Thermal transfer vs. direct thermal printing (2023)

Label printers have become an important part of the daily operations of a large number of companies in various industries. They print on cardboard or self-adhesive labels with laminated material sources or release liners, and even foil and aluminum substrates. Label printers are designed to print large volumes of labels, barcodes, and other labels. Popular applications for label printers include printing retail prices, packaging labels, product labels, asset labels, receipts, shipping labels, laboratory specimen identification, and supply chain management applications.

When it comes tolabel printerDepending on the printing technology used, there are basically two categories available. These are thermal transfer printers and direct thermal printers. While traditional printers often use inkjet and laser technologies, they tend to be expensive for high-volume label printing. Printers with thermal printing technology, either thermal transfer or direct thermal, are economical for label printing and offer greater convenience, print quality and flexibility.

Thermal transfer printers and direct thermal printers use the core concept of thermal printing, but there are many differences between them. Depending on your business needs, one type of label printer is likely to be more appropriate than the other. Educating yourself about the two types of label printers will help you make an informed decision and choose the best printer for your needs.

Also read:How to choose the right label printer?

thermal transferDrucker

Thermal transfer printing consists of two components, a print head that emits heat and a thin ribbon of film with a special coating on one side, usually resin or wax. When the printhead applies heat to the ribbon, the desired pattern is printed on the paper as it travels through the feeder. The heat melts the coating on the ribbon onto the paper, forming the printed image.


  • Excellent print quality – A thermal transfer printer offers excellent print quality with well-defined edges and images, especially excellent for high-resolution graphics and one- and two-dimensional barcodes.
  • Consistent print quality - You can be sure of the same print quality with every label you print.
  • Versatile Media: Thermal transfer printing can be used on a variety of media including plastic, polypropylene and polyester materials, as well as standard paper.
  • Long-lasting prints - Labels printed using the thermal transfer process have a long shelf life and are a great long-term labeling solution. They are able to withstand extreme temperatures, harsh environments and exposure to chemicals.
  • Color Prints - By using ribbons you can easily print color labels with a thermal transfer printer. This is especially useful when you want to add extra dimension and impact to your logos and branding.
  • Scratch Resistant - As the printed designs are transferred to the paper via a heating tape, the end product is a scratch resistant label.


  • Additional Costs: For a thermal transfer printer, you need the right ribbons for each print. This creates additional costs for the tapes.
  • Time-Consuming - Although ribbons can handle large volumes of prints, they must be changed regularly, adding time to the overall print time.
  • Printhead and Ribbon Compatibility: Once you have purchased a thermal transfer printer, it is important to use only the recommended ribbons. If the printhead and ribbon do not match, there is a risk that the printhead will melt all of the ribbon onto the label instead of the intended pattern.

to shape

Labels from a thermal transfer printer are high resolution and can also be printed in full color. Because of the versatility of prints, a thermal transfer printer is ideal for a variety of applications, including the following:

(Video) Differences in Thermal Transfer vs Direct Thermal

  • permanent labels
  • The warehouse label
  • The product label
  • file labels
  • Asset-Tags
  • Stickers for printed circuit boards
  • inventory tags
  • certification labels
  • Labels for laboratory samples
  • chemical labels
  • Cold store labels
  • stickers outdoors

Buy thermal transfer printers from POS Plaza at low prices:

  • Zebra ZD420 BT/Ethernet/USB-Thermotransferdrucker
  • ZEBRA ZD420 USB thermal transfer label printer
  • ZEBRA ZD420 203DPI BT/USB Thermotransfer-Etikettendrucker
  • More thermal transfer printers here

direct thermal printer

Similar to thermal transfer printing, a direct thermal printer also uses a printhead to create images on paper sources. However, the main difference is that no ribbon, ink or toner is required. Direct thermal printers use special print media that are heat-sensitive and chemically treated. When the special material is exposed to heat from the print head, the desired pattern is created and the label is printed.


  • Good print quality: The direct thermal printer offers good print quality for crisp, easy-to-scan images, graphics and labels.
  • Precision: The labels and tags produced with a direct thermal printer have impressive precision. Since the ink is already embedded in the paper and only heat is applied, there is no risk of ink smearing or errors.
  • Speed ​​– A direct thermal printer offers excellent print speed as there is no back and forth movement of the ribbon. Some labels can be printed in just a few seconds, and bulk printing is also effective.
  • Economy: A major advantage of direct thermal printers is their economy, as no ribbons, ink or toner are required.
  • Time savings - In addition to the high print speeds, downtime is minimal with a direct thermal printer as there is no need to change ribbons or ink.
  • Reliability - Because of the simple technology, there are fewer moving parts in a direct thermal printer. Thus, the probability of printer failure is greatly reduced, resulting in increased reliability.


