Choosing Direct Thermal Labels vs Thermal Transfer Labels

Choosing whether to use direct thermal labels or thermal transfer labels does not need to be a daunting task.  To start it is necessary to explain how each works.

Direct Thermal Labels

Direct thermal labels require heat activated thermal papers or films.  They do not require a thermal transfer ribbon.  Direct thermal labels are a one piece solution.  Printing direct thermal labels is generally limited to black print.

Thermal Transfer Labels

Printing thermal transfer requires a thermal transfer label to accept the image transferred from a thermal transfer ribbon.  The ribbon is a combination of wax and resin and is chosen as suitable for the label material to be printed.  Thermal transfer ribbons are available in colors but in most cases you will only print in one color.

Should I Choose Direct Thermal Labels?

Both direct thermal labels and thermal transfer labels have their inherent advantages.  To consider using direct thermal labels you should strongly consider the following questions:

  • Do you need to print multiple substrates (materials such as foils, films and papers)?
  • Will your labels be consistently subjected to heat, light and sunlight?
  • Will you be printing especially small barcode labels or 2-dimensional barcodes?
  • Do you need to print in colors besides black?
  • Is your label expected to be in harsh environments including abrasive, friction or chemical?
  • Is the life expectancy of your label longer than one year?

If you pass the test above, direct thermal labels may be the right choice for you.

Advantages – Direct Thermal Labels

  • Great solution for temporary labels like UPC codes, transit labels, inventory labels
  • Works very well for linear barcodes like Code 39, Code 128 and more
  • Nice solution for applications lasting less than one year
  • Easier for users since they do not need to manage thermal transfer ribbons (media change)
  • Can be economically advantageous

Disadvantages – Direct Thermal Labels

  • Not recommended for harsh environments including high heat, sunlight, abrasion and chemical
  • Heat and light sensitive
  • Not for applications lasting longer than one year
  • Print color generally limited to black

We recommend discussing your application with one of our Labelmatch Business Consultants.  They are best suited to assist you in choosing the right label for your most trying of applications.  As always, there is no cost for our samples or our consulting services.

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