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Thermal Transfer Printing Produces High-Quality Barcode Labels That Last

Thermal transfer printing is one of the most widely used print technologies for dedicated barcode systems. Ideal for a variety of applications, thermal transfer printers use a heated print head and a thin ribbon to create high-quality, long-lasting barcode labels.

How does thermal transfer printing work?


The Zebra ZT220 mid-range thermal transfer printers are ideal for warehouse management, inventory control,and shipping.

Barcode ribbons have a wax, resin, or a wax/resin coating on one side. When a thermal transfer label or tag passes through a thermal transfer barcode printer, heat from the print head melts the wax or resin.

This process transfers ink to the label. The result is crisp, high-definition images of the highest quality.

Benefits of thermal transfer printing

Thermal transfer has several advantages, including:

Superior print quality

  • Accurate high-definition text, graphics, and barcodes
  • Archival-quality labels
  • Consistent, reliable images on every label
  • Nearly unlimited variety of paper, polyester, and polypropylene media available

Maximum scanner readability and scannability

  • Tough, long-lasting labels
  • Excellent edge definition
  • Resistant to heat and moisture
  • Images won’t rub off
  • Both 1D and 2D barcodes

Low operational costs

  • Virtually no waste due to batch or single-label print options
  • Print heads last longer
  • Printers typically more durable
  • Minimal long-term maintenance expenses

Limitations of thermal transfer printing

Although widely used, thermal transfer printing has some limitations, including:

Higher supply expenses

  • Have to routinely replace ribbons
  • Replacement frequency can increase when primarily printing single labels

Increased installation costs

  • Initial investment may be moderate to high
  • Poor candidate for recycling options

Potential printer problems

  • Must carefully match label material and ribbon; otherwise the print head may melt the ribbon onto the label
  • Must choose the right specialty adhesives

Ideal applications for thermal transfer printing

Because of their durability and quality, thermal transfer labels are used for a variety of applications, including:

  • Product identification
  • Asset tagging
  • Inventory identification
  • Certification labels such as UL/CSA
  • Laboratory specimens
  • Cold storage and freezers
  • Outdoor applications
  • Circuit board tracking
  • Permanent identification
  • Sample and file tracking

If you are printing items with a shorter shelf life such as shipping labels or event tickets, you may be interested in a direct thermal printer. Compare both thermal print technologies to see which one is right for you.

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Jamie Duerksen

Product Manager Custom Labels and Barcode Printers at System ID
Jamie Duerksen loves challenges and enjoys the wealth of knowledge that comes from solving them. System ID customers benefit from her expertise—Jamie excels at helping organizations uncover barcode labeling and printing solutions for unique applications and environments. Outside of the office, Jamie embraces the everyday experience of being a wife and mother.

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