Direct Thermal vs. Thermal Transfer

Posted June 3, 2014

thermal_transferFor those new to label printing, getting a handle on printing basics can be confusing especially with the new set of vocabulary you have to get familiar with.  One of the biggest concerns when choosing the right kind of media and printer for your application is deciding between what type of printing, Direct Thermal or Thermal Transfer, you’ll need.

Direct Thermal Media

Direct Thermal media uses a transparent heat-sensitive coating applied to its surface to image text and bar codes. When the heat from the printhead contacts the coating, it initiates a chemical reaction that turns the coating black. This method is ideal for temporary label uses like shipping labels, food packaging, or any other short term application. If your needs are are short term, Direct Thermal is the easiest and most cost effective solution.

Thermal Transfer Media

Thermal Transfer media uses a ribbon to image the text and bar codes on a variety of materials, both paper and film. When the ribbon is passed beneath the printhead, the heat softens the ribbon ink while in contact with the label or tag, resulting in the transfer of the ink to the surface of the label or tag. There are three general classes of ribbons that are used in thermal printers: Wax, Wax/Resin, and Resin.

Wax ribbons are the most commonly used class and are mostly targeted to print paper labels and tags that will be exposed to relatively benign environments. Wax ribbons are also used to print on film labels and tags in some applications.

Wax/Resin ribbons are a hybrid design where resin is mixed with the wax to produce ribbons with durability properties that fall somewhere between the wax and resin ribbons. Wax/Resin ribbons are used to print on both paper and plastic labels and tags.

Resin ribbons are the most durable and are mostly targeted to printing on film or polyester labels and tags that will be exposed to extreme environments.

For more assistance finding the right label/ribbon/printer combination for your needs, contact us at Barcodes Inc.

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