Decode and Understand Printer Ribbon Names


You see words and acronyms like CR80, YMCK, YMCKOK and you have no idea what any of them mean.

How can you possibly find the correct ribbon for your specific printer?

The Major Details You Need to Know When Choosing a Printer Ribbon

Whether you’ve bought a printer already or not, you need to know one important detail: Not all printer ribbons are the same. So, let us help you decipher the gobbledygook so you actually know what the heck this stuff is.

KrO - This ribbon is a single-color monochrome ribbon. That’s a fancy way for saying it can only print black images and text. That’s the K in the name—black. The O stands for overlay, meaning it adds a clear overlay on top of the card to enhance the durability and make the image or text last longer through scratch and fade protection.

What is KrO ribbon good for? It’s great for printing basic ID cards that don’t need a photo or full-color graphic.


YMCK - This ribbon is a four-color ribbon. That means it prints full-color images and text, which is what the letters stand for—Y is yellow dye sublimation panel, M is magenta, C is cyan, and K is black. These are the basic colors of any print job and can be combined to create any other colors needed in the images, text, or logos you print on your card. But, notice there’s no O. That means there’s not an overlay over the card, which makes it a little more susceptible to scratching or fading.

What is YMCK ribbon good for? It’s great for printing membership cards, loyalty cards, and more. It prints one side at a time, and the K panel gives you the ability to print barcodes or QR codes.


YMCKO - This ribbon is exactly like YMCK ribbon, but includes the overlay panel.

What is YMCKO ribbon good for? It’s great for printing any card you’d print with YMCK ribbon, but great for rougher environments that need a little extra protection from everyday wear and tear.


YMCKOK - This ribbon is a more comprehensive ribbon; an all-in-one ribbon, if you want to call it that. It’s a four-color ribbon (exactly like the YMCK ribbon) that has the overlay panel (O), but it also has an additional K panel, which means it can print black barcodes or text on the back side of the card (on a dual-sided printer, of course).

What is YMCKOK ribbon good for? It’s great for high-volume print jobs that need to be done quickly and efficiently. Specifically for dual-sided cards, it uses all color panels on each card (as in, you get the same amount of prints whether you print single- or dual-sided cards—see “Other Minor Details” for more info). And, like the other ribbons, it’s great for printing membership and loyalty cards, but it can also handle the dual-sided printing of student ID cards, swipe cards, and more.


Retransfer Film - While it isn’t called a ribbon, it functions with a printer ribbon to give you a finished ID. Retransfer film is necessary for printing images in “reverse” image fashion, which is a method used by many of our ID card printers. The image is printed onto this clear retransfer film, then laminated onto the plastic card surface. This essentially functions as an overlay panel, and gives the card enhanced durability. This film is only the lamination, though, so you’ll also need YMCK ribbon.

What is retransfer film good for? It’s great for creating a finished product that is highly protected from scratching and fading. And, obviously, it’s specifically meant to be used with retransfer printers!

Other Minor Details You Should Know

1.    While the list above is not an exhaustive list of all the printer ribbons available, it does include the most common types. However, if you happen to see a variation of any of the ribbons above (for example: K or YMCKK), you should be able to figure it out now that you know what each letter means!

2.    In a single-sided printer, you can swap out a KrO ribbon for a YMCK or YMCKO ribbon to print the color side of a dual-sided card. Most of our printers can also function as dual-sided printers, but the limitation is that you can only print one side at a time.

3.    Ribbons come in different print quantities. For some ribbons, there’s a dual-sided number and a single-sided number. For example: If it has the capability to print 250 dual-sided cards but you don’t need to print on both sides, it can be used to print 500 single-sided cards. There are exceptions like YMCKOK, it is specifically meant for dual-sided printers and cards. Every ribbon uses all color panels on each print.

Another point to note here is that the print quantity isn’t arbitrary. The quantity indicated is the quantity guaranteed, due to the nature of ribbon technology. You get that many prints—no more, no less.

Looking to Buy?

When deciding on the right printer ribbon for you, ask yourself these questions:

1.    What type of printer do you have? Most likely, a specific ribbon is recommended for each printer. On our website, each printer ribbon has a printer brand name in its title, so it’s easy for you to search by brand. Also, on each printer ribbon product page is a list of compatible printers.

2.    Shop the easy with our printer supply finder! Simply fill in what printer you own and you will be shown all the supplies specific for that printer.

Need help? We’ve got your back! Our tech specialists know printer ribbons, and a bunch of other random stuff, and they’d be happy to help. Give them a call today at 866.438.4553.

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