There are two types of thermal labels: Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer. Thermal transfer and direct thermal labels are ideal for on-demand applications, especially those calling for variable data, barcoding, or human-readable numbering. There are advantages and disadvantages of direct thermal and thermal transfer labels and this video explains some of them.

Thermal transfer labels require a ribbon when printing. Thermal transfer printers apply heat to the thermal printhead, which transfers the image through a wax and/or resin ribbon to the label. Thermal transfer ribbons come in various colors, so you are not limited to black print. With thermal transfer labels, the image is crisp, durable and fairly scratch resistant. If you need a label that lasts a year or longer, use thermal transfer labels. Some examples of thermal transfer labels are: asset tagging, inventory identification, laboratory specimens, outdoor and freezer applications.

Direct thermal printers apply heat to the thermal printhead, activating the direct thermal media. Through a chemical reaction, the label turns dark where the heat is applied. With direct thermal labels, there is no ink, toner, or ribbon consumable – the only supply needed is the direct thermal labels. Direct thermal labels are less costly because you don’t have to buy a ribbon. The downside to direct thermal labels is that they are not scratch resistant and will start to turn when exposed to lighting, making them hard to read. Use direct thermal labels for short term applications and when you want to print without a ribbon. Some examples of direct thermal labels are: shipping labels, name tags, receipts, pick tickets and visitor passes.

To tell the difference between a thermal transfer and a direct thermal label, quickly and forcefully draw your fingernail across the label, like you are striking a match. It may take a couple of times depending on the media. If a dark mark appears, it is a direct thermal label.

For more information or to order these kind of labels, contact a product specialist at 1-800-446-1991.

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