Barcode Printers: Two Types

Direct Thermal Transfer vs. Indirect Thermal Transfer

SUMMARY: You will most likely want to go with the Direct Thermal printer if you have a standard warehouse. It’s cheaper as well as easier to set up and operate. Keep reading for more information. 

What’s the difference between direct thermal printers and thermal transfer printers? There is a BIG difference. 

If you’re the average shopper looking for barcode label printers, thermal transfer printers probably aren’t what you’re looking for. You are most likely needing a Direct Thermal printer. But keep reading further in this article to learn more about direct vs transfer printers.

The Main Technical Difference:

The main difference between direct vs. transfer printers is that the transfer’s ribbon is thermal. That is not the case with direct thermal printers. So, are you wondering if you should get the one with that thermal ribbon? Thermal ribbons are special because the thermal dots heat up the ribbon, and this heat imprints the barcode. The result of this transfer of compounds from the ribbon to the label material is that you end up with an image that is very hardy and resistant to any damage or smearing that could obscure the barcode down the road. If exposed to the elements, it won’t deteriorate over time like the paper labels. However, for the average warehouse, this is over the top. It’s unnecessary in most cases.

More on the Direct Thermal Printer:

This type is the one we prefer for printing barcode labels. This type still requires heat as well as labels that are going to be sensitive to that heat. However, like the name implies, the Direct thermal printer works by direct contact with the paper. Heating elements begin to alter the color of the paper, which then forms the barcode or other images on the printed label. 

A huge advantage of the direct thermals is that these printers are very easy to set up. You plug them in, load them, and there isn’t a lot of trial and error with the configurations like there can be with Thermal Transfers printers. People love how easy the Direct Thermal printers are to set up and operate.

The only setback of the Direct Thermal printer is that when exposed to the elements or high temperatures out in the sun, the life of the label would be relatively short. If these labels are going on something that will be left outside, plan on reprinting new labels every so often.

A Word about the COST:

Everything about Thermal Transfer Printers is more expensive. The cost is higher in several ways. First, the printer itself can cost up into the thousands of dollars whereas the direct thermals will run you a few hundred dollars. But that’s not the only large expense associated with the transfer printer. The labels and the ink cartridges are also more expensive. The labels cost more because they are made of polyester instead of paper. The ink cartridge costs hundreds of dollars, and the width of it, to make matters worse, can be wasteful. You pay for more ink than you use because the cartridge roll has extra width that rolls even when you don’t use it.

A Quick Recap:

One type of label printer isn’t better than another in theory, but in practice, most people go with the Direct Thermal printers. You will most likely want to go with the Direct Thermal printer if you have a standard warehouse. It’s cheaper, easier to set up and operate, and it’s the standard for label products, boxes, bins, and assets.Categories