What Are Thermal Labels?

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What Are Thermal Labels?
Thermal labels are an integral part of successful businesses. This type of labeling is responsible for a wide variety of labeling requirements throughout each step of a business’s operations, including storage, inventory, and product information. Companies that invest in quality thermal labeling can expect long-lasting, durable labels that stand the test of time and can stay intact regardless of age and exposure. For companies that are beginning to research their options when it comes to labeling, it’s important to understand the benefits of using thermal labels. Consider the information provided here and learn more about how you can use thermal labels for your specific needs. barcode label on box being shipped

The Basics

barcode label set Thermal labels are responsible for providing a very basic requirement, but they are incredibly important to the proper functioning of a business. While they may not be an integral part of the product itself, they are the workhorse behind the scenes that makes sure every product is marked, organized, and received and shipped correctly. Companies use thermal labels in the office, warehouse, and shipping departments to ensure that clear, correct information is attached to each product.

Types of Thermal Labels

There are two types of thermal labels that are widely used: Direct Thermal Labels and Thermal Transfer Labels. Both styles are ideal for on-demand applications and use heat to create the necessary images. There are a few key differences between these labels, including how they’re made and what kinds of items they are best suited for labeling.

Direct Thermal Labels

Direct Thermal Label printers work by applying heat to the thermal print head, which activates the direct thermal media. Direct Thermal Labels are made from a heat-sensitive material which then turns the label dark where the heat is applied to create the image. With this type of label, there is no ink, toner, or ribbon required. A limitation of Direct Thermal Labels is that they are not scratch-resistant and will likely start to lose color contrast when exposed to bright light, or extreme heat, which makes them harder to read. Because the image must be pulled thru the label, using label stock other than white or pastels is not advised.  They are often best used for labels required for short-term use, like a shipping label and for those companies who prefer to print without a ribbon, like the healthcare industry. Examples of Direct Thermal Labels include receipts, shipping labels, name tags, barcodes and passes.

Thermal Transfer Labels

The main difference between a Direct Thermal Label and a Thermal Transfer Labels is that Thermal Transfer Label Printers require a ribbon for printing. Heat is applied to the thermal print head, which transfers the image through a wax or resin ribbon to the label. Thermal transfer label images are durable and scratch-resistant, which makes them much more ideal for labels that are required to be longer-lasting or that will be exposed to various elements.  For a more durable application, thermal labels can be made of Bi-Oriented Polypropylene, BOPP, rather than paper for a very long-lasting label. Labels are readily available in a wide range of colors from pastel to fluorescents, which can be helpful for product identification or warehouse applications. Thermal Transfer Ribbons are also available in several different colors if you need your image to be something other than black. Examples of thermal transfer labels include inventory identification (barcodes) and laboratory specimens, as well as outdoor and freezer applications. thermal label machine

Choosing Your Thermal Label

If you’re still unsure what type of thermal label is best for your business’s needs, consider these main specs to help you make a more educated decision. Requirements Before purchasing a thermal printer, make sure it will suit your needs.  First decide if you need Thermal Transfer (long-term use) or Direct Thermal (short-term use).  What size label do you need to print?  A small printer that prints up to 4” may be a perfect fit, however, if you need to print a variety of sizes, factor that in when selecting a printer. What quantity of labels will you need in a day/ week?  If you use a high volume of labels, a larger printer that accommodates a large roll of labels is a better option. Before choosing between these two thermal label options, businesses should consider their main labeling needs. A business that requires labels with a short lifespan will certainly want to consider direct thermal labels, while a business that is hoping to apply durable, long-lasting labels will need a stronger option. Cost Thermal Transfer printers are generally more expensive that Direct Thermal printers.  However, Thermal Transfer printers can also print on Direct thermal media without a ribbon if needed. Direct Thermal labels are generally slightly more expensive than Thermal transfer but they do not have the added expense of the ribbon. The increased life expectancy of Thermal Transfer Printers often makes this design a more attractive option for companies who are looking to invest in a costlier but, potentially, longer-lasting printer.


It’s important to remember, for companies that require both kinds of labels, Thermal Transfers printers can produce both styles. This may also be helpful for businesses which aren’t fully aware of all their labeling needs, and may utilize both styles.
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