Printing on-demand barcodes, inserts, tags, or shipping and warehouse labels? That’s what Direct Thermal labels are used for. These labels are the cheapest and the most ideal solutions for barcoding and shipping labels. 

If you’re looking for the most economical way to print labels in bulk, then it’s probably time to shift from an inkjet/laser printer to direct thermal labels. 

What are direct thermal labels you ask? Here’s everything you need to know about them.

What are Direct Thermal Labels?

Direct thermal labels are labels printed using the direct thermal printing technology using thermal papers. 

direct thermal printing


A thermal print head is used to heat particular portions of coated, thermo-chromatic (or thermal) paper in this procedure. The paper passes over the thermal print head, becoming black where it is heated and resulting in the desired picture. By applying heat at two different temperatures, two-color direct thermal printing may produce both red and black pictures. 

Direct thermal labels do not use ink but instead, use heat-sensitive materials to produce colors. Hence, no ink, toner, or ribbon is utilized in direct thermal printers.

What Are Direct Thermal Labels Used For?

Direct thermal labels are labeling solutions popularly utilized for printing shipping labels, identification tags, and barcodes. Using direct thermal labels for these applications not only creates clear and crisp texts and images but also saves more time and expense. 


Source: Pixabay

Direct thermal labels come at cheaper prices than sheet labels used in inkjet/laser printers, especially when purchased in bulk. Plus, direct thermal printers print large volumes of labels in a shorter span of time than conventional printers.

Types of Direct Thermal Labels

There are 2 major types of labels: fanfold and rolls labels.


Direct Thermal Labels - Fanfold

Fanfold direct thermal labels are suitable for bulk volume printing. As opposed to Roll Labels, Fanfold Labels won’t need to be fed manually inside the printer.  A pack of fanfold direct thermal address labels feeds behind the back or bottom of a printer. 


  • More labels than rolled labels – 500 labels up to 2000 per pack
  • Easier to feed
  • Easier to store


  • Prone to damage, dust, and spillages
  • The printer covers more space
  • Maybe less suitable for mobile printing


Direct Thermal Roll Labels

Spun around a core (usually 1” or 3” in diameter), roll labels are fed through a spool holder inside a direct thermal printer. Larger label rolls having 4”, 5” or 8” diameters can be mounted externally from the printer for easier manipulation. For this, you’d need special equipment for dispensing the labels into and out of the printer.


  • Easy to work with


  • Needs special equipment for feeding the labels

Direct Thermal Label Types According to Application

It also matters where you would be using your direct thermal labels and how often you would be printing labels. You can choose direct thermal labels according to their application:

    • Standard Direct Thermal Label
    • Freezer-grade direct thermal adhesive
    • Removable direct thermal adhesive for exclusive uses

Direct Thermal Roll Labels: Specifications to Look at When Buying


Core Size

One of the things we look into when choosing roll labels for our direct thermal printers is its core diameter size. The core of a direct thermal label roll is a hollow tube around which the labels are spun around. A direct thermal printer will accept either a single diameter core size or a variety of diameters.

Core sizes are usually in the range of 1 inch (25mm), 1.5 inch (38mm),  and 3inches (76mm).

    • Most industrial printers may require 3” core labels
    • Desktop printers may handle 1” core diameters
    • If you’re using mobile printers, core diameters maybe 0.75” or ¾”.

Choosing a core size requires you to look at your printer specifications to match its mount diameter. If you can’t find the info from the printer or its manual, you can simply search for the printer model number and look into the core sizes it can handle.

Dymo 4XL Shipping Labels

: 1,000 Labels/Roll
: 4″ x 6″
: 3 inches


Maximum Roll Width

The roll width is the measurement of the thermal label from one end to another. Measuring the maximum roll width would matter as to ensure it fits the width of the printer. You can find this info on your printer’s spec sheet.


Maximum Roll Diameter

The roll’s exterior diameter is another crucial dimension to look out for when buying direct thermal label rolls. This is the maximum outer diameter of a roll which the printer can accept and it’s usually included on the printer’s specification sheet. Using a roll too large for your printer will render it a waste of money.

How Long Do Direct Thermal Labels Last?

Direct thermal labels usually last for 6 to 8 months only. When properly maintained, it can have a lengthier shelf life.

Do Thermal Printers Need Special Paper?

Direct thermal printers specifically need direct thermal labels to print your tags, barcodes, and shipping labels. Thermal papers have a special composition that allows it to render texts and images when activated through heat. Hence, you cannot use any other type of paper as a substitute for your thermal printer.

Direct Thermal vs Thermal Transfer

When searching for “What are Direct Thermal Labels?” you may have come across thermal transfer labels as well. These two types of thermal printer labels are often used for barcodes, shipping and dispatch labels, warehouse labels, and many others.

Both thermal printing process produces high-quality and crisp texts and excellent edge refinement. Also, both method involves using a thermal printhead that applies heat to the label surface.

So how should you choose between the two amazing thermal printing methods? Below we further define and contrast the two to help you filter through your options.

Direct Thermal Label
  • Uses heat-activated, chemically-activated paper
  • Heat-sensitive substance darkens the label when used to print texts and images.


How It Works
Thermal Transfer
  • A ribbon layer is placed on the label top where the thermal transfer process takes place to print the labels
  • Most suitable for indoor and short-term print applications
  • It’s easy to load and use
  • No additional charges for ribbon, ink, or toner.
  • Almost zero maintenance
  • More durable than direct thermal labels
  • Shelf-life of up to two years
  • Color-printing enabled
  • Less prone to degradation under the  sun, or when exposed to chemicals, and heat
  • Printing is only possible on paper.
  • A six-month or fewer life span
  • When exposed to heat and UV radiation, it fades more quickly.
  • Scratches are common.
  • Prints only in black ink
  • Needs a ribbon for printing
  • More expensive than direct thermal label printing
  • Needs to use specified ribbons depending on the printer model.

Direct Thermal & Thermal Transfer Applications 

As you can see below, direct thermal papers are often used for applications where it is not exposed to a hazardous setting. This includes high heat and moisture and chemicals. Hence, direct thermal labels are often economically used for short-term applications for logistics, warehousing, and retail. 

On the other hand, thermal transfer labels are ideally used for the same purpose but there’s a need to handle more resistance from exposures.


Barcode labels

Weatherproof labels

Shipping and dispatch labels



Case/pallet labels

Chemical/Lab labels

Direct Thermal


Thermal Transfer


Wrapping Up

Direct thermal labels are ribbon-less labels that are suitable for those printing labels in bulk. They are cost-effective and available in a variety of sizes that match the label sizes needed for shipping labels, barcodes, and address labels.

enKo Products offers a huge variety of direct thermal labels for Zebra printers at a fairly low price! Lots of businesses have trusted our products delivering high-quality results that maximize efficiency.

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