So, you’re having problems with your Zebra barcode printer. Don’t worry! It happens to the best of us, and you can take simple steps to get your printer humming right along again.
In this post, we’ll share some of the best Zebra printer troubleshooting and repair tips that we’ve collected during over three decades in the business.
But, beyond fixing your current issue, we also want to help you keep the problem from occurring again. For this reason, we’ll also go over some Zebra printer maintenance tips for keeping major issues to a minimum.
By the end of this post, you’ll be well-equipped to care for your Zebra thermal printer. As a result, you’ll enjoy all the productive and efficient benefits that come with owning a machine from this industry-leading brand.
Start with Proper Zebra Printer Maintenance
Before we get into specific problems and solutions, let’s start with a simple question: When was the last time you cleaned your Zebra printer?
If it’s been a while—or you’ve never cleaned it—then that’s a likely reason your machine’s not performing as it should.
Zebra barcode printers have several parts that require routine maintenance to keep them from malfunctioning. Fortunately, most of this maintenance is so simple that you can handle it on your own. All you need is a cotton swab and some isopropyl alcohol.
So, before you start panicking and assume that something major is wrong with your machine, you should start by giving your machine an overdue cleaning. There’s a good chance this will solve the problem you’re having, so you won’t have to pay for any repairs!
Here are some ways you can clean up your machine:
Clean the Printhead
The printhead is the most important part of a Zebra printer. It’s also the most expensive part to replace, which is why it’s crucial to clean it regularly. We recommend doing so every time you replace a ribbon or add label paper to your printer.
Over time, the printhead will pick up waxy film as the printer ribbon runs over it. As a result, the barcodes on the labels will become more and more distorted the longer the printhead goes without cleaning. Eventually, you will no longer be able to scan the labels.
To keep this from happening, you should do the following to clean the printhead:
- Turn off the printer so that there’s no heat going to the printhead.
- Visually inspect the printhead to see if there are any visual marks or scuffs on it.
- Use a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol to gently wipe away the dirt and scuffs. (We recommend doing this even if you can’t see any marks, just to be safe.)
By cleaning the printhead often, you will save money by not having to replace your printhead quite so frequently.
Inspect the Platen Roller
The platen roller is another essential part of a Zebra barcode printer. This piece is the rubber cylinder that the labels roll over when they come out of the printer.
It’s essential that a platen roller stays clean and in good shape because, if it doesn’t, the labels can start misprinting in several different ways.
You can also clean this part of the machine with a swab and alcohol. But you should also feel the roller afterward to make sure it feels a little tacky. If the roller feels smooth, this indicates that it’s too dirty and won’t have the grip it needs to effectively pull the labels out of the printer. We will discuss more about inspecting the platen roller below.
Make Sure the Main Sensor Can See
The main sensor is the part of the printer that identifies where one label ends and another begins. This part is essential because it ensures that the printer prints on each label and doesn’t skip any.
Problems occur when the sensor gets clogged by paper debris and dust. To keep this from happening, you should periodically spray the sensor with a canned air duster.
Invest in High-Quality Ribbons and Paper
Another way to keep your Zebra barcode printer in good shape is to resist the temptation to purchase cheap ribbons or label paper. Lower-priced ribbons tend to shed wax more easily, and less expensive paper is usually made from a coarser material. Both these qualities tend to cause more wear and tear on a machine, making it break down sooner rather than later.
So, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re saving money by purchasing these cheaper products. You may save a little upfront, but you’ll only be setting yourself up for larger repair bills down the road. Instead, buy higher-grade materials and save big in the long run.
Always Keep the External Cover Down
One final tip for a clean and healthy printer is to keep the external cover down as much as possible. You will need to raise this cover to change the ribbon and paper, but always close it once you’re done. You’re only leaving the inside of your printer vulnerable to getting dirty quicker and breaking down sooner if you don’t.
We also recommend regularly wiping down the exterior of the machine with a lint-free cloth. Not only will this make the printer look nicer, but it will keep dust and debris from getting in and clogging the machine.
Watch Out for These Common Zebra Printer Problems
Hopefully, following the above steps resolves any issues you were having with your Zebra. Of course, even if you clean your device all the time, it still doesn’t 100% guarantee that the printer won’t malfunction. Such is the nature of technology.
Here are some common zebra printer problems that indicate your machine needs more than routine cleaning:
Gaps in the Printing
You may start to notice gaps in the print in the same spot on every other label. The most likely cause of this issue is that the platen roller has started to deteriorate and needs replacement. You can watch out for this problem by keeping an eye on the platen roller and watching for grooves or cracks to start to form.
Another common malfunction is when a printer starts skipping multiple labels at a time during printing. This pattern usually indicates that the main sensor is either clogged or malfunctioning. Cleaning off the sensor as we instructed above will hopefully make this go away, but you’ll need more involved repairs if it doesn’t.
