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Thermal and Thermal Transfer Printer with suppliesThe names sound similar, so it’s easy to get confused about the differences between thermal printers and thermal transfer printers. The technologies are very different, and each one serves well in certain applications. Here’s everything you need to know about thermal and thermal transfer bar code label printers.

The Difference Between Thermal and Thermal Transfer Printers

Both technologies use heat to create an image on labels, and both technologies create clear, sharp images necessary for barcode reading. However, they use different methods to print barcodes.

  • Thermal transfer printers use a ribbon between the print head and the label. The print head heats the ribbon to transfer the image to the label.
  • Thermal (direct thermal technology) printers use chemically treated labels that are sensitive to heat. The print head blackens the label as it passes. There is no ink, toner, or ribbon involved in a thermal printer process.

Pros and Cons of Thermal Transfer and Thermal Printers

Thermal printers have an uncomplicated design that means they are reliable to operate. The cost of operating thermal printers for printing barcode labels is often lower with thermal printers because there is nothing required to create barcodes except the printer and the label. However, thermal images may fade over time or with exposure to heat and light, so the technology is best used in applications where the product is not in circulation for long lengths of time, or where the label will not be subject to those elements.

Thermal transfer technology melts the ink, which is absorbed by the paper label. This makes the images more durable. Image quality is often superior to other printing methods, making this technology ideal for use cases that require long-term readability. Thermal transfer printers can work with a wider variety of label materials, including paper, many plastics, and polypropylenes.

The Best Applications for Thermal Printers

  • shipping labels
  • pick lists
  • receipt tickets
  • inventory identification labels

They are also suitable for printing wristbands and event tickets, name tags, and visitor labels. The key requirement is that label readability should be of relatively short duration.

The Best Applications for Thermal Transfer Printers

Thermal transfer printing works well for applications where readability is required over a longer time.

  • asset tags
  • employee ID badges
  • patient wristbands
  • material certifications
  • serial number tags

In addition, labels that will be exposed to harsh conditions, chemicals, water, sunlight, sterilization, and temperature extremes are best created with thermal transfer printers. It is important to note that the thermal ribbon and the label material must be compatible to ensure that the ribbon’s ink can be absorbed properly.

Before investing in a thermal printing solution, consider all aspects and the life of the barcode labels you will be printing. We can help you determine which technology will be best for your application and ensure you have the right materials and compatible inks for your labels. Contact us today for more information.

Contact us today for information.