How to Change a Typewriter Ribbon

Updated July 20, 2017

A typewriter is a manual or electric machine with a set of keys used to imprint characters onto a medium such as paper. Each key is attached to a type bar that contains strike heads that have a character moulded into the striking head. The type bar guides the strike heads to hit the ink ribbon, which imprints the character on paper that is rolled around an adjustable roller. Various typewriters may have a metal ball known as a typeball containing the characters on it or a metal or plastic disk with the letters lining the outside edge called a daisy wheel. Both types rotate as needed to print characters. A variety of ribbons were designed for these typewriters including ribbons that were inked in colour, fabric ribbons and carbon film ribbons. All types of ribbons used in typewriters need to be changed eventually.

Center the carrier piece so that it fits in the middle of the typewriter. If the typewriter is electric, turn off the motor at this time. The carrier is the mechanism that holds the ribbon in place and is located where the characters are imprinted on the paper.

Open the top or print cover of the typewriter to expose the ribbon.

Remove the worn-out ribbon, noting the direction the ribbon spools are facing and the way the ribbon threads through any ribbon guides, vibrator prongs, ribbon posts and any other obstacles throughout the typewriter. If your machine has ribbon guides, they will be located next to each spool and will be a U shape. There are usually four vibrator prongs on the carrier, which help to hold the ribbon in place while typing. Ribbon posts are sometimes placed in a typewriter to guide the ribbon to a specific location in the typewriter and are just a rod where the ribbon may bend around.

Push the release button or lever to remove the ribbon cassette, if the typewriter has a cassette instead of two separate spools. In some typewriters, the cassette is attached to a holder that also is released by the button. In this case, pull the cassette away from the holder to release it and put the holder to the side.

Push the ribbon load lever to the open position, enabling the ribbon guides to lift up, if the typewriter has a load lever. Remove the spools by lifting each one up and off of their spindles. Remove the ribbon from the ribbon guides and unhook it from the vibrator prongs.

Clean any debris or dried ink left over on any typewriter surfaces that come in contact with the ribbon using a typewriter brush or an old toothbrush. Dip the brush into some alcohol or a lacquer thinner, clean the dirty surface and use a soft lint wipe to dry any wet areas. Other areas may need to be cleaned as well using the soft lint wipe to remove dust. A pin can be used to free grime in hard-to-reach spots.

Lubricate any sluggish mechanism using typewriter oil or aerosol spray lubricant according to the manufacturer's directions. It is important to pay close attention to the spool areas and, if the typewriter has them, toggle links. These are under the spools and help to reverse the ribbon when needed.

Insert the new ribbon by placing each spool into its respective spool holder or spindle. The direction each spool should initially be placed is usually marked on the spool or on the typewriter. Place the ink side of the ribbon so that it faces the paper, if the ribbon is one-sided. New cartridges can be snapped into the holder and reinserted into the typewriter.

Rotate the ribbon cassettes manually or with the feed knob, if the typewriter has one, to remove any slack in the ribbon after installation. If the typewriter has a lever that releases the ribbon for removal, turn it to the closed position.

Turn on the typewriter if it is electric. A few printers will require you to punch in a certain code after the installation of the ribbon. For example, the Wordsmith 100 typewriter requires you to press the CODE key and the = key at the same time to be able to continue typing.

Close the cover and type a few lines to test that the ribbon has been inserted correctly. If the ribbon is loose or is not reversing correctly, remove it and reinstall it again, ensuring the ribbon is not damaged, it is threaded correctly and that all metal rivets, vibrator prongs and ribbon posts are still intact.


When changing ribbon, wear a pair of disposable gloves and either an apron or expendable clothes. Replacing typewriter ribbon can be messy. Many ribbons can be flipped over and used if one side is too worn out. Always store unused ribbons in an airtight container or wrap them up in tinfoil.

Things You'll Need

  • Typewriter
  • Cassette holder
  • Typewriter brush
  • Toothbrush
  • Alcohol
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Soft lint wipe
  • Pin
  • Typewriter oil
  • Aerosol spray
  • New ribbon
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About the Author

Angel Coswell started her public writing career in 2008. She has excellent experience writing with eHow about home improvement, mathematical and scientific concepts, help related topics and financing. She received her master's degree in physics with an emphasis in engineering in 2008 from the University of Utah.