Direct Thermal Labels vs Thermal Transfer Labels

Direct thermal labels

While the average business owner may not recognize it, there are two ways to produce high-quality labels, with direct thermal printing and thermal transfer. While there are some similarities, using the wrong solution can impact your label’s readability and viability long term. Both thermal transfer and direct thermal, for example, use heat as the activator that transfers an image onto a label. Some labels, like barcodes and serial numbers, can even be printed with both thermal transfer and direct thermal printing, depending on your long-term goals.

At Bay Tech Label, we have the specialized equipment to perform both printing techniques. Whether you have a high-volume order and need to keep an eye on costs, or your application requires die cut labels produced with extreme precision, we’ll help you find the label solution that best fits your volume and specifications. We have the capability to deliver on any combination of direct thermal labels, thermal transfer labels, and thermal tags.

What is The Difference Between Direct Thermal Labels and Thermal Transfer Labels?

Direct Thermal Labels

Direct thermal labels are a simple, cost-effective, and temporary solution best used for retail applications and logistics. They’re commonly used across fresh meat and dairy packaging as well as for shipping labels receipts, and event tickets. While they provide clear and consistent images for good readability and scannability, direct thermal labels are best kept in spaces without high moisture levels or heat after the label has been applied.

Direct thermal printing uses a heat-sensitive label material that darkens when it passes under the thermal printer. These labels do not stand up well to heat, light, or abrasion; over time the image begins to fade. Even under ideal conditions, direct labels eventually become unscannable. While direct thermal labels are cost effective and perfect for temporary solutions, overall, direct thermal printed labels do not have the same lifetime as a thermal transfer printed label.

Thermal Transfer Labels

Thermal printing is a widespread printing method that produces accurate, and efficient, high quality images with precise definitions. Thermal transfer labels are commonly used across supply chain applications shipping labels, for inventory, barcodes, and asset tags. Beyond logistics, they are used across pharmaceutical products and hazardous materials. They are even implemented across harsh environmental conditions from direct sunlight to cold storage, outdoor applications, and chemical contact.

Unlike direct thermal labels, thermal transfer labels are known for their durability, are fade resistant, and can withstand scratches, heat, and liquid. While direct thermal labels are quick and cost-efficient, thermal transfer printing requires additional setup time and ribbon change-overs. A thermal ribbon is used between the printer and the label material, which can occasionally wrinkle, damage print quality, and lead to inefficiencies. You do have the option to use a color ribbon, but without the same color options as digital and flexographic print.

If your barcode labels and QR codes require longevity and high quality, or your pharmaceutical and chemical products need to communicate critical information, thermal transfer labels may be the right choice for you.

How Long Do Direct Thermal Labels and Thermal Transfer Labels Last?

You can anticipate your thermal transfer labels to last longer and to better withstand abrasion, moisture, UV, and other harsh conditions over a longer period of time. Known for durability, this label is more scratch resistant than direct thermal and able to last for up to two years.

Direct thermal labels, in comparison, do not have a long shelf-life because they use heat-sensitive materials. These labels typically last around six to eight months. If the product has a short life and is not exposed to harsh environmental conditions, then direct thermal print is the right choice.

Save More with Your Direct or Thermal Transfer Solution

Direct thermal print remains a highly efficient and inexpensive solution for temporary label solutions — from shipping labels to high turnover inventory. When prioritizing supply chain efficiencies and barcode print quality, thermal transfer labels are recommended for long term use.

Whether you are a small business owner looking for affordable labels or a well-established company in an industry that requires durable solutions, at Bay Tech Label we make it simple to get the best label for your application. We understand that custom shapes, substrates, adhesives, and coatings require a significant investment. At Bay Tech we print direct thermal transfer and thermal transfer roll labels best fit for your application.

Partner with a Long-Term Label Supplier For Your Next Solution

Whether print quality, efficiency, or label longevity are top of mind, you need a partner with experience in your industry and application. From barcode labels to batteries, food labels, and beyond, at Bay Tech Label we produce standard and custom direct thermal labels and thermal transfer labels for numerous industries and clients.

We are invested in state-of-the-art technology to streamline the label printing methods you rely on, decrease material waste, and minimize production time to help you lower costs. Whether you are looking for improved durability, production time, or to save on costs, learn how Bay Tech Label can help with an initial call.