Thermal printers represent a niche market, but they are the ideal solution for many purposes, and even the common user could decide to use one.
For several years now, the printer market has been divided into two large product families: inkjet printers and laser printers. Usually, the first ones are widespread in the home or small offices, while the second ones are in large offices where it is necessary to print many documents. However, there is a third category of printers, which few know and constitutes a small market niche: we are talking about thermal printers.
Thermal printers are little known mainly because they are used in very specific areas, but in reality, they are quite widespread because they are now the standard in those areas. For example, train, bus, or plane tickets are usually printed on thermal printers. The same also applies to labels and many types of receipts.
What is the thermal printer?
Do you know that tool (usually) positioned next to the cash desk of any commercial activity used to print receipts? Well, that’s a small thermal printer! More generally, this type of printer is used almost exclusively for professional purposes, especially for printing receipts and labels of all kinds, such as those useful for speeding up industrial logistics systems. They differ from laser, dot matrix, or inkjet printers because printing times are much shorter. These, in fact, imprint on paper quickly and professionally.
The types of thermal printers
Thermal transfer and direct thermal printers are two different varieties. Let’s find out more.
Thermal transfer printer
As anticipated, The thermal transfer printer releases the color by overheating a gas which fixes the chemical substances – i.e., special inks – on the paper. To print in this way, the printer needs a cartographic ribbon called Ribbon, used precisely to transfer the ink onto the material to be printed. Three categories can be used to group these tapes:
- Wax, suitable for paper materials;
- Wax and resin, suitable for prints on laminated paper;
- In resin, suitable for prints on plastic materials and synthetic materials.
The thermal transfer printer allows for better print quality, a greater choice of colors, and the use of different types of paper, such as adhesive paper, for labels. Furthermore, it ensures a long-lasting print resistant to prolonged exposure to sunlight.
Direct thermal printer
On the other hand, the direct thermal printer uses heat-sensitive paper covered with a dye and a specific reagent. By heating the paper’s surface, the printed parts turn black. It is the type of thermal printer used in commercial activities to create receipts. Unlike the thermal transfer printer, the direct thermal printer can only print in black and white. Furthermore, in the long run, the color tends to fade. Therefore, it is unsuitable for prints that must remain unchanged over time. On the other hand, it has a very simple operation, a higher printing speed, and lower costs.
How a thermal printer works
Therefore, the paper for thermal printers is very different from that for other printers and, in fact, is commonly referred to as ” thermal paper ” precisely to distinguish it from the traditional one. This paper comprises several superimposed layers, each containing a thermosensitive chemical compound that ” activates ” only when exposed to a certain temperature for a certain period of time.
The thermal printer does just that: through a mobile head, which is positioned on the point of the paper to be printed, it produces the heat necessary to activate the pigment present on the paper, which, consequently, is printed. Each color has a different heat exposure temperature and timing, so multiple colors can be printed on the same paper by simply exposing individual dots to a different heat treatment.
The operation of a thermal printer
Although in the previous lines, you have certainly deduced the functioning of a thermal printer, it is advisable to understand the steps in a precise way to have a clear picture.
Thermal printers imprint any image, writing, or logo by overheating chemical substances. The term “thermal” is used since the head inside heats up and engraves what you need in the desired points.
How do thermal transfer printers work?
The printers have a slot for labels or continuous module paper, so with an immediate gesture, you can easily insert the reel, and then you can insert the printing ribbon (the new part is inserted on the head), and then we are ready to use.
The versatility of this printing technology allows you to print on various supports. You can use the Ribbon or not, depending on the type of thermal printer. All ribbons are also constructed from a resin composition to maximize top print performance.
Why choose thermal transfer technology?
Thermal transfer printing technology has a very good print quality, and the printing possibilities are endless and support all types of materials. As we have said, the advantages are numerous, but above all, we have the following:
- Good readability and resistance
- High-quality print with a resolution of up to 12 dots per mm
- UV resistant prints
- Barcode printing for your new business
- A printing speed between 30 mm/sec and 150 mm/sec
Our advice is to choose according to your needs, talk to experts and find the right compromise.
Who needs a thermal printer?
In light of what has been said so far, thermal printers are actually of two types: normal and direct. The normal ones are useful to one circle of users, and the direct ones to a different circle. A normal thermal printer can print adhesive labels for ordering at home or by a merchant to print receipts when away from his shop. But a thermal printer cannot be understood as a substitute for a normal inkjet or laser printer: as already mentioned, it is a niche product with a niche audience, and those who buy a thermal printer do because he needs it to work or because he knows he will use it for very specific purposes, which he cannot easily achieve with other types of printers.
Buy the best products
If you were intending to buy this type of printer, it would be advisable to use quality products for printing. In fact, there are different types of thermal paper, specifically: protected, unprotected and synthetic. In the first case, you will have greater durability and prints of over six months; in the second case, however, the card will not last more than two months; the most interesting is the synthetic one which allows you to keep the print even in contact with water.
The charm of a thermal printer is undeniable; being able to print through a completely different system is unique and particular. This suggestion is linked to many advantages to be noticed, with which you can make the most of your printer over time. Being a heat-based device, it is advisable to purchase the most suitable thermal transfer ribbons for the type of printing to be carried out.