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What is Thermal Transfer Printing?

Published: 2020-08-21
What is Thermal Transfer Printing?
What is Thermal Transfer Printing?

The thermal transfer printing process produces high-resolution text and images without the use of liquid ink. Thermal transfer printers use ribbon as the mechanism for imaging the label. Thermal transfer ribbons are a thin film and are wound around roll. The ribbon has a special black coating on one side - usually made from a wax or resin construction.

During the thermal transfer printing process, the ribbon is run between the label material and the printhead. The black coated side of the ribbon will be facing the label. As the printhead heats up, the ribbon and label pass over it. The ribbon’s coating is transferred from the ribbon to the label. Thermal transfer printed labels usually have a very crisp and glossy surface.

Benefits of Thermal Transfer Printing

Thermal transfer printers offer many advantages. Companies or businesses that need to print large quantities of labels, especially long-life labels like barcodes, will almost always choose the thermal transfer printing process. Thermal transfer label printers create high-resolution labels in milliseconds rather than seconds- much faster than other standard inkjet or laser printers. Thermal transfer labels are durable and can withstand a variety of environmental conditions, meaning they will not fade in the sunlight or when exposed to high temperatures. These labels are also smudge resistant and will not become distorted after coming into contact with oils and most chemicals. While direct thermal printing can also create high quality images, they cannot print in color – another benefit of thermal transfer printing. Additional benefits include:

  • More environmentally friendly than other printers (no liquid ink)
  • Enables batch or single label printing with little to no waste
  • Lower maintenance costs compared to dot matrix, ink jet and laser printing
  • Can print on a large variety of media stock
  • Most thermal transfer printers are PC-compatible

Limitations of Thermal Transfer Printing

Though there are many benefits to thermal transfer printing, there are some factors you should keep in mind when choosing your printing process:

  • Cost – because thermal transfer printers use ribbon, supply costs will be more than direct thermal printing
  • Wasteful – single-pass thermal transfer ribbons can be inefficient if little is printed on it
  • Ribbon can be difficult to recycle
  • Ribbon and media substrate MUST be compatible. If they are not, heat from the printhead can melt the ribbon onto the label causing printer issues.

Thermal Transfer Labels at Nev's

Common examples of thermal transfer labels include inventory identification (barcodes) and laboratory specimens, as well as outdoor and freezer applications. Thermal transfer labels are available in a wide range of colors from pastel to fluorescents. This can be very helpful for product identification and a variety of warehouse applications.

Nev's Ink produces high quality thermal labels that won't fade over time. Our labels are designed to withstand many different environments and most chemicals, so you can order and label with confidence. Shop all of our thermal transfer labels here, or call us at 800-638-7465 for a custom order! For ribbon, contact us and let us know what type of printer you are using and style of ribbon you are looking for!

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