How to Get a Typewriter Ribbon to Move When Typing

By Jean Asta

Updated September 26, 2017

Getting the ribbon on a typewriter to work again
i green typewriter image by timur1970 from

The typewriter ribbon in most machines is structured to advance automatically when you are typing. However, there are times when the ribbon might not advance correctly. The ribbon-advance mechanism could be blocked somehow by foreign objects or debris. The ribbon could be too loose or too tight to advance correctly. Or the ribbon cartridge itself could be defective so that it needs to be replaced. With some basic troubleshooting steps, you can usually get the typewriter ribbon to advance again. If not, you may need the services of a professional repair person.

Lift open the protective cover of the machine, if any. Inspect the ribbon cartridge to see that the ribbon is intact. Remove the ribbon cartridge according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Clean the area of the location where the ribbon cartridge was placed using the compressed air canister. Check that there is no debris behind the ribbon guide that holds the ribbon against the platen. Look for and remove any other foreign objects that could have prevented the ribbon from advancing properly.

Inspect the ribbon cartridge closely. Loosen the ribbon using the winding mechanism and then tighten it again using the winding mechanism to ensure that the ribbon actually can move. Reinsert the ribbon cartridge according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Replace the ribbon cartridge if the ribbon is still not advancing. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to install the new ribbon cartridge. If the ribbon will still not advance, contact the manufacturer for information on a recommended service professional.

Items you will need

  • Typewriter user manual

  • Compressed air canister for dusting

  • Replacement ribbon cartridge


Remember that in models with a daisy wheel or strike wheel instead of strike bars, a light print or lack of print might not be a problem with the ribbon. Your machine could have a faulty daisy wheel or strike wheel which results in the key imprints not striking the ribbon with enough force. Unless you are certain that the problem is that the ribbon will not advance, try replacing the daisy wheel cartridge or strike wheel according to the manufacturer's instructions before going to a professional for help.