Thermal transfer (TT) printing is a reliable method of monochromatic imaging, ideal for do-it-yourself labels. As such, thermal transfer labels offer a low cost industrial-grade alternative to laser or inkjet solutions. The central ideas behind TT labels are ease of use, cost-effectiveness, one-off printing of roll labels, and durable imaging (if needed). As the name suggests, thermal transfer is a method that uses heat to transfer an image onto a substrate (label). Printhead pins are heated up and pressed against a thermal transfer ribbon, and the ink is transferred onto the label surface. Thermal transfer labels are commonly used for imaging bar-codes and alphanumeric symbols in black as opposed to colorful graphics, although you can order TT ribbons in color.
As for final quality, 203 dpi printhead resolution is typical for TT printing, but 300 dpi is also available at a premium printhead cost. Although this resolution is considerably lower than even your everyday laser printer, the durability and resilience of the image is of ultimate importance. This is why we most often see TT labels used for printing barcodes, asset and inventory labels, industrial-grade warning labels, and a wide variety of other items requiring durable images over esthetic ones. Thermal transfer labels can last for years.
Thermal transfer ribbons are available in three main formulations: wax, wax/resin, and full resin. The type of label material utilized for TT labels will dictate the type of thermal transfer ribbon formulation required. More than 80% of thermal transfer labels are printed using wax ribbons, which are geared toward printing on paper and low-end synthetics. Wax/resin labels use a mix of wax and resins to transfer an image to a thermal transfer label. They offer better image durability, and can print on the widest variety of label stocks: gloss, synthetics, high-end paper, and the like. The most expensive and durable thermal transfer ribbons are the pure resin variety, which are used to transfer images to high-end thermal transfer labels made of synthetic materials like polyester. These are the labels you'll need when durability is especially important: on exterior surfaces, on automobile parts, on drums, and in very hot environments.
Not sure what kind of thermal transfer labels and thermal transfer ribbons you need to insure the safety of your assets and label your stock? Contact Etiquette Systems with your specifications, and we'll put together a best-cost scenario for you. We can provide your TT label stock, and in most cases the thermal transfer ribbons as well.