clean the stationary cutter blade with cleaning solvent removing label adhesive and/or paper debris.

Get repair on your Zebra thermal barcode printers or learn more about your options on all your printer, labeling and barcode scanning needs, call us as (800) 643-2664 and immediately talk to one of our friendly representatives; or chat us up on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn!

Keep your Zebra thermal barcode printers running (or all your thermal barcode printers)! Download our FREE maintenance ebooks below.

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