In thermal transfer printers, the thermal transfer process occurs not on the substrate, but on the ribbon. As the ribbon and substrate come into contact with the printhead, heat from the printhead melts the ink in the ribbon and releases (transfers) the ink directly onto the substrate. Ink used in the thermal transfer process is generally composed of wax, resin, or a wax/resin compound, according to the requirements of the project. Wax ribbons are less expensive and less durable, and are more suitable for short-term projects; resin ribbons are premium quality transfer agents, and are optimal for long-term, highly durable printing needs.
Advantages | Thermal Transfer
Thermal transfer printing produces dense, high resolution images - color or black-and-white - and can be used on a wide variety of substrates. Since thermal transfer printing uses ribbon as the transfer agent, images produced by the process are highly resistant to chemicals and extremely durable. Thermal transfer printers work at high speeds and require little maintenance.
Disadvantages | Thermal Transfer
The primary disadvantage of thermal transfer printing is that each ribbon only has a one-time use. However, thermal transfer ribbons can be easily disposed and are comparatively environmentally safer to dispose of than the other printing technologies discussed. Thermal transfer printing is the industry's most suitable solution for barcode printing applications. Extremely versatile, thermal transfer technology allows users to print crisp, resilient images on a virtually unlimited universe of substrates - a primary requirement of most barcoding projects. For absolute assurance of quality and reliability when it counts, there's no other choice. Thermal transfer printing is the industry's best solution for barcode printing.
How do I tell the difference between direct thermal labels and thermal transfer labels?
Determining whether a label is a thermal transfer or direct thermal is easy. Labels printed with a direct thermal printer do not stand up well to heat and light. Over time, the label begins to darken and the image becomes faded. Even if stored away from extreme elements, direct thermal labels typically remain scannable for only about six months after printing. However, this lifespan is sufficient for numerous applications, such as shipping labels, visitor identification slips, receipts, and ticket printing. One simple way to identify a direct thermal label is by using your fingernail and scraping it across the labels. If the label blackens, it’s direct thermal.
Unlike direct thermal labels, a thermal transfer label does not rely on a special heat-activated substrate. This method can accept a broader variety of “regular” label materials, including paper, polyester, and polypropylene. A label produced with the thermal transfer method will not blacken when a fingernail or other hard object is drawn across it. Thermal transfer labels are used for permanent solutions such as product identification, asset tags, tickets, and certification labels. Their durability also makes them appropriate for cold storage and outdoor applications.
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