Posted by on Mar 12, 2024

The difference between Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer printing is: Direct Thermal printing heats the label directly while Thermal Transfer printing transfers ink from a ribbon onto the label. 

Direct thermal printing and thermal transfer printing are two distinct methods used in the printing industry and are widely used for the creation of labels, barcodes, receipts, tickets and tags. These methods are quite popular due to their speed and the fact that they do not require any ink cartridges, often making the process more cost effective compared to others.

Direct Thermal Printing

Direct thermal printing is a process where heat is applied directly to a specially coated paper or label. This heat causes a chemical reaction in the coating, darkening the label and resulting in the formation of an image. No ink or ribbon is required in direct thermal printing. It is a simple and cost-effective method commonly used for printing labels, receipts, and tickets. However, direct thermal prints are susceptible to fading over time and can be easily affected by heat, light, and contact.

Thermal Transfer Printing

On the other hand, thermal transfer printing involves the use of a ribbon that contains ink or pigment. The printer applies heat to the ribbon, which transfers the ink onto the printing surface of the paper or labels. This method offers more durability and longevity compared to direct thermal printing. Thermal transfer printing is commonly used for applications that require high-quality and long-lasting prints, such as product labels, barcodes, and industrial tags.


In summary, the main difference between direct thermal printing and thermal transfer printing is that one method heats the label directly while the other transfers ink onto the label from a ribbon. Direct thermal printing is a simpler and more cost-effective method but is less durable and prone to fading. Thermal transfer printing, on the other hand, offers higher print quality and durability but requires the use of a ribbon. The choice between the two methods depends on the specific requirements of the printing application.

Looking for Thermal Labels?

At we sell a range of high quality Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer labels suited to their respective printers. We stock an array of sizes to suit many labelling applications such as shipping, retail, inventory and RFID. If you’re interested in improving on your current labelling operation through the use of cost effective thermal labels give our sales team a call on 1300 800 999 or purchase labels directly online.