Direct Thermal Vs. Thermal Transfer

Before The Label Experts can pick out the perfect solution for you, we have to put you in the hot seat. When you first give us a call, we’ll spend some time asking you questions to make sure that the solution we pick fits your wants/needs. One of the first questions you can expect us to ask is whether you want direct thermal or thermal transfer printed labels.

Direct thermal (DT) and thermal transfer (TT), are two different methods of printing onto a blank label. Each type of printing lends itself to different types of applications.

Direct thermal printing (also called thermal printing), occurs when a printhead heats up a thermally compatible label material, which then causes designated areas on it to turn black (resulting in your print). One of the benefits to this method is that it doesn’t require a ribbon. Traditionally, DT printed labels are used for short-term applications because of their lack of durability. Only paper or plastic materials can be DT printed on, so polyester materials aren’t an option. Also, DT printed labels fade under long-term UV light exposure, and in temperatures over 200 degrees. These labels are best used as a short-term labeling solution, for example: shipping labels, receipts, and other temporary applications.


Thermal transfer printing entails a different process. The printer’s printhead heats up an accompanied ribbon (rather than the material itself), which then transfers a print onto your labels. The ribbon must be correctly paired with the printer, as well as the material. Paper, plastic, and polyester materials can all be printed on using TT, giving you a wide range of material and durability options. TT printed labels are typically used as a long-term labeling solution, and/or at times when labels need to withstand chemical exposure, extreme temperatures, or a harsh environment. Application examples include the labeling of: assets, outdoor furniture, and warehouse floors.

Still not sure which type of digital printing is right for you? Have no fear, we’re here to help. Contact The Label Experts

Electronic Imaging Materials