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Direct Thermal or Thermal Transfer Printer: A Comparison

Direct Thermal or Thermal Transfer Printer?

What is the best printer for your business? Direct thermal or thermal transfer printer? To begin we will start with a definition of each printer. Direct Thermal Printers are, Media is heat sensitive and reacts to the heated printhead elements (dots) to create an image. A thermal ribbon is not required.” Essentially what this means is that the printhead is heating up and requires a heat sensitive media, usually paper. The Thermal Transfer Printer differs in that it, “Involves the printhead elements (dots) heating the backside of a carbon-based ribbon to transfer the carbon onto the media as a printed.” There are more parts on a thermal transfer printer. The printhead melts the ink in the ribbon and transfers it directly onto a variety of medias. Ink in this instance is comprised of wax, resin or a combination of the two. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Direct Thermal Printers

Direct Thermal Print Example

As with everything in life, there are both advantages and disadvantages to both printer types. In regards to direct thermal printers, a lot of the benefits come from its ease of use. There is no ribbon to adjust or replace, and with no ribbon comes no wrinkling problems. Less downtime associated with the ribbon drive mechanisms failing or not working properly.  There is also a lower overhead involved as there are less parts needed for maintenance, and no disposal of ribbons needed. 

Direct Thermal Printers do typically have a slower print speed than its thermal transfer counterpart. Intended more for short time use as printed image tends to fade or yellow over an extended period of time. Special heat sensitive media is costly and has a limited number of varieties of media that can be used. While the direct thermal printers have the advantage of not replacing the ribbons, the printheads tend to have a shorter lifespan. Depending on your work environment, it is good to know that extreme heat or direct sunlight can negatively impact your labels. 

To view our most popular Direct Thermal Printer, click here for the Intermec PB51!

Advantages and Disadvantages of Thermal Transfer Printers

Thermal Transfer Printer Ribbon

Thermal Transfer Printers provide users with a printed image that will last a long time, and is more resistant to direct sunlight and extreme heat. Unlike direct thermal printers, there is a variety of colors available in conjunction with a wide selection of label materials. Printheads on thermal transfer printers tend to have a longer lifespan than its direct thermal counterpart. The images produced by this process are highly resistant to chemicals and extremely durable. This helps make it a good option for several uses.

While there is more versatility in terms of being able to print colors and on a wider variety of medias, there are still disadvantages. Ribbons used in thermal transfer printers can only be used one time. Thermal ribbons use a poly-based carrier made, in part, from crude oil products. These products are harmful to the environment and add to a company’s carbon footprint. In addition, these printers have more mechanical parts and the ribbons have to be changed out. More moving parts means more potential for broken parts. This means more downtime for your company. Operators have to ensure that the ribbons are properly adjusted and that the labels and ribbons all match. 

To view our most popular Thermal Transfer Printer, click here for the Intermec PM4iC EasyCoder!

Making a Decision

So how do you choose which one is right for you? Each printer has its advantages and disadvantages. The goal here is to help you start your decision making process of whether a direct thermal or thermal transfer printer is the right one for you. There are many factors at play here, including the environmental impact many companies take into consideration now. Contact one of our experienced sales professionals to discuss which type of printer is right for you.

Contact us and let Barcode Resourcing help you with all your printing needs!

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