Direct Thermal Mode vs. Thermal Transfer Mode Printers

The difference between thermal transfer and direct thermal technology is important to understand in order to select the correct printer for your application.

To help select the correct print technology for your application consider the following:

  • Will your labels have a shelf-life of over 1 year?
  • Will you be printing high density bar codes?
  • Will the labels be subjected to heat or sunlight?
  • Will the labels be subject to chemicals or other forms of abrasives?
  • Will you be printing on a variety of different label types such as papers, films and foils?
  • Will you ever need to print labels in colors other than black?

If you answer “yes” to any of the above questions you should strongly consider using a thermal transfer label printer rather than a direct thermal printer.

Thermal Printers: Direct Thermal

TSC direct thermal printers require the use of heat activated labels and do not require a ribbon. While somewhat durable, direct thermal labels are prone to darkening over time due to age or exposure to extreme light or heat. Direct thermal printing is popular in applications such as mailing, small parcel delivery, retail and the food industries where most items are stored away from heat and sunlight, and the expected life of the label is less than 1 year. The primary benefit is an overall lower cost since ribbon is not required, and direct thermal printers are easier to operate.

Thermal Printers: Thermal Transfer

Thermal transfer printing requires a printer that works with a thermal transfer ribbon and media. TSC manufactures both low cost thermal transfer “desktop” printers designed to print up to several thousand labels per day, and “industrial” thermal transfer printers capable of printing many thousands of labels per day. TSC thermal transfer printers are designed to print using either thermal transfer or direct thermal technology.

Thermal transfer printing requires the use of a carbon based ribbon which is chemically transferred onto a label’s substrate when heat is applied, hence the name “thermal transfer.”

Thermal transfer ribbons can be many different formulas and colors, so the user is not limited to black print. The print quality is crisp and durable which makes thermal transfer printing an excellent choice for printing high density bar-codes and labels that require longevity. Another benefit is that thermal transfer printers can print on paper, film, and even foil substrates.

Please note that the proper selection and match of label stock and ribbon is critical to the overall quality and performance of the printed media.


About TSC Label Printers

TSC Auto ID Auto ID Technology is Asia’s largest manufacturer of thermal-transfer label printers, distributing its products through a worldwide network of value-added resellers. Our high-value desktop and durable industrial-class thermal label printerss are the product of more than 20 years of printer design and manufacturing experience.

Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer Print Technology

TSC label printers are available in as either direct thermal only or thermal transfer / direct thermal configurations. Our models that are designed for thermal transfer printing can be run in direct thermal or thermal transfer mode. Direct thermal mode uses heat sensitive labels that darken to form barcodes, graphics and printed text as heat is applied by the printer’s print head. Direct thermal labels are suitable for short shelf life labels which are not exposed to extreme light or heat.

Thermal transfer printing requires the use of a ribbon and prints labels suitable for many environments. Applications for thermal transfer label printers include many forms of signage, manufacturing identification, product identification, asset tagging, and a host of other solutions. Ribbon and label combinations are available that provide resistance against abrasion, heavy wear, temperature extremes and chemical damage.

Label Printer Supported Print Formats, Bar Codes and Graphics

TSC thermal label printers support text printing in any language font, including True-Type™ fonts. True-Type fonts can simply be copied to the printer and font sizes can be scaled internally by the printer. TSC label printers also handle all standard barcodes including two dimensional codes. Graphic support includes .PCX and .BMP formats. Label formats of any print size or orientation are available.

Label Printer – Print Resolution

TSC label printers support print resolutions of 203 dpi (8 dots/mm), 300 dpi (12 dots/mm) and 600 dpi (24 dots/mm). Most print solutions can be adequately handled by a 203 dpi printer while 300 dpi provides the ability to print high quality, small print labels and 600 dpi provides specialized very fine print capabilities.

Label Printer – Label Print Width

TSC offers a comprehensive selection of printers that support print widths of 2 inches (58mm), 4 inches (108mm), 6 inches (168mm) and 8 inches (219 mm) wide allowing our customers to select the most affordable solution for their printing needs.

Label Printer – Media and Ribbon Handling

All TSC label printers are designed for ease-of-use concerning the replacement of either ribbon or print media supplies. Sophisticated label registration and top-of-form detection is supported by sensors designed to detect label gap, black mark, or notch.

Label Printer – Print Speed

The print speed of TSC label printers is model dependent, with top speeds ranging from 3 inches per second up to a very fast 12 inches per second.

Label Printer – Label Types Supported

TSC printers can print on a large variety of materials including a host of coated and non-coated papers, and a variety of synthetic materials including polyester, polypropylene, Tyvek, vinyl, and mylar. TSC desktop and industrial model printers are among the most popular in the world for use with synthetic materials due to their robust design and large power supplies.

