Diversified Labeling Solutions





What labels are right for your customer? Learn more about the differences between thermal transfer and direct thermal labels so that you can give your customers accurate recommendations.


What Are Direct Thermal Labels?

Direct thermal labels are labels printed using heat. The image is applied right onto the label with the printhead in direct thermal printers. When the label travels under the printhead, a chemical reaction takes place with the label media and only the portions touching the printhead will darken.

Direct thermal printing does not require ribbons. Therefore, the printers are smaller. Most D.T. labels are not scratch resistant, nor do they last long in high heat or when exposed to sunlight. Receipts printed at a store are a great example of a D.T. label.

What Are Thermal Transfer Labels?

Thermal transfer labels use ribbons that hold ink to “transfer” the image onto the media. This is done with the same printheads used in direct thermal printing. A lot of the roll media printers are set up to print both T.T. and D.T.

The determining factor is whether there is room or a place to hold the ribbon roll. Thermal transfer ribbons come in essentially three basic formulations: Full Wax, Wax/Resin, and Full Resin, and can be ordered in a variety of colors. Thermal transfer labels are more durable than D.T. labels.

 DT and TT Label Comparison

    Direct Thermal   Thermal Transfer
How it Works   Uses heat applied through a direct thermal printhead to print an image on chemically treated paper.   Uses wax, wax/resin, and resin ribbons to produce high quality images on media.
Common Uses  
  • Shipping labels
  • Receipts, Pick tickets
  • Barcode labels
  • Event Tickets
  • Prescriptions Labels
  • Compliance labels
  • Durable Product Marking(UL/CUL)
  • Asset tags
  • Wristbands
  • Permanent IDs
  • Cold, wet, outdoor storage labels

Printer Cost   Generally, less expensive than T.T. printers. Does not require any additional hardware for ribbons.  

Many have both T.T. and D.T. print capabilities. These will cost more than a standard D.T.-only printer. Requires ribbon and hardware costs.

Media Selection & Cost   DT label media will likely cost more than T.T. media but removes time and labor costs associated with changing ribbons.   T.T. media costs less than D.T., but ribbon costs may negate this savings. Application specifications and requirements may dictate the more durable image.
Bottom Line   Less costly and best for short term use labels such as receipts and shipping labels. Heat sensitive.   Costlier than D.T. to operate, but best for long term use. Ideal for product labels, freezer labels, etc.



Check Out This LabelBytes: Summarizing Our Thermal Solutions


 Your Premier Thermal Solutions Provider

DLS is a leading thermal label supplier, and by working with DLS, you have more to offer your customers than just labels. Our thermal transfer solutions allow you to provide customers printheads and ribbons along with thermal transfer labels. These items are consumables, and they require replacement after a period of time. Bundling these products together can provide important new revenue for you and tremendous value to your customers.

Please send your label, printhead and ribbon orders to orders@teamdls.com.