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​Thermal transfer or direct thermal? That is the question!

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If you’ve landed on this blog post, it most likely means that you have some knowledge or have done some research on the two most common methods of barcode label printing. In any case, let me refresh your memory.

Both direct thermal and thermal transfer printing use a thermal printer that uses a thermal printhead that applies heat to the surface being marked. However, the two methods vary in more than one way.

Direct thermal labels are made with a heat-sensitive material that blackens when exposed to heat. They do not use any ribbon, toner or ink cartridge to print.

Thermal transfer labels however need a ribbon to be printed. The printhead heats the ribbon which then melts onto the label.

Most customers are attracted to the simplicity of the direct thermal printing method mainly because of the lack of ribbon. However, this printing method has a huge drawback compared to thermal transfer printing.

Receipts are a good example of direct thermal printing. Ever notice how receipts seem to turn yellowish and fade over time? That is because of the direct thermal paper. The material is extremely sensitive to light, heat and other catalysts. For this reason, this technology is not used for long term identification of products. It is however useful for purposes such as shipping labels, tickets, name tags, etc.

If you are looking to identify jewelry and eyewear with labels, you should definitely consider thermal transfer printing. Unlike the direct thermal labels, thermal transfer labels do not have any heat sensitivity and therefore will not fade or blacken with long exposures to halogen lights (such as in jewelry displays). This technique also provides a much cleaner, crisper, accurate printout that will last as long as needed in your jewelry or eyewear display.

In conclusion, the extra cost of the ribbon for thermal transfer printing is definitely worth the expense as your jewelry labels and eyeglass tags will remain clean and elegant for the days, weeks or months to come compared to direct thermal tags that are susceptible to fading.

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