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Printer Ribbons: What does YMCKO mean?

There are all kinds of random acronyms and abbreviations in the identification industry:


With all of these letters and numbers, product titles and descriptions can sometimes look more like alphabet soup than actual sentences.

Many of the acronyms are fairly intuitive. Everyone knows what "ID" is, and "CR80" is pretty easy to understand once you read about it the first time.

However, one of the more common ID acronyms is a bit more difficult to fully understand: YMCKO.

No, YMCKO (unfortunately) isn't a new and improved version of the YMCA. Sorry, Village People!  

Instead, YMCKO is an abbreviation used to describe the color panels contained in a PVC printer ribbon

Confused? We'll explain.


It's fun to print with a Y-M-C-K-O!

Let's back up a little.

When most people think of printers, they think of either laser printers or inkjet printers. 

  • Laser printers use toner cartridges to quickly print (usually in black only) on paper. Toner cartridges are filled with a very fine powder. 
  • Inkjet printers use individual cartridges with liquid ink inside, combining yellow, magenta, cyan and black to make a variety of shades.

PVC printers are different from both of those common printers, in that they use neither liquid ink nor powder ink.

Instead, PVC printer ribbons contain thin layers of color that are applied to the surface of a card (in direct-to-card printers) or to an overlay layer (in reverse-transfer printers) using heat.

Like inkjet printers, PVC printer ribbons use different sections of color that are combined to create a variety of shades.

Those panels of color are what give YMCKO printer ribbons their name: each letter stands for an individual panel.


As you can see, it's really not that complex. While YMCKO ribbons are among the most common printer ribbons, there are several other ribbon types as well:

  • YMC printer ribbons contain no black panel, instead opting for color-only printing using yellow, magenta and cyan panels.
  • YMCK printer ribbons are full-color ribbons, offering yellow, magenta, cyan and black printing; the only difference between these and YMCKO ribbons is the lack of an overlay (O) panel.
  • YMCFKO printer ribbons offer full-color printing with the added bonus of a fluorescent panel (F); this panel allows the printer to create imagery that can only be viewed under UV light for added security.
  • YMCKIKI printer ribbons offer yellow, magenta, cyan and two panels of black. The "I" here stands for "inhibitor panel," which is used to avoid printing on certain areas of the card (like signature areas on a credit card, for example); this ribbon features two of those "I" panels, one for each side of the card.


Now, when you come across a smattering of letters before a printer ribbon, just remember your ABC's (or, in this case, your YMC's): 

  • Y is for yellow
  • M is for magenta
  • C is for cyan
  • K is for black
  • O is for overlay
  • I is for inhibitor
  • F is for fluorescent


Hey, maybe we should work on a YMCA-esque dance about printer ribbons...

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