Thermal Labels: The Simple And Effective Label Option

Choosing The Right Thermal Labels For Your Business

High quality labelling is essential for the efficiency of your business, contributing to business growth, brand consistency and higher customer satisfaction.

Labels play a fundamental part in delivering essential product information to consumers. From barcodes to ingredients, safety information to brand awareness, labels can be found on just about anything. Readability, design and durability are important for customer satisfaction while helping to promote your business. Thermal labelling is the most simple and effective way of producing high quality labels.

The two thermal label printing methods used are direct and thermal transfer labelling. Here’s a look at the differences between the two and their many uses. For more information on thermal printer labels, contact Labelnet today.

Direct Thermal Labels

Direct thermal labels consist of a thin layer of plastic or metal-based foil that is chemically treated and pre-stamped with the label design. The image is transferred directly onto the material. When the printing head applies heat to the upper surface, it blackens and the image or lettering appears.


Direct thermal labelling cuts out the need for ribbons and ink toners. It’s cost effective as there are not so many moving parts in the production process so maintenance and repair costs are lower.

Direct thermal labelling is perfect for general barcode use, producing high quality accurate barcodes with excellent, defined edges that are easy to read and scan.


Choice of labelling is limited as direct thermal labels can only be produced in black and white. This method of printing doesn’t last long and will fade over time so it’s not recommended for high contact use or if long term readability is needed.

Thermal Transfer Labels

The thermal transfer method uses a heated ribbon to transfer the design onto the label and can be used on a wide range of materials such as polyester, plastic and polypropylene.

The wax or resin based ribbons are threaded through the machine and heated by the print head then melted onto the label’s surface producing a high quality, long lasting image.


Thermal transfer labels are more versatile, higher quality and far more durable than direct thermal labels.

You can also change the colours of the ribbons, so you are not limited to just black and white. Depending on the type of application demands, there are three types of transfer ribbon to choose from:

  • Wax – generally used for printing onto paper labels. Although the image lasts far longer than direct thermal printing, paper thermal transfer labels can be affected by environmental conditions and are highly sensitive to moisture, oil and chemical contact.
  • Wax/Resin – a combination of wax and resin produces a high definition, more refined image. The paper is coated, offering a higher level of protection, although it is still sensitive to excessive moisture.
  • Resin – resin-only ribbons are suitable for use on materials other than paper. Resin produces an extremely durable, high quality image that is not affected by sunlight, water, chemicals or oil and will last for years. It can withstand extreme temperatures and is particularly suitable for marine, automotive, aircraft, industrial and hazardous chemical labelling.

Clean and precise, thermal transfer printing produces an excellent quality, smear-proof image and is ideal for printing barcodes.


Costs are higher than direct thermal labelling as the ribbons need to be frequently changed. However, the quality and durability make it a more feasible option for many businesses.