Ribbon materials are normally nylon fabric, in various thicknesses and thread types, or polyester film. Fabric is soaked with ink, film is coated with ink-bearing wax. Thinner fabrics give better print quality, usually at the expense of ribbon life. Nylon ribbons can be continually reused until print quality is unacceptable due to ink depletion. The printer recycles such a ribbon continuously, either by use of a continuous loop or by reversing it at each end. With film ribbons a much greater proportion of the ink is transferred at each strike, leading to shorter ribbon life. They can however provide much better print quality than fabric ribbons. Degree of inking in a ribbon is a carefully controlled parameter.
Thermal transfer printers also require a ribbon, in this case a film ribbon coated with a thermoplastic or wax-based ink.