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Direct Thermal vs Thermal Transfer

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Direct Thermal vs Thermal Transfer

The difference between a direct thermal printer and a thermal transfer printer is important because each one has its own advantages and disadvantages that will directly impact how you can use your labels. Businesses need to pick the one that is most suitable for their products so they can maximize the time and money they spend printing labels to get the greatest return on their investment.

Key Characteristics of Direct Thermal vs Thermal Transfer Printers

Direct thermal printers have the advantage of being cheap and easy to use, as the only part that must be swapped out is the stack of thermal-activated paper; however, the fact that the print medium used in direct thermal printers contains both the “ink” and the paper means that it is much more susceptible to damage. For example, scratching, scuffing, and exposure to heat or light can all have the effect of darkening parts of the paper, which can make the original print unreadable. This susceptibility to damage and wear means direct thermal prints have a relatively short shelf-life of one year or less.

Thermal transfer is costlier and more complex to maintain than direct thermal, due to the fact that both a thermal ribbon and the printing medium need to be replaced when depleted. One advantage of thermal transfer is the assortment of different colored “ink” that can be used to help in product differentiation, marketing, and brand image, whereas direct thermal printers are usually limited to black. Thermal transfer can also print much more closely-spaced barcodes and text, making it possible to use smaller labels that contain just as much, if not more, information than a direct-thermal-printed label. It can also print onto a wide variety of mediums, compared to direct thermal’s ability to print on only one type. Thermal transfer printers also produce labels that are much more resilient to physical, heat, and light damage, and last longer than a year.

How to Choose

Ultimately, the choice should come down to which printer is most suitable for the greatest percentage of a business’s products, in order to maximize overall cost efficiency. For example, a business that needs to label a large amount of food products would make great use of a direct thermal printer for many reasons: food is generally kept in cool, dark areas, thus eliminating the threat of sunlight and heat denaturing the thermal paper; and food, especially produce, has a short shelf life, which coincides nicely with the shorter shelf life of direct thermal prints. The cheaper, but shorter lifespan, nature of direct thermal printing also makes it a good choice for almost any print that only needs to be utilized in the short term.

Thermal transfer printers can be the optimal choice if a business needs to print onto a variety of mediums, or if longevity is required. Cost efficiency can rise above that of direct thermal printers if many of the products require labeling that must last longer than a year, as they will not have to be replaced as often. Combined with the ability to print a variety of colors, thermal transfer printers are an excellent choice if flexibility and longevity are of special import.

If the Wrong Choice is Made

If a business ends up purchasing a printer that turns out to be less-than-ideal for its needs, a simple cost-benefit analysis should be conducted to determine the next course of action. Selling or trading the printer can be an option, but in the long term it might also end up being beneficial to have both printers specializing in certain tasks.

Want to Save Money on Printer Labels?

Call us at 1-800-281-3056 to setup a Make and Hold program today.

If you know your annual label usage, you can save money by setting up a “Make and Hold” program that will save you money on each label and keep your upfront costs low. These program work by ordering a fixed quantity of labels up front on a quarterly or annual basis and paying for the labels on a monthly basis. This allows you to get a lower cost per label as if you were making a bulk purchase, but with the payment schedule of a monthly purchase.

Improve business efficiency with one of our innovative solutions.