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Label Printer Guide

This POS buying guide will help you decide the type of barcode label printer you need.

There are basically 2 types of barcode label printers:

1. Thermal Transfer (an ink ribbon is used)
2. Direct Thermal (NO ink ribbon is used)

Thermal Transfer Barcode Label Printers

A thermal transfer barcode label printer uses an ink ribbon, so there is a “transfer” of ink from the ribbon to a standard paper stock label. And that is why the printer is called a “thermal transfer” printer. A thermal transfer printer can also print via direct thermal, meaning no ink ribbon is used and the printhead is in direct contact with a special heat sensitive label, so the characters are burned onto the label.  A thermal transfer barcode label printer is in essence a direct thermal printer as well. It is basically a 2 in 1 printer  

barcode label Here are the differences between a direct thermal label and a thermal transfer label:

A direct thermal (NO ink ribbon is used) label’s shelf life is not as long as a thermal transfer label (an ink ribbon is used). A direct thermal label will also fade when exposed to bright light of any kind.  Whereas a thermal transfer label will last for years and will not fade when exposed to bright light.  So make your decision on what type of barcode label printer to get based on these following factors:

IF YOU WANT YOUR LABELS TO LAST A VERY LONG TIME (SEVERAL YEARS), NOT FADE WHEN EXPOSED TO BRIGHT LIGHT, OR IF YOU ALSO HAVE THE NEED TO PRINT ON NON PAPER LABELS SUCH AS VINYL LABELS, THEN GET A THERMAL TRANSFER BARCODE LABEL PRINTER.

OR

IF YOU DON’T CARE HOW LONG YOUR LABELS LAST (ESTIMATED 2 YEARS OR SO FOR A DIRECT THERMAL LABEL), ONLY HAVE THE NEED TO PRINT ON PAPER LABEL STOCK AND KNOW THE LABELS WILL NOT BE EXPOSED TO BRIGHT LIGHTS, THEN GET A DIRECT THERMAL BARCODE LABEL PRINTER.

Yes, It is that simple to decide. There are other minor technical factors, but what we have covered so far are the main deciders. We want to keep this as simple as possible. No need to clutter things with a bunch of technical jargon for now.

Direct Thermal Barcode Label Printers

We have already covered the differences between direct thermal and thermal transfer printing methods. One thing to note about a direct thermal barcode label printer is that it can ONLY print via direct thermal technology. You cannot put an ink ribbon into a direct thermal ONLY printer.

barcode label rolls A Quick Note About Barcode Printer Labels

Please know that there are 2 different kinds of lables:

1. Direct Thermal Labels

A Direct Thermal label is a chemically treated, heat sensitive lable that allows the characters to be burned onto it. You cannot print onto a Direct Thermal lable with an ink ribbon and try and use it that way, for example.

2. Thermal Transfer labels

A Thermal Transfer label is standard paper stock.  You cannot put a Thermal Transfer label into a Direct Thermal ONLY printer and print onto the label, for example.

A Quick Note About Ribbons

If you are printing on Thermal Transfer label stock, then you will need a ribbon to print on these labels. For simplicity sake, you can categorize ribbons into 3 distinct categories:

  1. Wax Ribbons: A wax ribbon is usually what’s used by most retailers’, and it is the lowest cost ribbon. A wax ribbon will print clear text and images that are durable for most retail applications.
  2. Wax/Resin Ribbons: A wax/resin ribbon is used if you need the print on your labels to be more abrasion and solvent/chemical resistant. Wax/resin ribbon print generally has a longer shelf life when compared to the entry level wax only ribbons. If you are printing on vinyl labels, it is highly recommended to use wax/resin or higher grade ribbons to print.
  3. Premium Resin Ribbons: A Premium Resin ribbon is used by those that require their labels to withstand the harshest of environments, including extreme heat and cold and extreme light. Premium resin ribbons are robust, but they are expensive and generally not needed for most retail applications. 
  4. For more detailed information about ribbon types, click here

And Always Remember...

Be sure you are getting the correct lablels and ribbons (if required) for your label printer. Ifbarcode printer ink ribbon rolls you are getting an ink ribbon, you will always need Thermal Transfer labels. If you have a Direct Thermal printer ONLY, you will always get Direct Thermal Labels and no need for a ribbon. If you are ever in doubt about which labels (and ribbons if required) you need for your printer, please contact us. We are always happy to help. 

Let’s Go Shopping!

Now that you know the basics about barcode label printers, you will be happy to know that we offer a wide selection of Zebra barcode label printers.  Zebra barcode label printers are known for their high quality. You can install a Zebra barcode label printer and forget about it; t’s that good.  We also carry a large selection of genuine Zebra replacement media.  

And by the way, we are very thankful you decided to shop with us. You are a Champ!