How to fix a broken ID card printer ribbon

Anyone that uses an ID card printer will be familiar with this problem. One minute, you’re happily printing a batch of cards, the next, you’re presented with an error or an alarming noise signalling that your ribbon has broken. 

A broken ribbon is quite a common occurrence for direct-to-card printers, but don’t worry. It’s actually unbelievably easy to fix.

In this article, we’ll learn how to: 

  • Fix a broken ID card printer ribbon
  • Prevent future ribbon breakages 

To fix a broken printer ribbon:

1. Pause your job queue and shut down the printer

A broken ribbon is likely to occur in the middle of a print run, so make sure you pause the job as soon as the error occurs. Now switch off the ID card printer at the mains, ensuring it is not connected to a power supply. 

2. Locate the ribbon cartridge or spool

The exact procedure for this will depend on the make and model of your printer, but you’ll have to open the printer’s cover and locate the cartridge or spool that houses the ribbon. 

 If you know the make and model, check out our technical support section. We’ve put lots of handy info in one place and you can find printer-specific guidance on how to change or repair the ribbon. 

3. Remove the cartridge/spool assembly

Remove the assembly that contains the ribbon. There is normally a that holds it into the printer. Once the cartridge/spool assembly has been removed, remove the ink ribbon itself from the assembly. 

Ribbon cartridge assembly

There are always two spools – a supply side, and a take-up side. The supply spool is usually on the right, while the take-up spool will be on the left. It’s important to remember this. 

4. Remove any debris

If the ribbon is stuck to the card roller or stuck to a card, simply pull the card and the ribbon out. Remember to clear your printer completely of debris, cards and torn ribbon.

5. Carry out the ribbon repair

Lie the spools on a flat, clean surface, with the torn endings facing each other. Cut the torn ends to get a straight edge. Overlap the two edges, and using only scotch tape (Do not use duct tape or electrical tape) tape the ends together.

6. Reinstall the ribbon cartridge/spool assembly 

Reinstall the ribbon into its assembly, taking care that the spools are the correct way around and aligned. Ensure the assembly clicks into place and close the printer lid. 

7. Switch the printer back on and resume printing 

Switch the printer back on, and your printer will automatically re-calibrate itself to position the ribbon in the place you need to continue your printing.

Please note, the above procedure varies a lot between printers, and we advise you to refer to our technical support articles, your printer’s user manual to ensure you carry out the procedure properly. If you’re having problems, our support team can help.  

See, that was easier than you thought, wasn’t it? It might be easy to repair, but if your printer ribbon keeps breaking, then some further investigation and steps should be taken. Below, we’ve outlined some of the key things to carry out if you find your ribbon is repeatedly breaking. 

How can I prevent the printer ribbon breaking again?

First off, repeated breakages could simply mean it’s time for a new ribbon. Consider when you last replaced your ribbon. If you only print cards a few times a year or have a low print volume, this could be a simple explanation. Most manufacturers advise that you should change a ribbon that is more than 12 months old. 

1. Carry out a thorough printer clean

Carrying out a regular cleaning cycle is vital in reducing the chance of both a ribbon and print head breaking.

Over time, dust, debris, oils and ink residue build up and can be very harmful to your printer, causing ribbons to break or get clogged up with dirt.

By regularly performing cleaning cycles (we recommend at every ribbon replacement), this removes the damaging build-up of debris, allowing you to continually print clean cards and prolong your printer’s life.

Our advice is to follow the printer manufacturers guidance when completing a cleaning cycle and remember to only ever purchase genuine cleaning kits. You can find guidance for cleaning your specific make and model of print in our technical support section. We also have on-screen video walk-throughs of cleaning some of our most popular printers and have included these below. 

2. Check your cards

It’s also imperative that your cards are clean and free of dust and debris – just like the printer. If your printer ribbon is repeatedly breaking, it could be caused by contaminated cards. They are also extremely prone to picking up static electricity which can also interfere with the ribbon’s correct operation. If you think your cards have been contaminated, the best thing to do is to resume printing with a new batch and see if your ribbon problems stop. 

3. Check your card's design

Direct-to-card printers aren’t designed to handle overly complicated card designs. The complexity of some images can sometimes cause a printer ribbon to break. You may need to resize your images or keeping your design away from the edge of the card. 

4. Don't overwork your printer

Has your weekly, monthly or annual print volume increased recently? Are you introducing a new card design that includes more colours? You may find the area around your ribbon gets much hotter than it used to. 

The increase in temperature can easily cause a broken ID card printer ribbon. But don’t worry: this is usually a simple fix. You need to change the colour parameters. This will allow you to print more colours at a single time and will make it easier for your printer to cope with larger volumes. 

5. Get yourself a new ID card printer

If you’ve tried the above solutions and your ribbon is still regularly breaking, it might be time to think about upgrading your machine. Like all technology, over time printers become worn out and, if your ID card printer is no longer within its warranty period, we’d always advise swapping it out for a new model.

Our technical support team are here to solve your issues, but the truth is that in some cases, the cost and time involved of tracing the cause of your printer ribbon is comparable to the cost of a new machine in some cases. 

If you’re considering a new ID card printer, the resources in our knowledge hub can help. Our ultimate ID card printer buying guide outlines the things it is most important to know before purchasing a new machine. Alternatively, you can contact our experts directly. Our helpful team will be more than happy to discuss your requirements and advise on the best solution for you.  

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