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Thermal Transfer Labels vs Direct Thermal Labels

July 19, 2022
By Ashley Stewart

Thermal printing is a widespread printing technique that produces accurate, high-quality images and text with clear definitions. This printing process is known for its ease of use, quick speed and overall efficiency. There are two different techniques when it comes to thermal printing: direct thermal and thermal transfer labels. It is important to know the difference between the two as each has its own pros & cons to printing and each caters to different types of applications. Need help trying to determine whether you should use a Direct Thermal or Thermal Transfer Label for your brand? Each printing has its set of strengths and weaknesses, meaning the most suitable and cost-efficient print method could differ, depending on the specific printing application. 

Let’s take a look and see what each method has to offer so you’ll know which labeling technique is right for your brand.

What are Direct Thermal Labels

The direct thermal printing method utilizes a heat-sensitive paper that has ink embedded within the label material. When this paper comes into contact with the hot temperature of the print head, it causes designated areas to turn black before rapidly cooling, leaving behind the desired text or image.

One of the benefits of this method is that it is easier to use since it does not require ink, toner or ribbon. This means fewer supplies and lower maintenance costs overall. Direct thermal is a flexible choice across industries as it can be used in industrial, desktop and mobile printers. Currently, Direct Thermal Labels are used for short-term applications because of their lack of durability. These labels can only be printed on paper or plastic materials, so polyester materials aren’t an option. Also, Direct Thermal labels tend to fade under long-term UV light exposure, and in temperatures over 200 degrees. These labels are best used as a short-term labeling solution, usually lasting around six to eight months. Application examples include shipping labels, receipts and other temporary applications.

What are Thermal Transfer Labels?

Thermal transfer printing entails an entirely different process. The printer’s printhead heats up an accompanied ribbon (rather than the material itself), which then melts onto your labels. The ribbon performs as a buffer between the print head and the label material. The ribbon must be paired correctly with the printer, as well as the material. This printing method generates a darker text for more clear images.

Paper, plastic and polyester: printed can be done on all these materials using the thermal transfer printing process, giving you a wide array of material and durability options. This printing technique is typically used as a long-term labeling solution, and/or at times when labels need to withstand chemical exposure, extreme temperatures and high level of moisture, scuffing or a harsh environment. These labels are highly scratch and rub resistant in comparison to direct thermal labels, and they are able to last for up to two years. Application examples include the labeling of machinery or assets, outdoor furniture and warehouse floors.

Still not sure which type of digital printing method is right for your product? At Label Arts, we make thermal labels for a wide variety of clients and our team has a vast experience in delivering the right solution for every situation. We also offer a convenient range of generic, stocked thermal labels and thermal transfer ribbons suitable for a wide range of printers and models. Our team of label professionals has extensive expertise in all things related to thermal printing. We would be delighted to discuss your labeling requirements, share our knowledge and develop a solution, particularly for you.

Doing Business With Label Arts

We provide a personalized approach and every unique project is handled with precision and care. We make a guarantee to deliver great labels, quick turnarounds, and responsive and proactive service to every customer. If you haven’t found what you need anywhere else, chances are that with our wealth of knowledge and industry expertise, we can fulfill your request.

Wondering whether we could accommodate your unique project needs? Simply ask. It’s very likely we will.


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