Label Printer – Label Output

TSC label printers can be configured to use a wide variety of label types and can deliver labels in a variety of ways:

  • Batch mode – print jobs of any desired number of labels may be sent to the printer.
  • On Demand – sensors can be used to detect when a label is removed from the printer and command the printer to image and print the next label.
  • Cut – labels can be cut automatically to separate each individual label or a batch of labels.
  • Peeled – the printer can be configured to peel the backing away from the label for easy application of the printed label. Sensors are used to detect when a peeled label is removed from the printer to image and print the next label.
  • Rewound – labels may be either rewound inside the printer, or using an optional external rewinder.



Choosing the Best Barcode Printer for Your Business

The correct choice of your new barcode printer will help to improve your business processes, reduce employee and administrative costs, improve customer service and help to make running your business simpler.

TSC makes selecting the right barcode printer relatively simple. We currently offer over eight industrial class printer models and eleven different plastic desktop models to choose from. By answering just a few questions, we can narrow the choice of printers to consider, and make the best selection for your application.

Is this a replacement of an older barcode printer?

Many barcode printers that are sold today, perhaps even the majority of printers sold today, are replacing an existing label printer. TSC printers are designed to make the transition from your old printer to your new TSC printer as easy as possible. Our Windows™ drivers are excellent, and every TSC printer can emulate popular ZPL, EPL or DPL languages.

How durable do the labels have to be?

TSC offers both direct thermal and thermal transfer barcode printers. Direct thermal only printers are perfect for short-life labels such as parcel post, small package shipping, wristbands and other printed materials with an expected life of between one week and a year. Thermal transfer is the only choice when you need crisp, long-lasting labels. Thermal transfer gives the customer the widest variety of label choices from uncoated papers to extremely durable vinyls.

What is the print width required by your labels?

A key factor in choosing what printer to choose is to determine the widest label you will need to print. TSC barcode printers offer 2 inch, four inch, six inch and eight inch wide models to choose from. The most popular barcode printers are four inch wide models that are available in both plastic desktop and heavy duty die-cast industrial models.

What print resolution is required?

The most common resolution for barcode printers is 203 dpi (8 dots/mm) which is adequate for most printed labels. For applications that require text and barcodes on very small labels higher resolutions may be required. TSC offers barcode printers in 300 dpi (12 dots/mm) versions and also the very high resolution TTP-644M model that supports 600 dpi (24 dots/mm) printing.

What is your daily print volume?

How many labels do you need to print each day? Our TTP-2410M series of industrial printers are designed to print virtually non-stop, 24 hours per day just pausing long enough to replace ribbons and labels. For applications that require 500 or fewer labels per day TSC offers the very economical TTP-244 Plus and TTP-243 Pro series of printers, as well as the high value TTP-245C series.

How durable does the printer need to be?

Our plastic desktop models are perfect for an office environment where they quietly and efficiently produce the labels that you need. Our heavy duty industrial die-cast thermal transfer barcode printers are designed for harsh warehouse and manufacturing environment. Our durable TTP-247 series of plastic desktop barcode printers is often found in both office and industrial environments.

How fast do you need to print?

Usually the last question to consider is how fast do you need to print? TSC offers the fastest plastic desktop printers on the market with speeds up to seven inches per second. Our industrial printer models can print up to twelve inches per second.



What Is A Barcode Printer?

What is Barcode Printer?

A barcode is a body of data encoded by either varying spacing and width of parallel lines (known as 1D barcodes) or by geometric patterns such as dots, hexagons, and rectangles (known as 2D barcodes). The data that can be held range from a few characters for 1D barcodes to several thousand characters to 2D barcodes, making it very effective and powerful for barcode printer applications.

How does barcode printer work?

First, the user will need to create the label format and content, using software designed for barcode printerpurposes. One would first select the type of barcode format that is most optimal for their needs, then enter the information to be represented by the barcode. Together, this output will then feed into a barcode label printer, which prints the corresponding input. These label printers can typically support multiple types of barcodes, depending on the users’ barcode printer needs.

How do I connect a computer to the barcode printer?

Setting up barcode printer has gotten more and more user-friendly with the increased interface options between a user’s computer and the barcode printer. Connectivity options now cover both wired selections, including USB, Ethernet, serial, as well as wireless options (including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth). TSC printers cover this wide range of options to make barcode printer both simple and flexible.

What are the advantages of using a thermal barcode printer for barcode printer applications?

Barcode printer can be conducted on either conventional office printers (such as laser or inkjet) or on thermal barcode printers. The latter offers some significant advantages, including:

1) Flexible barcode printer

There is a much wider array of labels that a user can choose from to fit their specific printing needs. Furthermore, thermal barcode printers can be outfitted with automatic cutters to customize the desired length of the labels.

2) Reliable barcode printer

When using conventional printers for barcode printer, the adhesives of the labels is apt to seep out and thus causing paper jams. Additionally, for high-speed barcode printer applications, inkjet printers are hard-coped to produce labels at the rate required.