Thermal Printers - FAQs

"I heard that there are two methods of printing used by barcode printers. Which one do I want?"

Barcode printers come in two basic forms: direct thermal and thermal transfer. Both use the heat of the printing element to form an image on the label. The difference is in the process.

Direct thermal printers use the heat of the print head to form an image on specially coated papers. Much like the old-style fax paper that was chemically treated, and would react to the heat of the print head on an incoming fax, these labels have been processed to react to the heat of the printing element.

Thermal transfer printers use the heat of the printing element to transfer resin from a ribbon onto a label. The image is crisper and longer-lasting.

Most printers come in either configuration, so you could order a particular printer in either the direct thermal or thermal transfer model. Some printers actually have the option of being changed from one type to the other, simply by adding a ribbon and changing labels. This is something to bear in mind when making your choice.

"Which one do I need?"

The criteria used to make that decision is the application of your printer. Direct thermal (no ribbon) printing is slightly cheaper. Because there is no ribbon involved, the cost per thousand labels tends to be less. However, the disadvantage of direct thermal printing is that the label will fade with time. Just like the old, curly fax paper that would turn grey and fade after about 6 months, so too will direct thermal labels fade. Because they are coated to react to heat, they will fade with time.

If your application involves the need for labels to last more than 6 months, we recommend using a thermal transfer printer. If you were using the printer for address labels on one day and for yearly stock taking the next, it may be advisable to invest in a printer that can perform both.

"How do I select which printer I need?"

There are a few questions you have to determine the answer to. Once you have done that, the decision is pretty straight-forward. The first question is: how many labels do you plan on printing? Barcode printers are largely designed to handle a given workload. The most common method of measuring a printer's capacity is by the amount of "labels a day" it is rated for. A light-duty printer will accommodate up to 200 labels a day. A medium-grade printer will handle up to 500 a day. If your application requires that you print more than 500 labels a day, you need a heavy-duty printer. Finally, if you find that your application demands printing more than 1000 labels a day, you would need an industrial-grade printer. Check out the hardware section for the specifications of some of the printers we have available.

"Are there different speeds in printers?"

Yes. Thermal barcode printers are rated by how many inches per second (IPS) they print. The print speeds vary, from 2" a second up to 10" a second. The actual speed of printing will be determined by the height of your label. If you are printing a 4" wide by 2" high label, then every label will consist of 2 print inches. Assuming your printer was rated for 2 inches per second, it would print one label every second.

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