How Does a Thermal Printer Work

Thermal printers use heat via a printhead to produce images. There are two types of thermal printers – a direct thermal printer and a thermal transfer.

Direct thermal printers use a type of media that has been treated chemically. This media is heat sensitive, and when passed under a thermal printhead, it blackens getting your ‘print’.

Thermal transfer printing differs in that it requires a ribbon. The coating of the ribbon is melted onto the paper using heat applied by the thermal printer.

Direct thermal printers are becoming more popular because they do not require ribbon changes.

The Thermal Printing Process

Thermal printers, as the name suggests, work by using heat to produce an image on paper.

A. Direct Thermal

Direct thermal printing occurs with a print media with a special coating, which turns black when heated. You are also able to find some thermal printers that print with a color – usually red.

B. Thermal Transfer

Thermal transfer printers, rather than using a print media with a coating, use a coated ribbon. This ribbon is heated and transfers onto the print media.

Thermal label printers and thermal receipt printers are the two main types of printers you will find.

Usages For Thermal Printers

You’ve probably come across thermal printers every day without even realizing it at times.

These types of printers are commonly used in:

A. The transport industry, where tickets are needed for buses, planes, and trains.

B. If you buy a lottery ticket, chances are this will be printed using a thermal printer. As will any receipts you receive when doing your shopping or using an ATM.

C. In healthcare, thermal printers are now used to write prescriptions, ridding everyone of the illegible doctor’s handwriting that we all struggle to read.

D. You will also find most labels and barcodes you see in various places have been printed using a thermal printer.

This is because thermal printers produce long-lasting prints that are difficult to damage and withstand the elements better than prints from an inkjet or laser printer.

Thermal Label Printers

A. Benefits Over Normal Printers

1. No ink requirement.

2. Faster printing speeds.

B. Print Media

Label printers will be loaded up with a reactive label roll. The better label printers will be able to carry two rolls of different sizes simultaneously so that you don’t have to worry about switching things up when you require different sizes.

C. How A Thermal Label Printer Works

1. The thermal head generates heat.

2. The platen feeds the print media through the printer.

3. A spring presses the thermal head.

4. The thermal head contacts the print media

5. Images or/and text appear on the print media.

Thermal Receipt Printers

Difference From, And Similarities To, Label Printers

1. Print Media

A label will be printed with a peel-off back as they need to be sticky, while receipts don’t.

2. Print Process

The printing process is the same as a label maker, with heat being applied to the print media to get the end result.

3. Speed

Receipt printers should offer great speed, without requiring a lot of extra power. You will also want to ensure it doesn’t need a long rest time.

This is because such printers will have a high workload, and you want to ensure they can handle the tasks given efficiently.

4. Color

You can get receipt paper either to print receipts in black or to give a bit of color as well.

Benefits Of Thermal Printers

Running costs

Thermal printers do not need ink to print. Therefore, you don’t have any expensive cartridge changes as you would with an inkjet or laser printer.

The print media required for using a direct thermal printer will get you a cheaper price per print than doing the same amount of work on a laser printer, and most definitely than on an inkjet printer.

Additionally, if you opt for direct thermal transfer, your only ongoing cost is that of the refillable paper. You will not need to purchase ribbons. New ribbons will be required if using a thermal transfer printerBest Printer for Avery Labels 2021.


Thermal printers are compact devices which means they can easily be used on the go, whether you travel for business or need a printer to move around the office.

These printers are lightweight, so carrying them is no hassle. Despite being lightweight, they are also quite robust so that they can survive traveling.

Fast, High-Quality Prints

With other types of printers, you go to ‘Draft Mode’ or ‘Toner Save’ mode to get faster printouts, knowing that the quality of the print will be diminished.

With thermal printers, you get prints that are clear, legible, and smudge-free, all at a very quick speed. This is why these printers are used so much in retail where a customer wants a receipt quickly. They certainly increase the efficiency of your workplace.

Making Thermal Printers Eco-Friendly

As with any product you buy, there will be some that are more eco-friendly than others.

A. Limit Non-Recyclable Waste

If we look at this from the viewpoint of how much non-recyclable waste is produced from a thermal printer, then direct thermal printing is definitely more environmentally friendly than thermal transfer. This is because there is no ribbon to be thrown away.

For the same reason, direct thermal printing is friendlier than using an inkjet or laser printer, as you don’t need to throw away any cartridges.

One of the biggest wastages comes with the print media itself, especially with labels. You can find some brands offering labels made from recycled paper and also those that offer paper made from sustainable resources.

Additionally, eco-friendly brands are offering biodegradable and compostable products.

B. Check Power Consumption And Energy Efficiency

Power-wise, you can check each individual printer’s specs to see which one consumes the least electricity.

You’ll also find some printers that have specific energy ratings and also awards for their energy efficiency, so try to hunt those down.

By doing a bit of research, you can make your printer as eco-friendly as you want.

Are Thermal Printers Only Black And White?

A. Direct Thermal Printer

With a direct thermal printer, the printer itself is not transferring any color.

If you want to color, you will need to buy print media that has color in it.

The benefit of a direct thermal printer is that it allows for more colors to be added and requires only one pass through the printer. This is because the color comes from adding heat to the print media.

B. Thermal Transfer Printer

Thermal transfer printers use a heated ribbon to apply color.

Therefore, if you wish to use color with this type of printer, you will have to print each color individually, changing the ribbon to use a different color.

Thermal Printers and Wireless Connectivity

Yes, there are plenty of wireless thermal printers available to buy.

These printers will either connect through your Wi-Fi network, have their own Wi-Fi Direct, or connect via Bluetooth.

You will also find some printers that connect with devices using Apple AirPrint if you want to connect your macOS or iOS systems directly.

Android users will also be able to connect their devices directly to certain printers using downloadable apps.

Check the specs of the printer you want to buy to make sure it is compatible with your wireless devices.

Final Word

If you are in a business that requires the printing of a lot of labels or receipts, or you believe that your business will pick up to such a point where a lot of printing is done, then yes, these printers are worth it.

The one-off cost of buying a thermal printer when you already have other printers in your home or office may seem off-putting, but the long-term savings made actually make this an investment that you should make.

Direct thermal printers make the most sense, as these don’t require any ribbons. Regularly buying ribbons and also changing ribbons can be time-consuming and prove expensive over time.

The overall worth depends on how much you will use it.

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