Barcode Label Printers
There are two kinds of thermal barcode printers that are generally available: Thermal Transfer and Direct Thermal.
Thermal Transfer Barcode Printers:
A thermal transfer barcode printer works by having the printhead heat an ink ribbon. The ink is actually melted and transferred onto the label where it quickly solidifies forming the desired image. Thermal transfer has the advantage of creating a more permanent image on the label. The images also tend to be crisper, making it good for high definition text and barcodes.
Thermal transfer is used in applications where the label needs to have a longer lifespan than direct thermal can provide or has to exist in an environment, like direct sunlight, that would cause problems for direct thermal. The ribbon also contains a coating on the back that helps protect the printhead, extending the lifespan of the printhead.
Thermal transfer is used for applications where the tag is expected to have a long life span, or exist in a difficult environment. There are also more options for types of media when using thermal transfer, opening up applications that are not available to direct thermal. Some common examples would be permanent shelf tags, asset tags, labels on vehicles and boats, wrist bands, plant tags, and the list goes on.
Some thermal transfer printers can also be used as a direct thermal printer, depending on the model and printhead being used.
Direct Thermal Barcode Printers:
A direct thermal barcode printer works by directly heating a heat sensitive label. The printhead comes in direct contact with the media. For this method you have to use a special heat-sensitive media. These direct thermal labels have a layer of heat-sensitive dye which is clear until heated. Where the printhead heats up an image is formed on the label.
Direct thermal has the advantage of not using a ribbon. There is no down time replacing the ribbon when empty, and no extra expense of purchasing ribbons.