Thermal Transfer vs. Direct Thermal: What’s the Difference?

Thermal printer

When it comes to printing labels, a thermal printer is better than the laser type. The former allows you to work with different media. You can also print more copies, and with the many options available, they are a becoming cost-effective solution.

thermal printer, though, uses two types of technology: thermal transfer and direct thermal. Understanding the differences can help you choose the right one.

What Is a Thermal Transfer Printer?

There are many differences between thermal transfer and direct thermal. The most significant is the method of printing in a material.

Thermal transfer uses heat to create an image to a certain medium. The highly sensitive ribbon may be wax or resin. Once the heat is applied, the ink from the ribbon drops onto the surface of the label. It then absorbs the ink, forming the image.

Because of this process, the images appear to be sharper and durable. It can last for a very long time. Moreover, since there’s no direct contact with heat, the printer can use various media for labels. You may even use paper or plastic. You also have control on the heat setting.

Its advantage can also be its drawback, however. It may require you to change the ribbon frequently. In the long term, you may spend more with a thermal transfer printer than with a direct transfer technology.

What Is a Direct Thermal Printer?

If thermal transfer uses an ink and a ribbon, the direct thermal printer doesn’t. The heated print head immediately applies the image to the label’s surface. It is a low-cost option, so it appeals to those who are on a tight budget.

The problem is you need a special type of material for this one. You should find one with special chemicals that allow it to withstand the heat. Moreover, dust and debris can accumulate on the printer head. It can pass the same to the label.

A direct thermal printer can be limited. You can print only black and white images. The upside is it doesn’t need extensive maintenance.

Both are great for printing labels and other markers. If your requirements are low, such as marking wires or goods, a direct thermal printer is a good choice. If you want to add images, you can upgrade to thermal transfer. Another alternative is to find a printer that uses both technologies.