An Introduction to Thermal Printing

by Maureen Perroni, on June 3, 2016

Screen_Shot_2016-06-03_at_8.08.00_AM.pngSometimes, a particular industry demands a quick, efficient method of printing labels. Thermal printing can fill this need.

What is thermal printing?

As the name suggests, thermal printers depend on the application of heat. In such a device, a heat source is used to create images or text on special paper.

There are two main types of thermal printing: direct thermal printing and thermal transfer printing. Both are similar, in that they rely on equivalent heating elements. The crucial difference is that the former depends on chemically-treated paper, which is passed over the heat source. Meanwhile, the latter uses an ink ribbon, which is heated as it is passed over the paper. Though both types of thermal printing have many similar advantages, they tend to be used in slightly different applications.

What is thermal printing used for?
Many industries rely on thermal printing for their labeling needs. Thermal transfer printers are capable of quickly producing barcodes, but can also make colorful images. Direct thermal printing creates monochrome products and is more suited for receipt labels and other short-term applications. 

What are the primary advantages of thermal printing?
Thermal printing is growing in popularity for a reason. First and foremost is speed. The use of heat allows thermal printers to create images and text much faster than other printers, with a quick drying time. In addition, thermal printers have a reputation for reliability. They have fewer moving parts than equivalent non-thermal devices, which present fewer opportunities for malfunctions that can hurt productivity and add unnecessary business costs.

What many people may not realize is that thermal printers use far fewer consumables than the alternatives. This is especially true for direct thermal printing, which only requires a particular chemical-treated paper. Think about how much money additional ink cartridges cost. In a large-scale printing operation, they can add up to quite a significant budget line item.

Finally, thermal printers are capable of creating high-quality, legible labels. They are a great option for anything involving text or simple logos.

Of course, there are a few trade-offs. When it comes to printing detailed images, thermal printing isn't always the best option. Despite many advancements in the technology, printed products may fade over a long period of time if they are exposed to the elements. In particular, labels and images created by direct thermal printers may be the most susceptible to this because of the nature of the paper. Thermal transfer printed products may be more durable in the long term.  

How do thermal printers compare to other types of printers?
The most important thing to remember about thermal printers is that they are fast. There are certainly some advantages to a laser or inkjet printer. For instance, inkjets are great for producing photo quality labels. However, both are slower than thermal printers, and are not as well suited for on-demand work. Another problem with laser printers is that there is a greater risk that they will misprint the proper ration of a barcode, causing it to be unreadable.

Enterprise Labeling Solutions work well with thermal printers.
If you wish to utilize thermal printing for your business, there are labeling solutions out there that can help you get the largest possible speed and efficiency advantage. An Enterprise Labeling Solution helps users design high-quality labels that can be quickly printed on-demand as needed. Also, a standardized and centralized system makes it easy to make changes to label design when necessary, reducing errors and mislabeling. 

For more on how Enterprise Labeling can help with you label printing needs, check out our Special Report by Loftware and VDC Research.

Download the Free Report Now!