2. Innovation / New products / Plastics

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

Both methods use a thermal printhead that applies heat to the surface being marked.

  • Thermal transfer printing uses a heated ribbon to produce durable, long-lasting images on a wide variety of materials.
  • Direct thermal printing involves no ribbon, an  image is  directly printed on the material. Direct thermal media is more sensitive to light, heat and abrasion, which reduces the life of the printed material.

How do I choose between direct thermal and thermal transfer printing?

Direct thermal printers cost less to operate than inkjet, laser, impact, and thermal transfer printers. Most mobile printers use direct thermal technology.


Thermal media images may fade over time. If the label is overexposed to heat, light, or other catalysts, the material will darken and make the text or bar code unreadable. For these reasons, direct thermal printing is not used for lifetime identification applications.

Thermal transfer printers can accept a wider variety of media than direct thermal models, including paper, polyester, and polypropylene materials. Thermal transfer printers can create extremely durable wristbands, asset tags, and certification labels, in addition to common labels, tags, and tickets. The specific label material and ribbon must be carefully matched to ensure print performance and durability.

By selecting the right media-ribbon combination, as well as specialty adhesives, users can create archival-quality labels to withstand temperature extremes, ultraviolet exposure, chemicals, sterilization, and more.

 Thermal transfer applications:

Product identification; circuit board tracking; permanent identification; sample and file tracking; asset tagging; inventory identification; certification labels such as UL/CSA; laboratory specimens; cold storage and freezers; and outdoor applications.

Camlab have a diverse range of thermal transfer labels, cryogenic and solvent resistant for whatever your application

 Visit our website for our range of  Thermal Printers too. Order TODAY!