Barcode Label Printers

The main printer types revolve around the printing technology incorporating Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer.

Direct Thermal Printing

Direct thermal printing is an old technology originally designed for low cost copiers and fax machines that utilise chemically coated paper. It has since been transformed into a highly successful technology for bar coding. The thermal print head is typically a long linear array of tiny resistive heating elements (about 100 to 300 per inch) that are arranged perpendicular to the paper flow. Each thermal print head element locally heats an area on the chemically coated paper directly under the print area. This induces a chemical reaction which causes a black dot to form in that area. The image itself is formed by building it from dot rows as the media passes underneath the active edge of the print head. Direct thermal printing is ideal for applications with a short shelf life requirement – meaning the label is not required to last very long.

Thermal Transfer Printing

Thermal transfer printers use the same basic technology as direct thermal printers, but with the elimination of chemically-coated media material in favor of a non-sensitised face stock and a special linked ribbon. A durable, polyester ribbon film coated with a dry thermal transfer ink is placed between the thermal print head and label. The thermal print head is used to transcribe the ink onto the label surface, where it cools and anchors to the media surface. The polyester ribbon is then peeled away leaving behind a stable, passive image. Thermal transfer printing is ideal for applications with a along shelf life and durability requirement.

Labels come in many different formats and a multiple of options. Some of the key factors when choosing the correct label printer are:

  • Label Size, particularly the width. Most popular is 4 inch
  • Environment it is used in
  • Volume of labels required to print.
  • Type of material that the label is composed of
  • The graphics or text being printed

The simplest breakdown of label printer types, available across the manufacturers is:


More and more popular due to the flexibility they can bring to applications. Mobile printers when configured with options such as Bluetooth or wireless connectivity are prevalent in applications such as Field Force Automation, Retail, Hospitality and Services. Most commonly used with a receipt paper, the label options are limited due to form factor and print method.

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Ideal for small usage applications which roughly require 500 2”x4” labels per day. Casings tend to be plastic and therefore not ideal for the more industrial applications.

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Mid – Range

Very popular range that is applicable to most industries as it can handle larger volumes and also more rugged casings than the desktop ranges. Depending on the printer you could comfortably handle anywhere up to 5,000 labels per day.

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Used in mission critical or very high volume printing most commonly found in production or warehousing applications. Capable of operating 24 hours a day and with a multiple of options to handle the most delicate of label formats.

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