The Evolution of Thermal Labels: Types, Comparisons and Industry Applications

In today’s dynamic business environment, labels play a vital role in a variety of industries including retail, logistics, healthcare and manufacturing. Among the many label options available, thermal label paper stand out for their efficiency, versatility and cost-effectiveness. The purpose of this article is to take an in-depth look at thermal labels, explore their different types, identify the differences between label thermal paper and laser labels, and dissect the operational differences between direct thermal and thermal transfer technologies.

retail label
shipping label
drug labels

Understanding Thermal Label Meaning and Types of Label Thermal

At its core, thermal labelling uses heat-sensitive materials to print without the need for ink or toner. These labels are used everywhere from retail and healthcare to manufacturing and logistics. To fully understand thermal labels, it is important to understand their various types, including thermal direct labels, thermal transfer label, synthetic thermal labels, color thermal labels, removable thermal labels, freezer-grade thermal labels, high temperature thermal labels and tamper-evident thermal labels.

· Thermal label vs. laser labels:

Although thermal labels and label laser serve similar purposes, there are distinct differences between the two. Thermal labels rely on heat to produce prints without the need for ink or toner. Thermal label paper are simple to operate and cost-effective, making them ideal for high-volume print jobs. In contrast, laser labels utilise toner cartridges and a laser printing process to print. Laser labels have a higher print resolution and are suitable for applications that require complex graphics or detailed text. However, laser labels tend to have higher consumable and maintenance costs.

Demystifying Direct Thermal vs Thermal Transfer labels Printing

①Direct Thermal Printing:

A direct thermal printer prints by heating the material. It does not use any ribbon, ink or toner, but requires a special thermal material that turns black when heated. Because the label material is heat sensitive, the label fades over time, making it difficult to read and scan. In addition, direct thermal labels are sensitive to abrasion, exposure to water, chemicals and strong sunlight. Therefore, direct thermal printing is not the best choice for long-term use. Again, direct thermal printing can still provide adequate longevity for many applications. In general, direct thermal printing is best suited for applications that require labels to last less than 6 months, such as shipping labels, receipts, tickets and perishable goods labelling. Most mobile printers use direct thermal technology due to its simplicity and elimination of ribbons, making it more compact. Direct thermal printers are also easy to operate and have fewer parts that can fail because they do not require a ribbon to print. These printers typically have a lower purchase price and require less maintenance and repair than thermal transfer printers. Although direct thermal labels are slightly more expensive, there is no need to spend money on ribbons.

② Thermal Transfer label Printing: 

Thermal transfer printers use ribbons made of wax- or resin-based inks that are melted onto the print medium to create a long-lasting, high-quality image. This technology provides unrivalled print quality and durability. Thermal transfer printing is ideally suited for long-term applications where the print media will be used for more than six months or will be exposed to harsh conditions such as chemicals, light, heat or water. As a result, thermal transfer printing is ideal for asset tracking, laboratory specimens and blood bags, outdoor applications, permanent signage, and refrigerated and frozen storage. Thermal transfers are available in a variety of print materials, including paper, plastic and polyester. These materials have varying lengths of life, with polyester being the most durable and longest lasting. Label materials can be carefully matched with different types of ribbons for optimum durability. In addition, thermal transfer printers have the option of using coloured ribbons to improve the appearance of labels or colour-coded labels to simplify operations. Some thermal transfer printers can also operate in direct thermal mode without the use of ribbons.


All in all, the thermal labelling sector showcases a range of options, each tailored to the specific operational needs of different industries. By identifying the nuances between thermal and laser labelling and revealing the operational differences between direct thermal and thermal transfer technologies, businesses can make an informed decision when choosing the labelling solution that is best suited to their application. Adopting thermal labelling not only simplifies operations, but also increases efficiency, setting the stage for seamless business processes in an evolving market.

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Leaf Hu is the Sales Manager of Sailinglabel, a leading factory of label rolls, thermal paper rolls, other printing related products in China. With extensive industry experience, Leaf Hu is an expert in label roll knowledge and enjoys sharing his insights and expertise with customers to help them achieve their goals and maximize their success.

About the Author: Leaf hu General Manager of Sales


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