Direct thermal vs Thermal Transfer

Direct thermal vs Thermal transfer

When buying labels, the terms “Direct thermal” and “Thermal transfer” will come up often. These are the two most popular technologies when choosing label materials. Let us dive right in and understand what they are and which one to choose.

What is Direct Thermal?

Direct thermal (DT) Labels do not require ribbons. A quick and easy test to know if your label is DT is by using your fingernail and strike across the paper, if the paper turns black, that is direct thermal. The reason it turns black is because the friction that is created generates heat, that heat in turns activate the paper to turn black.  Because it is a heat activated paper, the manufacturer shelf life is 1 year from purchase. Direct thermal label, although a short shelf life, is useful for many applications. For example, shipping labels, tickets and receipts. Many small desktop printers uses direct thermal labels while larger, Industrial printers, has a dual function and can use both direct thermal and thermal transfer. 

  • Inexpensive
  • Quicker Operation
  • No need for Inks/Ribbons/Toners
  • Best for Indoors and short term use
  • Less durable especially to UV light
  • Scratches easily
  • Only in black

What is Thermal Transfer?

Thermal Transfer (TT) requires the use of ribbon. The ribbon is made of wax or resin and is melted onto the label to create the image or barcode.  The main advantage of using thermal transfer label is that it is more scratch and rub resistant. The durability of thermal transfer makes it good for outdoor and cold storage applications. Other applications TT is good for include product identification, tags, tickets and certification labels.

  • More durable
  • Less wear and tear on the print head
  • Used with many label substrate
  • Excellent scanbility and longer shelf life
  • Slightly more expensive
  • Require the purchase of ribbons