Thermal Transfer vs Thermal Direct Printing

Thermal Transfer Printer

Which Type of Thermal Printer is Right for my Business?

When it comes to choosing a method of thermal printing, there are a number of determinant factors that one must take into consideration. Today, we’re doing an in-depth dive into the benefits of thermal printing and illustrating the differences between thermal transfer vs thermal direct printing.

How Does Thermal Printing Work?

Thermal printing works by using heat to transfer or activate pigments. The term, “thermal,” gives rise to its association with heat and its core functionality. This type of printing is ideal for a variety of businesses. Thermal printing is adaptable, easily integratabtle, cost-effective, and easy to use. Thermal printing can be used for receipt printing, tag printing, barcode generation, labeling needs, and more.

A thermal transfer printer imprints barcode media onto a substrate.

Thermal Direct Pros and Cons

  • Thermal direct printing requires the print head to come in direct contact with the label surface during printing. For this reason, thermal direct print head life may be shorter than thermal transfer, which uses a ribbon that acts as a buffer to friction during printing.

  • Thermal direct printing techniques increase the risk that dust and debris may come in contact with the print head during print runs. These particles may affect the quality of the print as well as the health of the print head. 

  •  Printer cost can be saved when looking to strictly use thermal direct printing capabilities. Thermal printers with exclusively direct printing capabilities are generally less costly because they do not require the machinery necessary for the ribbon functionality.

  • Thermal direct printing techniques can sometimes be more efficient during printing than thermal transfer printers because there are no time requirements for ribbon adjustment and replacement.

Thermal Transfer Pros and Cons

  • Thermal transfer printing involves the transfer of a pigment to a substrate through the use of a ribbon and a thermal print head. Because the print technology utilizes a ribbon, there is a barrier between the print head and the substrate, reducing friction and lengthening print head life.

  • Due to the use of the ribbon in thermal transfer printing, the print head is more protected from dust and debris versus in thermal direct printing, though the particles can still pose a threat to the quality of the printed media. The debris does not come in contact with the print head directly because of the ribbon buffer, reducing the possibility for potential damage to the equipment.

  • Thermal transfer printers generally present a greater cost up front, but they are more versatile in their capabilities and can usually be adapted to be both thermal transfer and thermal direct. 

  • Thermal transfer printers use ribbon to imprint pigment onto a substrate so production times will need to take into consideration the extra required time to change ribbons and fix ribbon placement if the need should arise. However, though thermal transfer printers may take more care to operate, they produce higher quality media with more precise and versatile capabilities when compared with thermal direct printing.

Which Thermal Printing Type is Best?

When determining which type of printing is best for you and your business, there are a variety of factors to consider. The list above present some general pros and cons about each printing technology. However, these pros and cons are nowhere near exhaustive. For more information on thermal printing and which type of thermal printer could be right for you and your business, contact us at Derksen Co. We specialize in the sale of thermal printing equipment and are experts in developing printing solutions that fit the needs of your operation. Thermal transfer vs thermal direct printing is a decision best made with expertise to guide you. Call us at 920-685-4000 or email us at You can drop us a message using our inquiry page or reach a sales representative using our contact us page.

Nikita Willeford