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Direct Thermal vs Thermal Transfer Printers

Direct Thermal Printers

Direct thermal printers use heat-sensitive, chemically treated paper or media that turns black when it is exposed to a thermal printhead. The type or image is printed directly onto the paper or media. Direct thermal printers are easy to use and less expensive to operate than most other printers. However, since the media turns black when exposed to heat, the printer does not print in color. Direct thermal printers do not use ink, toner, or ribbon.

The images produced are sharp, with precise edges. Direct thermal printers are used for a wide range of applications, including shipping labels, ID bracelets, event tickets, name tags, and parking tickets. The printed material is more sensitive to light, heat, and abrasion than printed material from thermal transfer printing and is not used for lifetime identification or extreme environment applications. Direct thermal printers are also used for privacy-related and medical printing because they do not use ribbons, which can retain sensitive information.

Labels used for direct thermal printers are coated to react to the thermal printhead. The labels may be additionally coated for waterproofing and chemical resistance.

Thermal Transfer Printers

Thermal transfer printers use a heated ribbon to print the type or image on the paper or media. The ribbon is coated with ink that melts when exposed to the thermal printhead, forming the type or image. The ink is absorbed into the material, becoming part of the material. Thermal printers can be used with a wide variety of materials, including paper, polyester, and polypropylene and use specialty adhesive backing. The use of thermal transfer printer ribbons allows for color printing.

The printed images are precise, meeting tight tolerances and are durable and long-lasting. They can withstand extreme temperatures, ultraviolet exposure, chemicals, and sterilization. Thermal transfer-printed materials are used for lifetime identification applications, such as barcodes, asset tags, archival labels, circuit board tracking, certification labels, lab specimens, chemical and pharmaceutical labeling, safety labels, and equipment labels.

Labels used for thermal transfer printers need to be matched with the type or ribbon used to provide the best printed result.

Choosing the right label

Choosing the correct label for a direct thermal or thermal transfer printer requires matching your application requirements and the capabilities of your printer.

  • Match the labels with the print speed to ensure a clear, clean result
  • Choose a high quality paper or media so that the media will perform well in the application environment. For example, paper labels will perform well for tickets, but not for equipment labels in processing environments

Blanco Labels manufactures high quality direct thermal and thermal transfer labels. Our labels are manufactured with high quality paper and a general purpose permanent adhesive.

    • Roll labels have a 3” core with an 8” overall diameter. Most sizes are also available with a 1” core and 4” overall diameter
    • Rolls are perforated between labels
    • Labels are wound out
    • Color and weatherproof thermal transfer labels are available
    • Designed to fit most thermal printers, including Zebra, Sato, Fargo, Intermec, Datamax, and others
    • Custom sizes, adhesives, and core sizes are available
    • Full line of thermal transfer printer ribbons

Blanco is known for the quality of our labels and our superior customer service – ensuring that your labels will meet your requirements and print easily with your printer.