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Direct Thermal Labels vs. Thermal Transfer Labels

What is the difference between Direct Thermal Labels and Thermal Transfer Labels?

Need help trying to determine if you should use a Direct Thermal Label or Thermal Transfer Label for your Zebra Printer?  These are different label materials even though they look the same.  Both printing technologies have their benefits!

Direct Thermal Labels have a clear heat sensitive coating on them.  When the heat from the printhead comes into contact with the heat sensitive coating, there is a chemical reaction that turns the label black.  Direct Thermal labels are convenient because you do not need to use a ribbon! If your application is short term, you may want to choose the convenience of Direct Thermal Labels.  You will not want to use Direct Thermal if your labels are exposed to a fair amount of direct sunlight or heat.

Thermal Transfer Labels require the use of a ribbon.  When the ribbon is passed beneath the printhead, the heat softens the ribbon ink while in contact with the label or tag, resulting in the transfer of the ink to the surface of the label or tag.  With Thermal Transfer Labels, you don’t need to worry about your labels turning black if exposed to heat and sunlight like Direct Thermal Labels!

There are three general classes of ribbons that are used in thermal printers: Wax, Wax/Resin, and Resin.

Wax Ribbons

  •   Outstanding print performance on coated stocks
  •   Prints at lower energy settings
  •   Specially formulated backcoat protects the printhead
  •   Recommended stocks include Coated and uncoated paper tag & label stocks • Synthetic papers (i.e. Kimdura, Polyart)

Wax/Resin Ribbons

  •   Excellent scratch and smudge resistance
  •   Withstands multiple scans, outdoor elements, rough handling
  •   Dark black images
  •   Notable performance on glossy papers
  •   Specially formulated backcoat protects the printhead
  •   Recommend stocks include Coated paper, Polyethylene, Polypropylene, and Polyester

Resin Ribbons

  •   Maximum durability for harsh environment labeling
  •   Excellent mechanical durability
  •   Good resistance to typical chemicals
  •   Very dark black images with exceptional sharpness • Prints on a wide range of synthetic receivers 
  •   Recommended Stocks include Polyester, Polyimide films, Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Vinyl, and Nylon


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