Understanding Thermal Printing Types

If printing your own labels from a roll, there is more than one type of printing available: thermal and non-thermal. When trying to choose between them, it is best to understand the differences between both types.

Direct Thermal

This type of roll label printer does not require any toner, ink or ribbon to print labels. Instead, a chemically-treated material turns to black when the print head transfers heat to the label’s surface. This type of printer is not able to print in colour. As well, the black colour generated by a direct thermal printer can fade over time. If exposed to large amounts of heat or light, the label can darken, making it unreadable. In cases where barcodes are printed with the direct thermal process, the code can become unreadable and/or not able to be scanned following excessive heat and light exposure.

Direct thermal printing is not recommended for applications where long-term label readability is required or heavy-duty security labels are needed. However, this type of printing is suitable for barcode applications like those used for shipping, name tags and receipts.

Thermal Transfer

Thermal transfer label printers use a ribbon to apply ink to the surface of a label. This type of printer also uses a thermal print head. However, the print head applies heat to the ribbon, thereby melting the ink and distributing it onto the label. Once distributed, the ink is absorbed into the label. The quality of labels printed with the thermal transfer process is very high. In addition, this printing method also offers a high degree of durability. As well, thermal transfer printers can print in colour.

A thermal transfer printer can also be used to print on a variety of label materials, unlike their direct thermal counterparts. Moreover, labels that have been printed in this manner are also very durable. This is due to the fact that environmental factors like excessive light and heat will not affect these labels. They can even withstand contact with chemicals. If needing labels to identify products, label assets or for inventory, thermal transfer is the solution. This type of printing is also well-suited to the printing of any bar code labels which need to be readable and able to be scanned for six months or longer.

What to Consider Before You Buy

When considering the purchase of thermal printer, the most important thing to consider is what kinds of labels you will be printing. For example, do you plan to use your printer on a continuous basis, and if so, will overheating become a consideration? Those planning to purchase a thermal printer for use in busy retail environments may want to ensure the printer they choose is able to handle a high capacity of labels.

Connectivity is another consideration when thinking about purchasing a thermal printer. Most point-of-sale units are technologically-advanced as well as sensitive. That being said, printers are needed which can meet those standards. Another consideration is the ease of use of the interface. Can it be easily connected with other elements of the system, and will it be compatible with older versions?

How fast the printer is able to print and at what resolution is another item to consider. The resolution is sufficient at 2013 dots per inch when receipts are being printed that include barcodes. Greater DPI requirements will mean that a different printer will be needed. Thermal printers are available in both 300 and 600 DPI resolutions.

Noise level can be another consideration. Here as well, thermal printer brands will differ. Taking the time to consider the above factors will result in a purchase that’s perfect for your application.


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