Label Printers: Direct Thermal vs. Thermal Transfer

Here at RetailEdge, we provide an array of hardware to fit the needs of all of our customers’ businesses. Without getting too technical, we’re giving you a quick rundown of key advantages and disadvantages of a direct thermal printer and thermal transfer printer.

Thermal Transfer #


  • Long life of printed image
  • Printed image does not fade in direct sunlight and is more heat tolerant
  • Availability of color ribbons
  • Typically, longer printhead life
  • Wide selection of label materials available
  • Good chemical resistance with some materials

  • Operators must perform ribbon changes
  • More mechanical parts in printer means potential for more downtime and mechanical failures
  • Opportunity for print quality problems due to mismatched labels and ribbons
  • Opportunity for print quality problems due to incorrect ribbon adjustments

Direct Thermal #


  • Simplified operator intervention; no ribbon to load or ribbon adjustments to make
  • No ribbon wrinkle problems
  • No mechanical failures associated with ribbon drive mechanisms
  • Fewer inventory items due to lack of ribbon and fewer spare parts
  • Eliminates potential for mismatched labels and ribbons
  • No ribbon disposal

  • Typically, slower print speeds
  • Typically, reduced thermal printhead life
  • Will fade or “yellow” over extended periods of time**
  • Label will darken when exposed to extreme heat and direct sunlight
  • Specialty substrates (i.e. films) can be costly
  • Limited selection of substrates
  • Limited chemical resistance

Hope this has helped!