In our blog, Best Direct Thermal Printers for Small Businesses, we pointed out the most obvious differences between proprietary and generic labels. If you have been using a Rollo or a Zebra direct thermal printer for labeling, you must also have stocks of generic labels.

You’re also probably aware by now that there are two kinds of continuous generic labels — direct thermal roll label and fanfold labels — and that both can enter the machine through a rear- or side-feed slot. 

You might have also read articles saying that one type is better than the other. But we’re writing this blog to tell you that you should go for both. Read on and we’ll explain why:

What Are Fanfold Labels?

Fanfold labels are the best label type to go for high-volume printing. Similar to roll labels, fanfold labels are also mounted on a continuous liner but are stacked and folded similar to a fan, thus its name. 

Typically, fanfold labels can contain more individual labels than rolled labels, as they are used in printing without the need to mount them inside a label printer. When using fanfold labels, you can usually place them behind the printer and run them through a slot at the back of the printer, and then into the printer roller. 

Since fanfold labels are not installed inside a printer, there is no limit to how many labels are in a single package of a fanfold label. Fanfold labels can contain 500 labels up to 2000 per pack!  This gives an advantage over roll labels in the case of large-scale printing. 

On the other hand, they are prone to outside elements such as dirt and spillages. You may need to provide cover for the labels. As for mobile printing, fanfold labels cannot be a reliable material, as it is bulky and needs a wider desk area to set up. 

Fanfold labels are also much easier to store as they can contain more labels per box and are densely packed. 

Learn More:

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What Are the Advantages of Fanfold Labels?

The following are touted as fanfolds’ benefits over rolls:

  • Fanfolds let you save space because they are coreless media.
  • Fanfold stacks contain more labels than rolls do. For example, 8” media have 1,000 stickers, but the largest fanfold stacks have double this number. This allows for less reloading time and higher productivity when you have great labeling needs.
  • Fanfold labels do not come out curled, so it is easier to peel them by hand.
  • Probably the most important advantage of fanfolds is that you do not need to restack them after printing as they naturally do it. You can then attend to your other office chores while the label maker is running.

What Are the Disadvantages of Fanfold Labels?

If you think that fanfold labels are so much better than rolls, think again. They also come with the following snags:

  • They are less suitable for portable printers as they have to be fed outside the machine.
  • Fanfolds are inconvenient if you have a limited desk space as they need room outside of the thermal printer.
  • Unlike label rolls, fanfolds have a greater tendency to stick together or crumple in the presence of static electricity, exposed adhesive or a glossy sticker finish. They are thus more prone to jamming under those circumstances.
  • It would be best if you put fanfolds in a storage area that is wider than taller. When the labels are stacked on top of one another, those at the top exert their weight on those below. This increases the bottom labels’ tackiness and causes some adhesive to stick out due to pressure. Again, protuberant adhesive is a common cause of printer jams.

You can see from the above that label rolls are better in some situations, while the use of fanfolds is more advantageous in others. Therefore, you will need to keep supplies of both for your day-to-day operations. 


What Are Roll Labels?

Roll labels are spun around a cardboard core, usually 1” or 3” in diameter. A spool is placed within this core, which secures it in the printer’s media holder aided by side supports.

If your machine uses generic labels, you have the option to place the roll on a separate mount outside the printer and expand the media volume. 

Desktop thermal printers typically have internal label holders that can load media with a 4” or 5” outer diameter. On the other hand, external roll mounts can accommodate media with an 8” outer diameter.

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What Are the Advantages of Roll Labels?

Roll labels are better to use on certain occasions because of the following:

  • Small- to mid-sized rolls do not require extra desktop space when printing. This is important when you need to be mobile. When your tags are constantly sticking out from the printer, they look untidy and unprofessional, are vulnerable to damage and waste, may distract you from your tasks, etc.
  • Roll labels do not easily crumple or stick together, which may occur if you’re using glossy paper or if some adhesive is sticking out. These situations lead to logjams and waste.
  • Roll labels are less prone to static buildup. This usually occurs in dry environments, on the surfaces of synthetic materials, when electronics are near large metallic objects, etc. Static buildup not only leads to paper jams, but they also reduce your thermal print head’s life span.
  • When your label storage space is taller than wider, forcing you to stack extra labels on top of each other. Gravity does not affect sticker tackiness when rolls are resting on their flat surface. This is a problem with fanfold labels, as we shall explain later.

What Are the Disadvantages of Roll Labels?

The following are some of the drawbacks when working with label rolls:

  • Rolls require more storage space because of their volume-puffing cores.
  • The cardboard core adds to office waste.
  • You need to manually re-stack labels after printing. This makes it difficult to multi-task when you’re making lots of tags.
  • The labels come out curled after printing. Uncurling them before use decreases your efficiency.

When Should You Use One and Not the Other?

It is more advantageous to use label rolls in the following situations:

When you have restricted desk space

When you need your direct thermal printer on the go

When you have a tall label storage space

Meanwhile, fanfolds are recommended in the following situations:

For higher-volume and higher-efficiency label printing

When office multi-tasking is the norm

When you have limited storage, but one that is wider than taller

The table below summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of label rolls and fanfolds:

Point of Comparison

Extra functional space always required?

Extra storage space required?

Labels always placed out of the printer?

A tendency to crumple or stick together?

Better for taller than wider storage space?

Better if the storage space is wider than taller?

Produce cardboard waste?

Printing task can be unattended?

Produce curled labels?

Media capacity

Label Rolls






No, if space is limited





Fanfold Labels






Yes, especially if space is limited






Generic, continuous media are sold in roll and fanfold forms. Both possess advantages and disadvantages that make them suitable for different labeling requirements. You don’t have to choose between them as you will need both in the daily course of business. The better cost-reduction strategy is to purchase them from a reliable supplier of inexpensive quality labels rather than stocking on just one type.

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