Transfer Thermal Printing Vs. Direct Thermal Printing

Posted on: 19 December 2017

Most people are familiar with inkjet printers. These are the printers that require ink cartridges to be changed after almost every printing job. They're also the printers that produced images that smeared and got ink on your hand if you touched them right out of the printer. Luckily, new technology has introduced thermal printing. There are two types of thermal printing: thermal transfer printing and direct thermal printing. They both work differently, and they have their distinct advantages and disadvantages

How thermal printing works

Thermal transfer printing works by using a thermal ribbon. This ribbon is covered in wax and resin. Dots heat the ribbon which allows it to transfer the image onto the desired material. Direct thermal printing works by heating the desired portions of heat-sensitive material to produce the desired image. These production differences give each distinct advantages and disadvantages. 

Thermal Transfer Printing vs. Direct Thermal Printing

One of the greatest advantages of thermal transfer printing is that the labels do not fade! Direct thermal labels fade rather quickly once the label is exposed to sun and heat. Consider how long you will need the labels before choosing your printer. Direct thermal labels might be acceptable for certain applications, but you don't want to use direct thermal printers for labels that need to last for an extended period of time. Consider uses that you might need down the road and not just the current job. 

Thermal transfer printheads last up to 50% longer than direct thermal print heads. This is because the print heads never touch dust or debris that gets into the printer (unlike direct thermal printers). Despite this, you have to replace the ribbon. Thermal transfer printers also require more maintenance and repairs than direct thermal printers.  Direct thermal printing has very little maintenance cost because you don't need to use any ribbons or ink cartridges to produce images. 

Thermal transfer printers offer the option to print in color. Direct thermal printers only have the option to print in black and white which drastically limits its uses. They cannot produce long-lasting, colorful graphics the way that thermal transfer printers can. If you plan to print a lot of graphics, talk to a sales representative about thermal transfer printers specifically made to produce the best-looking graphics. 

Direct thermal printers are cheaper because of their limitations. It's wiser to spend money on a quality thermal printer that will produce longer-lasting labels, print in color, and last longer. Transfer thermal printers are the best option. For more information, contact a thermal transfer labels service near you. 


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A few years back, I realized that we needed to upgrade our factory--and fast. I was tired of dealing with broken pieces of equipment and issues with our system, and it was really frustrating for me. Instead of giving up, I decided that I needed to take a second look at replacing different items around our warehouse. I started with the most important machines and worked my way towards other items. It was really exhilarating to see things transform, and before I knew it our warehouse was operating at top capacity. This blog is all about choosing the right supplies and streamlining your operation.

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