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Difference between Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer

userArvind Katiyar   calender 10 Feb 2020

Mainly there are two thermal printing methods one is direct thermal and the other is thermal transfer. Each technique uses a thermal printhead that applies heat to the surface being marked. Direct thermal printing uses chemically treated, heat-sensitive media that blackens when it passes under the thermal printhead, while thermal transfer printing uses a heated ribbon to produce durable, long-term images on a wide range of materials.

In general thermal label printers are ideal for barcode printing because they produce precise, high-quality images with excellent edge definition. They are engineered to print within tight tolerances and to produce the exact bar widths that successful barcode printing and scanning require. Each technology can produce one- and two-dimensional barcode symbologies, graphics and text at the like print resolutions and speeds.


Since they print without a ribbon, direct thermal printers are well-known for their simplicity. Direct thermal printed labels in nature have a significant shelf life but are not well suited for environments that expose them to heat, long periods of direct sunlight, or scratch. They have no ink, toner, or ribbon.If the label is overexposed to heat, light, or other catalysts, the material will darken and make the text or barcode indecipherable. 

For these reasons, it is not used for lifetime identification applications. The readability of direct thermal labels, wristbands, and receipt papers varies significantly, depending on the usage conditions, but the technology provides sufficient lifespan for many common barcode printing applications including shipping labels, patient and visitor recognition, receipts, and ticket printing.


Direct thermal printing generates sharp print quality with good scannability.It is ideal for applications requiring only a short shelf life meaning the label image does not need to last very long. Shipping labels and receipts are ideal applications, for instance, while product label are not.

Direct thermal printers are naturally built more lastingly than dot matrix or laser printers, allowing reliable operation in industrial as well as office applications.


Thermal transfer printed labels are simply identified by the crisp, often gleaming, printed surface. The clarity is achieved by using a thin ribbon roll that when heated by the printhead melt onto the label to form the image. The ink is engrossed so that the image becomes part of the media. When matched with appropriate media, thermal transfer expertise is not only resistant to heat and moisture, but the image cannot be rubbed off, making the printed labels the most durable presented. An additional benefit of this technology is the stability of the printed image.

Since the color and thickness of the printed image is determined by the ribbon and the resolution of the printer, thermal transfer printing produces reliable printing on every label. This technique provides image quality and strength that is unrivaled by other on-demand printing technologies.


Because environmental factors will not alter the print quality, this type of technology is known to create an amazingly strong printed area that can withstand extreme temperatures and contact with chemicals. These printers are suggested for labels that need to last longer than six months. They also have the ability to accept a wider mixture of material types than their direct thermal counterparts. They offer paper and polypropylene materials for both standard and weatherproof prints.