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What is the difference between thermal transfer and direct thermal labels?

31 May 2019

Peacock bros warehouse

Barcoding has been part of the technology infrastructure of business for many years. While the technology is not new, uses for barcoding keep expanding to new applications and industries. If you’ve been given the task of managing your organization’s barcode labelling needs, here’s a quick overview of the printing technologies available.

The most popular barcode label printing methods are thermal transfer and direct thermal. Thermal label printers are very durable, there is a multitude of printers depending on the quantity and speed you need. There is a different printer for each customer.  


The differences between thermal transfer and direct thermal printing

Both thermal transfer and direct thermal label printers use a thermal print head that applies heat to the surface to create an image.


Thermal transfer labels are printed using a ribbon. This produces durable images that can withstand exposure to light, extreme temperatures and abrasion. Suitable for long term application such as racking labels and product identity.


Direct thermal labels are printed without using a ribbon. An image is created directly on the printed material. Direct thermal labels are perfect for short term application such as freight labels.

Peacock bros warehouse barcode scanner

You’ll need a thermal ribbon for thermal transfer printing

A wide variety of thermal transfer ribbons are available to suit the stock that would meet your application whether paper or synthetic. It is very important to match your ribbon selection to your application, there are three basic formulations of thermal transfer ribbons:

  • Wax-based ribbons are low in cost and suitable for most applications in particular printing on paper materials
  • Wax/resin ribbons are for more durability or on paper and synthetic materials
  • Resin ribbons that provide ultimate durability on synthetic materials


Direct thermal labels offer low cost ease-of-use

Direct thermal label printing is the cost effective alternative in barcode label printing because it does not require the use of ribbon. Direct thermal labels perform best for short term uses such as shipping.

Some of the most common direct thermal label applications include:

  • Shipping labels
  • Event tickets
  • Citations and parking tickets
  • Name tags and visitor passes


Peacock Bros. manufactures and distributes a wide range of high-quality direct thermal labels, thermal transfer labels and tags. We are also a leading converter and wholesaler of thermal ribbons. All of our products are made using only the highest-quality materials and the most advanced manufacturing techniques.

Our staff of labelling and printing experts can you assist you in developing the most appropriate barcode labelling solution. Contact us on 1300 723 282 or here to discuss your needs and get a quote.



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