  • Black prints only: The color on a label from a direct thermal printer comes from the paper itself. This allows printing in black only, with no other colors to add.
  • Environmentally sensitive: The printing material of direct thermal printers is sensitive to heat. Excessive light or heat can damage the printed label or cause the label to discolor. Scratches can also damage printed labels.
  • Short Label Life - Even when stored in a proper and secure environment, direct thermal printed labels typically have a short shelf life. Labels are likely to fade around 9-12 months after printing, making them unsuitable for long-term use.

to shape

Labels printed on a direct thermal printer have a short shelf life, making them best for storing information temporarily. Popular apps are:

  • starter
  • shipping labels
  • weight labels
  • visitor passes
  • food labels
  • coupons
  • quotes
  • Park-Tickets
  • temporary name tags
  • patient wristbands
  • Compliance labels

Buy POS Plaza direct thermal printers at low prices:

Zebra ZD420 BT/ETH/USB direct thermal label printer

Zebra ZD420 BT/USB/WIFI direct thermal label printer

(Video) Direct Thermal v.s. Thermal Transfer

ZEBRA ZD420D USB MOD/SLOT Direct Thermal Label Printer

More direct thermal printers here

Thermal Transfer vs. Direct Thermal: Factors to Consider When Choosing a Label Printer

Thermal transfer printers and direct thermal printers have extensive advantages and specific situations in which they are ideal. Here are some of the factors to consider when deciding which thermal printer is best for your business:

print quality

What print quality do you expect on your labels? Do they need to be in high definition or just readable and scannable? Is color required?

Thermotransferdrucker:If you want high-resolution labels with great graphics, a thermal transfer printer is fine. Color labels are also possible with thermal transfer technology.

Direct thermal printer:For basic, good quality label printing that is readable and scannable, choose a direct thermal printer. Remember that it can only print in black.

label life

A major factor influencing your choice of printer is the life expectancy of the printed labels. Do you want durable labels that keep their design? Or would you like labels for temporary use at short notice?

(Video) Difference between Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer printing

Thermotransferdrucker:Labels from a thermal transfer printer have a long shelf life and are ideal for products that do not require frequent label updates.

Direct thermal printer:If you are looking for temporary, one-time use or short-lived labels that will be used in a stable environment, a direct thermal printer is a good choice.

printing environment

Another aspect to consider is where the printer will be placed. What would the environment around the printer and the environment around the label be like?

Thermotransferdrucker:The printers themselves and the labels they print can be used in virtually any environment. These printers are resistant to harsh environments, heat and chemicals. They can be used indoors and outdoors, in harsh and industrial environments, and withstand extreme temperatures.

Direct thermal printer:Since direct thermal printers use heat-sensitive media, the printers and labels are not suitable for high temperatures and should only be stored indoors. Heat, sunlight and abrasion can damage labels and should be avoided to preserve the print.

start-up costs

If you are considering buying a new label printer, the initial cost will no doubt be an issue. Find out which printers fit your budget as well as your needs and give you the most value for your investment.

Thermotransferdrucker:A thermal transfer printer is slightly more expensive than direct thermal printers. This is because hardware components are added that manipulate the tape hardware. However, prints have a longer lifespan.

Direct thermal printer:Because no ribbon setup is required, direct thermal printer hardware is simpler than thermal transfer printers. Therefore, direct thermal printers are usually cheaper, but the printouts have a shorter lifespan.

(Video) Direct Thermal Vs. Thermal Transfer: What's the Difference?

operating cost

In addition to the initial setup costs, it makes sense to consider the running costs of a label printer. The running costs are influenced by the number of printouts made.

Thermotransferdrucker:A thermal transfer printer has relatively high running costs, since you have to spend not only on the print media but also on ribbons if necessary. The time spent changing ribbons and making other adjustments creates additional downtime, which also impacts the printer's running and production costs.

Direct thermal printer:In comparison, the direct thermal printer has low operating costs because it does not require ink ribbons. You would have to consider the cost of heat-sensitive media, which would be higher than regular paper. Since only the paper needs to be replaced, downtime is minimal with a direct thermal printer.

printer maintenance

Maintenance is an inevitable part of almost any technology, and it's best to plan ahead. With thermal printers, the largest replacement cost is usually for the printhead.

