Thermal Transfer Printers

Direct thermal printers are fast, reliable and well suited to barcodes – which are often printed on labels. But to get the finest quality printing, it is imperative that you start with the right printer. Here’s a buyer’s guide to understanding to direct thermal label printers to help you to decide which one best meets your needs. The first consideration that you need to think about is which type of printer that you need, there are two types of thermal printers: Direct Thermal Printers and Thermal Transfer Printers.

Thermal Transfer Printers use heat to produce very high-quality barcodes and other text on labels, tags, tickets, wristbands or receipt paper. Compared to laser and inkjet printing technologies. Direct thermal printers use chemically treated, heat-sensitive media that blackens when it passes under the thermal printhead, while Thermal Transfer printers uses a heated ribbon to produce durable, long-lasting images on a wide variety of materials.

Overall thermal label printers are ideal for barcode printing because they produce accurate, high-quality images with excellent edge definition. Thermal printers are engineered to print within tight tolerances and to produce the exact bar widths that successful barcode printing and scanning require. Each technology can produce one- and two-dimensional barcode symbology’s, graphics and text at the same print resolutions and speeds.


Thermal transfer

Direct thermal

Print quality

Maximum readability and scan ability.

Good readability and scan ability.

Print durability

Long-life image stability.

Extremely sensitive to heat, light and other environmental conditions (label will darken when overexposed to such).

Colour printing

Possible with coloured ribbon.

Only black and white.

Print head life

Ribbon acts as buffer between print head and label material; ribbon back-coatings reduce static and friction.

Direct contact with abrasive labels (and possible dust and debris) promotes wear-out and increased replacement costs.

Printer configuration and maintenance

  • More downtime due to ribbon changes and adjustments
  • Regular parts cleaning recommended
  • Simple to operate because no ribbon must be monitored or replenished.
  • Regular parts cleaning recommended

Media selection and cost

  • Can print on great variety of media stock.
  • Ribbon and media substrate must be compatible to avoid problems.
  • Lower cost for thermal transfer labels (additional ribbon required)
  • Can print on heat-sensitive paper/labels.
  • Higher cost for direct thermal labels.

Environmental aspects

  • Enables batch or single label printing with virtually no waste.
  • Linerless materials available.
  • Poor ribbon recycling.
  • Enables batch or single label printing with virtually no waste.
  • Recyclable materials available.

Typical applications

Product & packaging labels, GHS labels, asset tags

Shipping labels, receipts, tickets

If you need durable and high-resolution images, especially for traceability applications and labels that need to withstand abrasion, chemicals and exposure to light and heat. For simple and cost-effective labels with a short shelf life, then direct thermal printing might make more sense.

If you are looking for an efficient way to apply your printed labels to packaging alongside the production line, you may want to have a look at our professional labelling systems that include automatic labels dispensers as well as modular print & apply solutions. You might even want us to check if our industrial inkjet printers can save you costs by replacing labelling with direct marking solutions.

Thermal Transfer Printers