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Thermal Transfer or Direct Thermal Printing: What’s better for your business?

July 2, 2019

Direct Thermal vs Thermal Transfer

In Direct Thermal printing, the image is produced by the label coming into direct contact with the print head. The elements in the head, when heated, activate the thermal coating - producing the printed image.

With Thermal Transfer, the image is produced by using a thermal transfer ribbon. The heated elements in the print head melt the ink, which is then deposited onto the label.

Both methods will offer good levels of print quality and sharpness at print speeds suitable for industrial use.

Lifespan differences

However, labels produced via Direct Thermal printing will have a shorter lifespan and will be sensitive to heat, UV light and friction and will offer little or no resistance to solvents.

Direct Thermal printing also reduces the life of the print head by as much as half as it comes into direct contact with the label, which is abrasive against the surface of the print head. This will cause premature wear, so users could see maintenance costs start to stack up.

In contrast, Thermal Transfer printing protects the print head by preventing it from coming into direct contact with the label. Images and text printed via thermal transfer will also have a longer lifespan and can be printed on a range of different material types, paper, synthetics, textile, card etc. Images printed using thermal transfer will also offer greater stability and will be more resistant to light, heat, abrasion and solvents - remaining stable for an average of 20 years when using the right ribbon and label combination.

The cost efficiencies of Thermal Transfer

Although there is an additional consumable to be purchased with Thermal Transfer printing (the ribbon), it is soon counteracted by reduced maintenance costs, extended print head life - and greater print option flexibility.

Direct Thermal printer costs can be up to 30% higher due to the increased wear and tear on the print head and the more expensive labels required.

How to decide

In general, Thermal Transfer trumps Direct Thermal most of the time. However, the decision between Thermal Transfer and Direct Thermal should be made with your organisation’s own unique printing needs in mind. Key areas to consider are:

  • Does the application require durable print with some levels of resistance to external influences?
  • Would you be happy using a label material which might contain toxic substances BPA/BPS?
  • Do you plan to print onto different material types, papers, synthetics, card or textiles?
  • Are you looking for a print solution that offers the lowest maintenance costs?
  • Would you like the flexibility to print using colours other than just black?

If the answer to just one of the above questions is YES, then Thermal Transfer would offer you a better printing solution.

If NO, then Direct Thermal will offer a suitable printing option for you.

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