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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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