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Limited Capacity for Thermal Ribbons to Create Opportunity for Direct Thermal Solutions

Leading suppliers of thermal transfer ribbons are facing raw material constraints, which means they will be raising their prices and placing their largest vendors on allocation by establishing fixed volume commitments for 2011.  Why? Thin film PET suppliers have shifted capacity to meet increased demand for thicker films used in support of more profitable applications, such as the production of flat screen displays.  This shift in capacity, coupled with other raw material price increases (wax, resin, solvents, etc.), has left thermal transfer ribbon converters scrambling to meet the demands of an increasingly price sensitive market. 

While most leading converters believe the raw material capacity issue will be resolved in 2013, many are thinking about what a thermal transfer ribbon shortage might mean for their business.  At VDC, we’ve witnessed a gradual, but persistent migration from thermal transfer to direct thermal printing technology over the past decade, and data collected in Q4 of 2010 suggests that this trend will continue throughout 2011.  

In 2010, direct thermal and thermal transfer label material shipments were virtually the same; however, now that capacity and raw materials pricing pressures are plaguing the ribbon supply community, we are predicting an accelerated migration, particularly in markets with a high use of wax ribbon printing on common substrates and where today’s direct thermal media represents a viable alternative to thermal transfer.  Which applications?  Those 4X6 compliance shipping labels that have been bread and butter for thermal transfer solution providers for decades will certainly receive increased scrutiny, as will other applications as deploying enterprises take another look at direct thermal media and its capabilities.

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