Thermotransferdrucker:In a thermal transfer printer, the ribbon acts as a buffer between the print material and the printhead. With a damper, the printhead will be better protected, especially from dust and abrasion, giving the printhead a longer lifespan. The ribbon is usually coated with a special backing to protect the printhead and further extend its life.

Direct thermal printer:With a direct thermal printer, the print head is in direct contact with the print medium. This can cause dust or dirt on the label stock to damage the printhead. Large debris can damage prints, while smaller debris will significantly reduce printhead life. Direct thermal printer printheads typically have 25-50% of the lifetime of thermal transfer printer printheads.


For modern businesses, a quality label printer is a big help. The versatility of label printers leads to numerous applications in everything from inventory management to receipts, tickets and shipping labels. Depending on your specific business needs, a thermal transfer printer or a direct thermal printer may be more appropriate.

(Video) Using non-branded thermal labels in the Munbyn Thermal Printer - How to set them up!

There are many direct thermal and thermal transfer printers so you can choose the one that best suits your needs and budget. Thermal transfer printers are ideal for long-lasting, full-color, high-resolution labels. Direct thermal printers are now ideal for fast, efficient and cost-effective label printing solutions.

to reachPoint-of-Sale-Platzfor more help finding the best direct thermal, thermal transfer or label printer for your business needs.

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Is thermal transfer better than direct thermal? ›

Generally speaking, thermal transfer labels will last longer and be able to withstand moisture, abrasion, and exposure to UV better than direct thermal labels. Direct thermal labels are a great choice when the labels ae used in controlled environments for simpler applications that have a short life span.

What is the difference between direct thermal and thermal transfer printing? ›

Direct thermal printing requires the print head elements be in direct contact with the label material as it is pulled across the print head. Conversely, thermal transfer printing has thermal ribbon acting as a “buffer” between the print head elements and the label material.

How to tell the difference between direct thermal and thermal transfer labels? ›

Take the label and scratch it quickly with your fingernail as if you were lighting a match. It may take a couple of hard strikes. If a dark mark appears on the label, it is direct. If no dark marks are left on the label, it is thermal transfer.

Can thermal transfer printers print direct thermal? ›

Thermal transfer printers will print both thermal transfer and direct thermal labels. Direct thermal printers are usually lower cost than the equivalent thermal transfer model.

How long does direct thermal print last? ›

Because it uses heat-sensitive materials, direct thermal labels do not have a long shelf-life, usually lasting around six to eight months. They have a tendency to scratch easily, and overexposure to direct sunlight or high temperatures will cause the print to fade faster.

What are the 3 advantages of thermal transfer printing? ›

The Benefits of Thermal Paper and Printing
  • Versatility: Printing on thermal paper provides speedy and high quality images. ...
  • Increased Speed: Thermal printers are much faster than other printers. ...
  • Reduced Costs: Thermal printers are inkless. ...
  • Reduced Maintenance Costs:
Nov 1, 2018

Is DTF better than HTV? ›

If you already own a print shop, DTF printing is probably superior (and more versatile) to heat transfers. DTF printing can be used for a wide range of products, is similar to the process for creating films for screen printing, and delivers a production-quality product under ideal circumstances.

Do direct thermal printers need ink? ›

Direct thermal printers work by creating images directly on the printed material without using a ribbon, toner or ink. Instead, this method uses chemically treated, heat-sensitive media that blackens when it passes under the thermal printhead.

Is DTF a heat transfer? ›

Direct-to-film (DTF) printing is a heat-transfer based print process. The process begins by printing designs onto a transfer film, which is then covered with a thermo-adhesive powder and transferred with a heat press to the final substrate.

Do direct thermal labels fade? ›

Direct thermal printing

Because the label material is heat sensitive, it fades and the label can become hard to read and scan over time. In addition, direct thermal labels are sensitive to abrasions and exposure to water, chemicals, and strong sunlight.

What are the different types of thermal printing? ›

The two types of thermal printers — thermal transfer and direct thermal — both are commonly used to produce high-quality, consistent images on various mediums. Additionally, they offer multiple benefits over traditional inkjet and laser printers.

What two types of thermal printer exist? ›

There are two distinct categories of thermal printers: Direct thermal printers and thermal transfer printers.

