“Thermal printing” may be a fresh term in your mind. And you probably wouldn’t be curious about it if you weren’t starting a business or needing a way to print labels fast.

However, if you shop for groceries, receive mail, or borrow books from the library, rest assured, you’ve already seen its applications. And they’re all around you.

In this article, the enKo Products team explains in simple terms what thermal printing is and how you can use it for business.

What Is Thermal Printing

What Is Thermal Printing, and How Does It Work?

When people say “thermal printing,” they usually refer to “direct thermal printing.” 

The special printer that uses this technology has a printhead that heats up to create the images fed to it by a computer or processor. To complete a printing task, you need a kind of paper that is chemically treated to become heat-sensitive.

The special printer is called a “direct thermal printer.” The heat-sensitive paper is called “thermal paper.” You can probably tell that direct thermal printers do not need ink, toner, or ribbon to print, unlike other office printers. These gadgets are the ones printing your grocery receipts, mail labels and library barcodes.

Now, does all this ring a bell? Good!

There is another heat-dependent printing technique—thermal transfer—and we discuss it further in other articles.


What Are the Uses of a Thermal Printer?

Thermal printing technology is used in various industries.

  • In retail, thermal printers print your price tags, receipts, local and international product codes, tickets and coupons.
  • In banking, queue numbers and ATM receipts usually depend on this technology.
  • In healthcare, you see thermal labels on patient bracelets, specimen tubes, charts and medications.
  • In the academe, library passes and book barcodes are now commonly printed on thermal labels.
  • In warehousing, workers can store, organize and retrieve items easily using thermal SKU tags.
  • In logistics, carriers prefer printing shipping labels, waybills and other tracking forms using thermal technology.
  • When you travel, you see it used for issuing transportation tickets.
  • For security, visitors’ passes and asset tags are commonly crafted from thermal labels.

There are many others. Even good old fax machines run on this technology.

Buy Cheapest Direct Thermal Printer Labels on Different Core Sizes.

How Long Does Thermal Paper Last?

Thermal printing has one main limitation.

Remember the last time you kept an ATM receipt in your wallet only to discover it fading after several months? You must have noticed the same thing happening to Powerball tickets.

Yes, you can only use thermal printouts short-term, usually 6-12 months. That is why, in business, this technology is typically reserved for printing short-term documents in high volumes.

Like those shipping labels you tear up when opening presents in excitement!

Learn More:

Do Thermal Printers Print in Color?

Most thermal printers print only in black. However, Japanese electronics giant Brother manufactures some thermal printers that can print in red. Printing in different colors requires tinkering of both the printhead function and thermal paper composition. At the moment, Brother and other companies have multicolor thermal printers in the pipeline.

Which Size Thermal Label Printer Is Best for Your Business?

This is a common question among startup owners. Most manufacturers make thermal label printers in two sizes: 2”-wide and 4”-wide.

How do you know which one you need? That depends on your business’ labeling requirements.

You can use a 2”-wide printer only on labels with a maximum width of 2”. That includes address labels, asset tags, barcode labels and price tags.

If you need to print wider documents like visitor’s passes and shipping labels, you should get a 4”-wide printer. This kind of thermal printer will let you create business labels of a wide variety of sizes, so you also save on costs.

Browse our Popular Dymo Compatible Shipping Labels in a Variety of Color Options!

enKo Products’ Dymo Labels in Different Sizes

The pink labels fit 2”-wide thermal printers. The blue labels fit 4”-wide devices.

To find out more about thermal printers and determine the kind that suits your needs best, you may read enKo Products’ thermal printer buying guide for 2020.

What Would Be the Upsides and Drawbacks if You Start Using a Thermal Printer?

Compared to the others, the thermal printer can:

Print large volumes of labels fast
Function without ink, toner or ribbon
Create smudge-proof images
Print on the go
Professional-looking receipts and labels
  • Print large volumes of labels fast. That is why some refer to it as a “dedicated labeler.”
  • Function without ink, toner or ribbon. It thus produces less waste.
  • Create smudge-proof images. This keeps your shipping labels from smearing when it rains, so you encounter fewer hassles when you mail your customers. 
  • Be cost-effective if you have large printing demands.
  • Print on the go. Portable thermal printers are available in the market. Without the extra weight from printing cartridges, they are also easy to carry.
  • Create professional-looking receipts and labels, so you can print them like big retail places do.

On the other hand, the downsides of a thermal printer are the following:

Prints only in limited colors
Can’t use for long-term storage
A bit expensive
  • It prints only in limited colors, so it is not ideal for branding.
  • Thermal prints last only up to a year, so you can’t use them for long-term storage.
  • Thermal printers are a bit expensive. The prices of brand new low-end ones start at around $110. In contrast, you can buy a new inkjet printer for half of this price. Secondhand thermal printers can go as low as $30.

Using the technology can be quite pricey, especially when you factor in the special paper it uses. However, you can avoid overspending by using enKo Products’ direct thermal labels. Our complete product line can turn your thermal printer into a good business investment.

Just to Cool It Down…

Thermal printing technology uses a special type of printer and heat-sensitive paper to produce images. It has wide applications, some of which are already familiar to you. Direct thermal printers have their advantages and setbacks. That is why they are best used in facilities where labeling demands are high and using these gadgets can be cost-effective.

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