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Direct Thermal vs. Thermal Transfer Printing

Last Updated: 6/7/2016

There are two different print techologies typically used in label printers and barcode printers: direct thermal and thermal transfer.  There are ups and downs to each one and they are both appropriate for different situations.  Here is a description of each printing method.

Direct Thermal - Direct thermal printers use heat from a print head to print directly onto media that has a special chemical coat on it. The image is made when heat is applied to the paper and therefore direct thermal printers do not need a ribbon. After a while, the images will begin to fade or blacken. Direct thermal technology is ideal for temporary labels, such as shipping labels, but not for items that may be exposed to high temperatures or direct sunlight. Direct thermal printing is an inexpensive way to print labels for temporary applications.

Thermal Transfer - On the other hand, if you need the media to withstand a variety of environmental conditions, thermal transfer is the correct technology. This technology also uses heat, but instead of a print head applying heat directly to the media, it applies heat to the ribbon which melts the ink from the ribbon onto the media. Thermal transfer is ideal if you are interested in a higher image quality and need the media to last more than six months. The problem of fading or blackened labels is also eliminated with thermal transfer, but supplies for thermal transfer printers must be replenished regularly (ie. Ribbons).

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This page last updated on 10/6/2020 7:23:56 AM