What are the disadvantages of a thermal printer? ›

The biggest disadvantages of thermal printers are that they tend to be more expensive than regular printers, you need to purchase thermal paper, they have color limitations, thermal labels fade overtime, and print heads can get damaged by heat and they are expensive to replace.

How do you change thermal transfer to direct thermal? ›

To set the Thermal Transfer method:

Right-click the printer you want to change the settings for, and then select Printing Preferences. Select the Stock tab. Select Direct Thermal or Thermal Transfer from the Method drop-down list. Click Apply, and then click OK to apply the settings.

Can direct thermal printer print color? ›

Can Direct Thermal Printer Print in Colour? No, direct thermal printers cannot print in colour. Direct thermal printing technology uses heat-sensitive paper (also called thermal labels or thermal paper ) instead of thermal ribbon for printing. As a result, direct thermal printers can only print in black and white.

Is DTF printing durable? ›

Once the film has been printed, it gets a layer of adhesive, before being pressed onto the product, which sits in a pressing device. This makes DTF printing ideally suited for both light and dark products. It's ultimately just as durable and stretchable as the product fabric.

Does heat transfer printing fade? ›

Heat transfer products are easy to fade in the sun's ultraviolet radiation, which is related to the offset heat transfer printing ink but has nothing to do with the transfer paper. Because the poor ink adds no anti UV agent and will fade quickly.

Do thermal printed photos fade? ›

Maintenance costs for direct thermal printers are low compared to other types of printers due to the fact no ink or toner is needed. One drawback, though, as mentioned above, is that your printed items may be prone to fading over time since thermal paper is particularly sensitive to heat and light.

What is the most effective form of thermal transfer? ›

The most efficient method of heat transfer is conduction. This mode of heat transfer occurs when there is a temperature gradient across a body. In this case, the energy is transferred from a high temperature region to low temperature region due to random molecular motion (diffusion).

What are the three types of thermal transfer? ›

Heat can be transferred in three ways: by conduction, by convection, and by radiation.
  • Conduction is the transfer of energy from one molecule to another by direct contact. ...
  • Convection is the movement of heat by a fluid such as water or air. ...
  • Radiation is the transfer of heat by electromagnetic waves.

What is the disadvantage of thermal paper? ›

It's a reliable technology that works well in harsh conditions such as extreme heat or cold weather. The main disadvantage of thermal printers is that they cannot print on glossy paper because it requires heat from the printing head, which will damage any surface where it touches (such as plastic).

How long does DTF last on shirts? ›

A number that you hear thrown around is that the industry standard for printed clothing is 50 washes. Many agree, however, that DTG prints will last longer than that. Another way to look at it is that direct-to-garment prints tend to last the life of the garment — and age along with it.

Which is cheaper DTG or DTF? ›

In contrast, DTF inks are more affordable, and prices for your transfer films and hotmelt powder are relatively low. Not only that, DTF uses much less ink than DTG, especially white ink. The hotmelt powder will bond the inks to the garment, so you don't need that much white ink as an underbase.

Does DTF last longer than vinyl? ›

Since there is no involvement of printing on vinyl in DTF, there will not be an additional layer of vinyl on the t-shirt. Therefore, the durability of the final product will be enhanced unlike vinyl that peels off over time.

Should I leave my thermal printer on all the time? ›

For this reason, to minimize ink consumption, it is recommended that you keep your printer on. This will reduce the number of maintenance cycles, and keep your ink usage to a minimum.

What are the pros and cons of thermal printer? ›

A Quick Comparison Table of Thermal Printer Advantages and Disadvantages
Thermal Printer AdvantagesThermal Printer Disadvantages
- Fast printing speeds- Restricted color options
- Consistent code results- Codes are not designed to last long-term
- Few moving parts- High consumable costs
2 more rows
Jun 7, 2022

Do you need special paper for thermal printers? ›


Thermal printers require special media because the thermal printing mechanism prints images and text without ink. Thermal media is different from regular paper in that the media is coated with a mixture of dyes and chemicals.

Is DTF better than sublimation? ›

DTF printing works on any type of fabric, but DTG works best on cotton and sublimation works best on polyester. Size of the order. If you need to print a large number of items quickly, DTG printing is often the best option because it is faster.

Does DTF last longer than DTG? ›

This method eliminates the need for pre-treatment, resulting in a faster overall print time. In addition, DTF prints tend to be more durable than DTG prints, meaning they will last longer before fading or cracking.

