Direct thermal and Thermal transfers are two methods for printing. These methods use a thermal printhead that applies heat to the surface being printed, but the process is different. This affects the longevity and durability of the printed material.
Direct thermal is the method used in the Zebra LP series of printers. This method has no ink, toner or ribbon which helps lower the costs of the printing process. Direct thermal printing uses chemically treated, heat sensitive media that blackens when passed under the thermal printhead. This may cause fading over time if the label is exposed to heat or light it will darken and make the print unreadable. Direct thermal printing should not be used for lifetime identification applications and the conditions in which the print will be in should be taken into consideration.
Thermal Transfer is the method used in the Zebra TLP, which we will be reviewing next week. This method uses a heated ribbon to produce long lasting, durable images. Thermal transfer printers accept a vast amount of different materials including paper, polypropylene and polyester. The label material must be matched with the ribbon type to ensure performance and durability. Thermal transfer is ideal for applications that need to withstand extreme temperatures, ultraviolet exposure, sterilization and chemicals.