Printing Ribbons CSI vs. CSO – What Does That Mean?

Label printer manufacturers design their equipment with cost, unique engineering and quality in mind. Their printers use a wide variety of media formats both in terms of size and presentation. This applies to labels or tags as well as printing ribbons.

For instance, thermal transfer printing ribbons for compact desktop printers typically use ribbons put on 1/2” cores and full-size/industrial models will typically handle cores ranging from 1” or 1 ½” in diameter.

Wound in or wound outWhen you place an order for printing ribbons, we will ask you what printer model you are using.  Another question will be whether the ribbon is coated side in (CSI) and or coated side out (CSO). This refers to how the printing ribbon comes off the roll and feeds through a printer. Printers like Zebra and TSC use the most popular format of CSO. This means the waxed side of the inked ribbon faces the OUTSIDE of the roll. Other printers like Datamax or Sato are commonly designed exactly the opposite and use ribbons CSI. Some newer printers will work with ribbons in either CSI or CSO format and we have found ways to feed most any ribbon over the various rollers to make use of either type.

So why is so important to know how your ribbon is wound? Thermal transfer printing depends on the waxed side of the printing ribbon coming in direct contact with the label so that when heat from the printhead is applied to the back of the ribbon, it transfers an image to the label. If you don’t have the right (face) side of the ribbon meeting the face of the label, you won’t get an image and the waxed ink can damage your printhead.

Here’s a Neat Trick: If you don’t know which way your printing ribbon is coated, there is an easy test you can do. Simply take a piece of scotch tape and apply it to the outside of the roll. When you peel the tape off, look for the ink to come off with it. If it does, we call that a CSO ribbon. If it doesn’t come off with the tape, try the other side of the ribbon. The ink should come off and would be called a CSI ribbon.  The side of the ribbon that doesn’t come off with the tape is called the carrier or film backing.

Electronic Imaging maintains an extensive database of thermal transfer printer specifications and will help you pick the Right Ribbon Formula and the Right Format. Even if you just need help installing your thermal transfer ribbon, simply give us a call (800) 535-6987 or Contact Us by Email. As always, EIM is here to help make printing labels easy!

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Electronic Imaging Materials