Is DTF better than screen printing? ›

Additionally, DTF printing is more versatile than screen printing, meaning that you can use it to create a wider range of locations on the shirt. And finally, for certain types of jobs and small runs, DTF printing is less expensive than screen printing, making it a more cost-effective option for many businesses.

How can I make my thermal prints last longer? ›

Place the receipts in an area with extremely low exposure to temperature changes, heat, or moisture. Clean and non-oily hands can also reduce the chances of fading from thermal paper receipts.

What temperature should direct thermal print be? ›

Temperature Direct thermal materials generally perform well at application temperatures of at least 25°F and service temperatures of -65°F to 200°F. Labeling outside this range requires thermal transfer and usually a specialty adhesive.

What are the two main types of printing? ›

Key Points

Common types of printing are: Surface Printing. Flexographic Printing.

Can thermal printer print on glossy paper? ›

Thermal printers can only work with thermal papers.

How does thermal transfer printing work? ›

Thermal-transfer printing is a digital printing method in which material is applied to paper (or some other material) by melting a coating of ribbon so that it stays glued to the material on which the print is applied. It contrasts with direct thermal printing, where no ribbon is present in the process.

Do thermal printers only print black? ›

Another limitation with direct thermal printers is their ability to only print in black and white. Where barcodes are fine with only black and white information, it doesn't allow for colored logos or graphics.

How do I set my Zebra printer to direct thermal? ›

If your printer has a LCD display, navigate to settings and change Print Method to Direct Thermal. On your PC, go to Printers & Scanners Settings (Windows 10), Devices and Printers (Windows 8 or former) and change the Media type setting to direct thermal. c. Your printer is now ready to print direct thermal labels.

How do I permanently save my Zebra printer? ›

If the printer has an LCD, it can be used to configure and save the printer's IP Address to Permanent.
The printer's home page should be displayed.
  1. Click View and Modify Printer Settings.
  2. Enter the password 1234 (default).
  3. Click Submit Changes.

How do I print from my computer to a thermal printer? ›

You can print receipts and orders using a USB thermal printer connected to your computer.
  1. Download the latest version of Waiterio: ...
  2. Install, open and login into the Waiterio application.
  3. Navigate to the PRINTING tab and click on the button ADD PRINTER.
  4. Set the protocol field to ESC POS.
  5. Set the connection field to usb.

Can DTF print white? ›

Plus, DTF printers can work on both dark and white fabric without any need to press on expensive A & B paper.

Can you print white with DTG? ›

White actually looks great on DTG prints as long as you're not going for a very large solid bright white area. In most situations white is going to look great, but in those big areas, the transparency of the ink tends to be more apparent.

Which method of heat transfer is most effective? ›

Conduction is the most significant form of heat transfer within a solid object or between solids in thermal contact. Conduction is most significant in solids, and less though in liquids and gases, due to the space between molecules.

What is the most efficient way to transfer thermal energy? ›

Heat can be transferred in one of three ways: conduction, convection, and radiation. The most efficient method is conduction, which is the transfer of heat between two objects in contact.

Is thermal transfer printing good? ›

Thermal transfer printing

This technique provides unmatched printing quality and durability. Thermal transfer printing is ideal for long-term applications in which the printing media will be used for more than six months or will be exposed to harsh conditions such as chemicals, light, high temperatures or water.

Which mode of heat transfer is the most efficient and why? ›

Hence, Radiation is the fastest mode of heat transfer because the heat gets transferred as electromagnetic waves. Radiation transfer energy in a vacuum also.

What are the 3 modes of heat transfer? ›

There are primarily three modes of heat transfer: Conduction, Convection and Radiation.

What are the 4 types of thermal energy transfer? ›

Various heat transfer mechanisms exist, including convection, conduction, thermal radiation, and evaporative cooling.

Which is the highest quality printing system? ›

The correct answer is Laser Printer. Laser printer: A laser printer provides the highest quality text and images for personal computers today.

Do thermal printed photos last? ›

Direct Thermal – No ink, toner or ribbon required to print, have a short lifespan of up to 6 months and is scratched easily and will fade faster when exposed to heat and UV light. Printing direct thermal labels requires less supplies and lower maintenance cost.

Do thermal printers run out of ink? ›

Thermal printers keep costs low as they do not rely on ink to print. No ribbons, cartridges or other supplies need to be replaced to ensure continued use. The media alone is the only supply required to keep the printer running.

What are the two types of thermal printers? ›

The two types of thermal printers — thermal transfer and direct thermal — both are commonly used to produce high-quality, consistent images on various mediums.


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