Vertical White Lines
When vertical white lines start to show up on printed labels, it’s a sure sign that the printhead is failing. The average lifespan for a Zebra printhead is about ten million labels. However, a lack of proper cleaning and maintenance can significantly lower this lifespan. And when a printhead starts to burn out, the only suitable fix is to replace it.
Follow Zebra Printer Troubleshooting Best Practices
Unfortunately, it’s not always clear what’s causing a printer to malfunction. This can make Zebra printer troubleshooting tricky and frustrating. But that’s no reason to get discouraged.
The key to successfully troubleshooting a Zebra printer is to follow an orderly process. As we already mentioned, this process should start with cleaning the machine. After this, we recommend doing the following:
Check Ribbon and Label Positioning
Improperly positioned ribbons and labels are two of the most common Zebra barcode printer troubleshooting issues we encounter. Therefore, it’s crucial to physically inspect the labels and ribbon to make sure they’re loaded into the printer correctly.
The ribbon guides need to have the right adjustment. Otherwise, the labels can start moving away from the center of the printer, making it more difficult for the main sensor to find where to print. If not addressed right away, this can jam up the printing process.
So, never assume that a Zebra printer is loaded properly and ready to go when you start using it. All it takes is one team member to load it wrong and to gum up the system. For this reason, we recommend that companies have it as part of their process to check the ribbon and label positioning before each team member starts using the system.
Run a Media Calibration
If the machine is clean with the ribbon and labels in the right position, and you’re still having problems, then it’s time to calibrate the printer.
Every Zebra thermal barcode printer has a built-in printer calibration program. It resets the system so that it will function properly again.
The steps for media calibration vary from one model to the next. Your Zebra printer should have instructions for how to do it in the instruction manual. However, this process can be tricky. We recommend calling a professional to handle it for you if you run into difficulty.
One out of every three printers we fix here at Direct Barcode Printer Repair only needs a ribbon and label repositioning or media calibration. That’s how common these fixes are. So, hopefully, they should solve your problem. If not, more advanced repairs may be necessary.
Have a Maintenance and Repair Plan
Is your company prepared for what will happen if your Zebra printer breaks down? Unfortunately, a lot of businesses don’t think about this until it’s too late. Then they’re without their machine for a few days until it gets repaired.
If you have a larger company with multiple printers, then one breaking down won’t be as much of an issue for you. But we know there are many smaller businesses out there that rely on one Zebra barcode printer for their operations. So, we wanted to provide some quick tips for companies in this situation.
Consider a Backup Printer
For a lot of companies, the go-to option is to hire a maintenance company to periodically service their machines. However, a cheaper alternative, in the long run, is to invest in a backup printer to use when your primary printer has issues.
The problem with maintenance contracts is that the costs add up over time. You must pay for the technician to come to your business and spend time servicing the machine. And on top of that, if the technician encounters any issues with the machine, you’ll pay for those, too. Furthermore, you may be without your printer for a while if the technician doesn’t have what he or she needs to fix it right away and must come back for another appointment.
Conversely, with a backup printer, you won’t have to worry about emergency maintenance calls. Instead, you can save money by sending the malfunctioning printer to a repair shop while the backup printer keeps your operations running. This way, your business won’t lose money while your printer is out of order. Plus, you can save on repair costs by not having to pay a technician to come to your business.
Schedule Maintenance Based on Printer Usage
If you decide not to go with a backup printer, then we recommend scheduling expert maintenance on your machine to protect against unexpected breakdowns. A professional technician will give all parts of your machine the TLC they need and can detect and fix internal issues before they become problematic.
But the key is not to overdo it with regular maintenance. Getting your Zebra printer inspected too often is a waste of money.
Instead, we recommend choosing the frequency based on how many labels you print a day. If you print 10,000 or more labels a day, then you should have the machine serviced once a year. Anything less than that, and you’re probably safe with getting service every 1.5-2 years.
Of course, you should also be regularly cleaning the machine on your own as we mentioned above. Otherwise, your printer will need repairs a whole lot sooner!
Need Expert Zebra Troubleshooting and Repair in the Midwest?
You can take all the precautions in the world but still wind up with printer problems. That’s just how technology goes, sadly. Still, as you can see, Zebra printer troubleshooting is relatively simple if you follow an orderly process.
Getting dependable expert service for your printer is even easier with Direct Barcode Printer Repair! For over 30 years, we’ve provided quick and effective printer repair services for businesses throughout the United States. You can ship your Zebra printer to us and get it back with all repairs complete in only a few days. Furthermore, we never broker our services, and you can call to talk to a real service rep about your system.
Call 815-338-2600 or fill out a contact form to schedule your service today!