Thermal transfer labels. Their advantages and disadvantages. Types of ribbons.

Sometimes it is difficult to decide what to choose: thermal printing or thermal transfer printing? Which labels price will be lower – thermal labels or thermal transfer labels? Moreover, the very concept of thermal and thermal transfer labels is often confused. So in this article we will define differences of thermal and thermal transfer labels, consider the concept and types of painting tapes - ribbons required for thermal transfer printing and describe the main advantages and disadvantages of thermal transfer labels.

Thermal transfer label, as well as thermal labels, has the main advantage that the information can be quickly printed in the place where it is needed and make labels with the information that changes often. To print thermal transfer labels one must use thermal transfer printer (for example, the model on a left picture) or a universal printer (for example, the model on a right picture). Universal printers are suitable for printing thermal and thermal transfer labels. But note that the usual thermal printer (where there is no place for painting tape - ribbon) is not suitable for thermal transfer printing of labels. Instead, it is important to know that for the print of thermal labels ribbon IS NOT NEEDED, even if a place in the printer for it is provided. If you print thermal labels with ribbon, you also get the image, but as they say, why to pay more?

I can give an example from practice. The entrepreneur decided to choose for labeling self adhesive thermal labels. He got an advice to buy an expensive universal printer that was giving an opportunity to print both thermal labels and thermal transfer labels. But the manager said that to print any kind of label ribbon is required. Consequently entrepreneur was buying ribbons which were not at all necessary for several years. That is when the customer does not receive the correct and complete information from the supplier, it may cause finance losses. So if you have any questions or concerns it is strongly recommended getting a consultation from experts first.

But lets get back to thermal transfer labels. Thermal transfer labels can be made of various materials: matt, semi gloss, gloss, metalized paper, polyethylene and polypropylene (white or transparent). So another big advantage of thermal transfer labels is its long-term usage. That is, if the maximum period of using of thermal label is up to few months, the period of exploitation of thermal transfer label is unlimited. Thermal transfer label doesn’t turn black during heating (friction), is resistant to sunlight, the label on the film is resistant to tearing and moisture (more about materials and their sphere of using read in an article about materials used for printing).


Also, if printing of thermal labels is possible only in black color (this happens because the image or text on the label is actually burned by special hot needles in thermal printer), the color of ribbon can be chosen due to own preferences or maybe the color of logo. For example, our company can offer ribbons of gold, silver, red, blue, dark blue, green, crimson, brown colors. Also, same as for the thermal labels, you can order thermal transfer labels with the previous print and selective varnishing. Then label also performs the function of advertising – it advertises brand (company or trade mark), it is easier for a consumer to find goods on the shelf in a shop, label is more attractive.


Accordingly, the most significant disadvantage of thermal transfer labels is that the choice of thermal transfer printing entails the need to purchase painting tape (ribbon). The price of paper thermal transfer labels is lower than thermal labels, but in order to determine the approximate cost of printing one need to add the price of clean label (or labels with previous print) and cost of ribbon. Price of ribbon depends on its characteristics - the more stable printing you get, the more expensive is the ribbon. The types of ribbons we will discuss below.

Hubs in ribbons are of two types (see photo above) - it depends on your printer model, so when you order ribbons, specify this question. But some printers have special attachments included that allow you to use different types of hubs. Also note that you can overpay by using ribbon wider than necessary. Ribbons width should be 2-3 mm bigger than the width of the lining. That is if your label has a width of 58 mm, lining will be about 61-62 mm and ribbon that fits is 64 mm. You can take a wider ribbon, but it will cause extra expenses.

Ribbons for printing of self-adhesive labels come in three types: Wax, Wax / Resin and Resin.

Ribbons of Wax type – are ribbons with a wax base. They provide high quality of printing on paper materials, print is resistant to mechanical, chemical, thermal influences, water, fats and nutrition oils.

Wax / Resin is composed of wax, and rubber. Such ribbon is more resistant, than Wax, a heat resistance is up to 120 degrees Celsius, the density of the image on the thermal transfer label - 1.92. Materials suitable for printing are: matt paper, semi gloss paper, polypropylene, polyethylene, polyester, polyvinyl chloride.

Resin ribbon is based on rubber and characterized with perfect resistance to solvents. It has highest heat resistance (up to 150 degrees Celsius), the image density - 1.76. It is suitable for printing on polypropylene, polyethylene, polyester, polyvinyl chloride.

Usually for semi gloss paper labels printing ribbon Wax is used, since it allows achieving high print quality at low price. Other ribbons are recommended to apply for special conditions where high strength and label printing resistance to solvents is required.