What’s the Difference Between Thermal Transfer and Direct Thermal Printing?
Thermal printing uses one of two processes: thermal transfer or direct thermal printing. Both methods are similar in that they use a thermal printhead to apply heat to a surface. However, direct thermal printing requires chemically treated, heat-sensitive material, and thermal transfer printing uses a heated ribbon to transfer images onto a wide range of materials.
In both methods, a printhead containing small heating elements delivers heat to specific areas to produce an image. The resolution of the image is determined by the arrangement and number of heating elements, or dots per inch (DPI), in both methods. The higher the DPI, the better print resolution and quality produced. The main difference between the two methods is the printing surface, which we will detail further below.
Thermal Transfer Printing
To choose the best thermal printing technique for a given application, it’s necessary to have a basic understanding of the functionality of each method. Let’s take a closer look at how thermal transfer printing works and its unique advantages.
How Does a Thermal Transfer Printer Work?
Thermal transfer printing uses heating elements located in a printhead to deliver punctual heat to a passing ribbon. The ribbon melts onto a label forming the printed image. The label absorbs the ink to apply the image to the media. In this type of thermal printing, both the ribbon and label stock must be carefully chosen. The material and adhesive qualities of the label and ribbon must be well matched to achieve prints that are of the highest quality and durability. Choosing the correct materials allows the final product the ability to withstand chemical and UV exposure, extreme temperatures, robust cleaning procedures, and more.
Advantages of Thermal Transfer Printing
Thermal transfer printing achieves crisp, high-definition images, text, and graphics that boast maximum readability, scannability, and long-life image stability. Both single and batch printing can be performed while producing virtually no waste, and nearly any media can be printed. Thermal transfer printers are more durable than conventional printers affording your application more reliability and lower maintenance costs.
Applications of Thermal Transfer Printing
Thermal transfer printing is compatible with a virtually unlimited variety of media stock, making the applications for this printing method just as diverse and applicable to many industries. Some common applications include:
- Circuit board tracking
- Asset tagging
- Inventory identification
- Cold storage
- Outdoor applications
- Certification labels
- Marking laboratory specimens
Direct Thermal Printing
In direct thermal printing, the image is applied directly to the material as opposed to a ribbon as in thermal transfer printing. The following sections will explain how direct thermal printing works, its key advantages, and its most suitable applications.
How Does Direct Thermal Printing Work?
In this technique, the heating elements in the printhead apply punctual heat directly to a label featuring a heat-sensitive coating. The chemicals in this coating cause a reaction that changes the label color from white to black in the areas where heat is applied. Direct thermal printers are simpler in design than thermal transfer printers because they do not require a ribbon.
Advantages of Direct Thermal Printing
This method produces images that scan well and can be used with recyclable materials. This method is ideal for applications in which the image does not need to last long, such as receipts or shipping labels. Direct thermal printers are easy to operate since they do not use ink or toner. They produce virtually no waste and have low, long-term maintenance costs as they are very durable and don’t have supplies that need to be replenished.
Applications of Direct Thermal Printing
The labels used in direct thermal printing are extremely sensitive to heat, light, and other environmental conditions. As such, common applications include items typically used or stored indoors, such as:
- Visitor identification for hospitals or schools
- Shipping labels
- Pharmacy Labels
- Food Labeling Labels
- Restaurant Order Labels
In Need of a Thermal Transfer or Direct Thermal Labels?
Technicode, Inc. has been a reliable source for thermal printing supplies for over 20 years. Our products are compatible with all the leading thermal printer brands and we also develop custom-sized labels, with or without printing. Thermal printing media by Technicode is proudly made in the USA and always ships quickly. If you have questions about which printing method is right for your application, please contact us. If you know which labels you need for your application, request a quote today to get started.