What is a direct thermal printer?

Thermal printers are printers that use heat to copy an image onto material. Media (such as paper or synthetics) that has been chemically treated so it’s heat-sensitive passes under the thermal printhead and blackens in order to create an image. These printers are a much more sustainable and user-friendly alternative to traditional laser printing, and many facilities have found that thermal printers are a faster, more mobile, and more convenient solution for their labeling applications.

Direct Thermal vs. Thermal Transfer

There are two types of thermal printing methods: thermal transfer, and direct thermal. Direct thermal printers are best for short-term labeling applications and are most well known for their ease of use and simplicity, due to the fact they don’t require ribbons, toner, or ink. Since they don’t involve a lot of components, these printers are very durable and have low maintenance costs.

The biggest factor to direct thermal printing is that it’s most ideal for labels and receipts that have a short shelf life. The images and text that’s printed darkens and becomes unreadable if exposed to direct sunlight, water, heat, or abrasions. The best applications for direct thermal labels include ticket printing (such as lottery tickets or movie tickets), shipping labels, prescriptions, retail receipts, various barcode applications, and healthcare wristbands that provide patient information. They’re also often used to label products that are meant to be consumed quickly, such as dairy and fresh meat.

While there are a variety of uses, direct thermal printers have limited capabilities and their labels are not intended to last very long. They’re best used to create barcodes and simple images or designs, and although they cost less for maintenance in the long run, they are a more expensive investment upfront than thermal transfer printers. Many facilities benefit from using direct thermal printers, but it’s best to determine your requirements for how long you need your labels to last for and consider what the best type of printer will be for your labeling applications. Workers are safer and operations are streamlined when facilities are effectively labeled; it’s important to ensure you have the tools you need to ensure maximum efficiency.


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