Thermal Barcode Printing

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This post is for all of you out there who have questions about thermal barcode printing.  The preferred method of printing barcode labels is by using a dedicated thermal printer.  A thermal printer prints with heat, as you would expect.  The portion of the printer that comes in contact with the label or ribbon is called the print head.  The heat that is applied by the print head is used in one of two ways.

Direct thermal barcode printing.  This process requires a direct thermal label.  These labels are chemically treated to turn black in the presence of heat.  Direct thermal labels will also work in a thermal transfer printer with no ribbon installed.  Direct thermal printing has a lot of advantages.  It’s simple.  There’s only a single supply to maintain.  The printer has less moving parts, as it doesn’t require the extra mechanics to feed a ribbon.  It’s generally less expensive than printing with a ribbon.  The weaknesses of direct thermal printing are longevity and durability of the material.  Since the material is treated to react to heat, it degrades from exposure to heat and light.  Also, direct thermal media is restricted to paper, which disqualifies it from weatherproof or chemical proof applications.

Thermal barcode printing

Thermal transfer barcode printing.  Thermal transfer refers to the transfer of a wax, resin or compound material from a polyester backing material onto the label.  Because you’re melting the ribbon contents onto the label, you’re creating a (more or less) permanent mark.  It’s not susceptible to heat and light degradation like direct thermal labels.  You also have a wider choice of materials.  With synthetic label materials like polyester and polypropylene matched with the right resin compound ribbon, you can create labels that will withstand years of outdoor exposure, harsh chemical environments and other challenging applications.  This, of course, comes at a higher cost and two supplies to manage, but if a label needs to be even semi-permanent, thermal transfer is the right choice.

Whether your application calls for direct thermal or thermal transfer, industrial, desktop or portable printer, paper labels or synthetic, L-Tron can help you find the right barcode printers and the right supplies.  Please comment here or email me if you have any thoughts or questions.