Thermal printers are a category of printers used for applications such as barcode printing, receipt printing and wristband printing as they produce accurate high quality barcodes/text/ images with precise definition.

There are two printing technologies for thermal printers; 1) direct thermal printing 2) thermal transfer printing. Both these printing technologies use a thermal printhead to apply heat to the material being marked e.g labels. There are however some main differences.

Direct thermal printing

  • Direct thermal printing does not use ink, toner or ribbon, instead the specially treated label material blackens when it goes under the thermal printhead.
  • For direct thermal printing the label material options are much more limited than thermal transfer printing as it requires chemically treated, heat-sensitive material. The material options are mainly limited to paper.
  • Direct thermal labels are extremely sensitive to environmental conditions, when exposed to heat the label darkens which makes the print unreadable.
  • Direct thermal labels are only suitable for applications requiring a short shelf life such as shipping labels and receipts.

Thermal transfer printing

  • Thermal transfer printing uses a ribbon roll that when heated by the printhead melts onto the label to form text / barcodes / images.
  • Thermal transfer printing has a much wider variety of label materials available including vinyl, polyester and polypropylene.
  • Thermal transfer printing is very durable – by selecting a certain label and thermal ribbon combination labels can be produced that are suitable to withstand harsh environmental conditions including high temperatures, chemicals etc.
  • Thermal transfer printing is suitable for long life applications including product identification, laboratory labelling and outdoor applications.

If you would like to purchase a direct thermal or thermal transfer printer, please don’t hesitate to contact our specialists on 0800 085 8850 or