Label Printers: Direct Thermal vs. Thermal Transfer


Label Printers: Direct Thermal vs. Thermal Transfer

A question we’re often asked is which type of label printer is better. The answer is not always straightforward, as it depends on how you’ll be using your labels, and how much time and money you want to invest in equipment and maintenance. As discussed in our previous article, there are multiple factors to consider in choosing the right printer.

As a Toshiba TEC value added reseller, Tanto Labels advises our clients on what type of label printer will best suit their needs. We also offer superior aftersales service to ensure continuous smooth running, so printer problems never get in the way of your business.

Here’s everything you need to know about the two main types of commercial label printers: direct thermal printers and thermal transfer printers.

Label printers questions

How Do Direct Thermal Printers Work?

Direct thermal printers work by creating an image directly onto the label using chemically treated, heat sensitive paper, or other label material, which turns black under a heated print head.

How Do Thermal Transfer Printers Work?

Thermal transfer printers use a heated print head that moves over a print ribbon, which is coated in a wax and/or resin substance. When the heat passes over the coated surface, the wax and/or resin will melt into the desired design onto the paper or print media below.

What Are Direct Thermal Printers Used For?

Labels printed by a direct thermal printer will last for a maximum of six months before fading. They’re susceptible to extremes, so must be kept out of direct sunlight and have no exposure to heat, abrasion or corrosive substances. They’re therefore recommended for printing labels that will be used indoors. Examples include event tickets, compliance labels and shipping labels that are only used for a short period of time.

What Are Thermal Transfer Printers Used For?

Thermal transfer printed labels are much more durable and therefore can be used in rough, industrial settings, as well as situations where labels may be exposed to the elements and are required to be legible for years to come. As such, they are often used to print product identification labels, laboratory and cold storage items, and asset tags. They can also be used to create 1D and 2D barcodes.

What Are the Benefits and Disadvantages of a Direct Thermal Printer?

Due to the fact the image is created directly on the print media, there is no need for ribbons, ink or toner – the parts of other printers that need the most frequent resupply. Combined with a usually lower install and set-up cost, direct thermal printers can seem a low cost printer that’s easy to maintain.

However due to the friction created by the direct contact between print head and media, the print head will wear more quickly and need replacement more often than with a thermal transfer printer. In fact, when comparing the two types of printer, Toshiba even addresses the fact that direct thermal printers can cost up to 30% more than thermal transfer printers due to the increased cost of print heads and more specialist label media. You also need to bear in mind the longevity of your label; if you need a label that will last for years, this is not the printer for you.

What Are the Benefits and Disadvantages of a Thermal Transfer Printer?

Labels printed by a thermal transfer printer will be more durable, have a crisper image and overall superior print quality than a direct thermal printed label. Thermal transfer printed labels will last for years in most conditions, which is a benefit for many although you must remember to consider that perhaps your business doesn’t need labels that last that long.

Thermal transfer printers can run at higher speeds, printing more labels in less time than a direct thermal printer. So if you have high demand for your printed labels, this can be a better choice. However, initial costs are higher, in both supply and increased install costs, so this must be factored into your upfront budget.

Many companies simply sell printers and relevant software, and leave you to work it out. We like to do things a bit differently, putting the ongoing needs of our clients first. Contact Tanto Labels today to discuss your printer requirements – our friendly team is ready to help!

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