Continuous and Tear-Off Mode Printing – Thermal Printer Reference

Target Audience: Basic User, Advanced User, IT Manager
Article #: 12723


Most thermal label printers have several operating modes. However, the two most commonly used printing modes are continuous and tear-off. It is useful to know the difference between the two modes in order to make the best use of your printer.


In order for a thermal printer to best optimize the top alignment, it typically uses an internal sensor. This sensor – commonly called a Gap Sensor – looks for the gap between the labels. While not all printers work in the same manner, there is enough commonality that some general guidance applies.

Continuous Mode

In continuous mode, the printer stops advancing the labels at the place where the print head reaches the bottom edge of the label it just printed. As a result, the Gap Sensor is typically positioned over the gap between the labels. Upon starting the next print job, the Gap Sensor is already properly aligned. The printer will then immediately begin printing on the next label with minimal – if any – need to move the label stock forward or backwards.

This is normally the ideal condition. However it’s important to remember that the gap between labels is still within the printer. Tearing it off requires pulling the strip of printed labels outward and downward. Therefore if the user tears off the printed label, they risk damaging or tearing the either that label or the following one.

There are a couple of other issues this can cause. Inadvertently tearing the next blank label means having to manually feed the label stock through, wasting a label. Depending on the make and model of the printer as well as how the label stock is moved during the tear off process, the printer may have to to advance or reverse the label stock until it is properly aligned with the gap sensor. Or, if the user is exceptionally enthusiastic in their label removal, the label stock can become completely misaligned or a label can become stuck within the printer. All of which wastes time.

Tear-Off Mode

As opposed to continuous, tear-off mode instructs the printer to feed the next blank label forward a few millimeters. This aligns the gap – and generally any perforations – with the front panel of the printer. There is frequently a ridge or other feature that assists in helping the perforation separate cleanly.

Of course, this means that the gap is now past the gap sensor. Before printing the next label, the printer will rewind the label stock back into the printer. This will be a few millimeters so that the first blank label is now properly aligned and ready for print. While this realignment process may take a few seconds, tear-off mode lessens the chances of damaging printed or blank labels and ultimately saves more time.

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