Thermal Label Benefits and Uses: A Comprehensive Guide

2/16/2024 RRD

Thermal Label Benefits and Uses: A Comprehensive Guide

Thermal printing is continuing to make strides in various industries and markets. This print technology is now being utilized everywhere from hospitals and veterinary practices to restaurants, distribution centers, and Etsy stores.

By using heat to elevate the temperature of a printer’s printhead, thermal technology can create black text or images on thermal labels or paper. There are two types of thermal printing devices, each operating in a slightly different way:

  • Direct thermal printers press the heated printhead against chemically treated label material or paper to activate the image.
  • Thermal transfer printers transfer solid ink from a ribbon to fuse it to the material.

Here, we’ll provide you with a better understanding of how to use thermal printing technology as well as the most suitable thermal labels for specific applications.

The benefits of thermal printing

Thermal printing offers a number of benefits when compared to other print alternatives, including lower operating costs. Neither direct thermal nor thermal transfer printers require ink or toner cartridges — labels or ribbons are the only consumable expenses. In addition, because thermal printers have few moving parts, overall maintenance costs are lower when compared to inkjet, laser, or dot matrix printing.

Each type of thermal printing offers additional benefits as well:

  • Direct thermal printers press the heated printhead against chemically treated label material or paper to activate the image.
  • Thermal transfer printers transfer solid ink from a ribbon to fuse it to the material.

Direct thermal printing produces high-quality sharp images, making it ideal for printing barcodes, graphics, and text. It’s a good fit for applications that don’t require permanency — such as shipping labels and receipts. In addition, direct thermal printers accommodate linerless labels, an environmentally friendly option not available for thermal transfer, laser, and dot matrix devices.

Thermal transfer printing is the answer if you need a long-lasting and fade-resistant solution. It’s capable of producing high-quality, sharp, and crisp text, graphics, and barcode images to maximize readability and scannability.

Both types of thermal printing offer the flexibility to print on various types of label materials for industrial and office applications. Both are easily capable of printing in batches or as a single label — and with minimal waste.

Myriad uses for thermal labels

As noted earlier, numerous industries and businesses use thermal labels for a broad spectrum of applications. Here are just a few examples:

Logistics: The speed and reliability of thermal printers make them ideal for fast-paced manufacturing and distribution operations. Address and shipping labels, pallet labels, rack labels, and inventory labels are typically printed using direct thermal printers. Applications needing a longer label life or facing harsh conditions — such as safety labels and chemical labels — require the durability provided by the thermal transfer process.

Veterinary: Veterinary practices utilize direct thermal labels for such front-office applications as address labels and appointment reminders, plus clinical functions including specimen labeling and medication dispensing.

Healthcare: Thermal printers can be found throughout hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, clinics, and physicians’ offices executing a variety of patient care steps, including:

  • Admissions — direct thermal wristbands provide positive patient identification and communicate important information to the medical staff including allergies, fall risks, and other alerts.
  • Pharmacies — thermal printing is utilized for prescriptions and medication instructions. Direct thermal labels are designed to work with pharmacy information systems software including Cerner, EPIC, Meditech, ScriptPro, and others.
  • Laboratories — thermal printing is used to label specimens vials, test tubes, slides, and more. Direct thermal and thermal transfer label formats are designed for laboratory information systems including Cerner, EPIC Sunquest/MISYS, Meditech, Softlab, and McKesson.
  • Central stores and other areas with storage, shipping, and mailing requirements — direct thermal labels are utilized for shipping, labeling assets, monitoring inventory, and more.

Thermal label formats and sizes

Thermal labels are generally produced in rolls (fanfold is also an option) with ¾-, 1- or 3-inch cores. Depending on core size, the outside dimension will vary. For example, a 1-inch core will contain label stock with an outside dimension between 4 and 5 inches, while a 3-inch core has a maximum dimension of 8 inches.

The average print width for a thermal label is 4 inches (check the printer make and model for exact specifications). A thermal printer cuts the label stock, so the length of the printed label can vary. The actual size is often driven by the application or system being used.

Cost-effective and versatile, thermal printing can be a solution for labels as well as numerous other applications and markets. Whether you opt for direct or transfer thermal printing, you'll find it to be a worthy alternative to inkjet, laser, and dot matrix printing.

Thermal labels from United Ad Label

The information presented in this blog was originally published by RRD’s United Ad Label, a label manufacturing company with a deep understanding of label materials, printing technologies, and business processes. United Ad Label stocks direct thermal and thermal transfer labels that are essential to any organization with thermal printers — with hundreds of labels in stock, we can quickly supply the labels you need to keep your business running smoothly.

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