Thermal Transfer vs Direct Thermal Printing Methods | InkJet, Inc.



Automatic labeling machines use one of two printing methods: thermal transfer or direct thermal. Thermal transfer printing uses a ribbon containing ink or resin that is transferred onto the label through heat and pressure, resulting in durable and long-lasting prints. Direct thermal printing relies on heat-sensitive paper that darkens when exposed to heat, eliminating the need for ribbons or ink. The choice of thermal transfer vs direct thermal printing technologies depends on your specific labeling needs, durability requirements, and intended use of the printed material. The table below provides a quick comparison of the two methods.

Thermal Transfer vs Direct Thermal Printing


Thermal Transfer Printing

Direct Thermal Printing

How It Works

A thermal print head applies heat and pressure to a ribbon, usually made of wax or resin, that melts onto the label, creating the image.

Direct thermal printing uses heat-sensitive label stock. The print head selectively heats the label to create an image.

Media Requirements

It requires a thermal transfer ribbon, which is the consumable part of the process.

It does not require a ribbon, as the heat-sensitive label is the consumable. 


Prints are generally more durable and long-lasting, making them resistant to environmental factors.

Prints are more susceptible to fading over time when exposed to heat, light, or contact.


Used for applications where durability and resistance to harsh conditions are essential, such as barcode labels for inventory management, product labeling, and outdoor signage.

Used for applications where durability is not a primary concern, such as shipping labels, receipts, and short-term labels. 


✔ Higher consumable costs due to the use of ribbons

✔ Longer printer head life

✔ More expensive hardware

✔ Less expensive substrates

✔ Lower consumable costs

✔ Shorter printer head life due to substrate abrasion

✔ Less expensive hardware

✔ More expensive “coated” substrates (if used to reduce printer head wear)


Thermal transfer ribbon is difficult to recycle.

Direct thermal printing offers a sustainable model with recyclable materials available.

Printing Quality

Thermal transfer delivers high-definition text, graphics, and barcode print quality for high readability and scannability.

Direct thermal printing produces sharp labels with good scannability.

Thermal Transfer vs Direct Thermal Printing: InkJet, Inc. Has The Solutions to Meet Your Needs

InkJet, Inc. offers EvoLabel print-and-apply labeling machines (PALM) that streamline the labeling process by continuously creating and applying labels to products or shipping cartons. PALM systems include both thermal transfer and direct thermal printing methods. 

Two of the most essential components of the EvoLabel PALM systems are:

  1. The printer module, which prints labels on-demand
  2. The label applicator, which dispenses and applies each label to a product, carton, or pallet

By selecting the ideal printer/applicator combo, you can use a PALM system to label your products quickly, accurately, and efficiently. 

The Evolabel Print-and-Apply Labeler is InkJet, Inc.’s PALM option. Evolabel systems are compatible with three different printer modules:

We offer numerous applicators to fulfill diverse packaging requirements. Available applicators include:

Picture of Evolabel WipeG2 corner wrap labeling machinePicture of Evolabel FlexWipeSCA2 labeling machine

By employing an Evolabel system, you can simplify your case package labeling process, reduce the risk of error, and maximize packaging efficiency.   

InkJet, Inc. Simplifies the Selection Process 

Choosing the right labeling machine depends on the materials you're coding, the unique qualities of your products, and your cost and sustainability goals. You need a labeler to handle your products' surface quality and fit into your production line. Let InkJet, Inc.'s experts help determine which labeling machine is suitable for you. 

To learn more about the different types of automatic labeling machines and which will most benefit your operation while meeting your sustainability requirements, contact InkJet, Inc. today by dialing (800) 280-3245.