Can You Use Direct Thermal Labels in a Thermal Transfer Printer?

DT Labels with TT Printer

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A lot of people are unsure if they can use direct thermal labels in a thermal transfer printer. If you are one of these people, you have come to the right place.

So, can you use direct thermal labels in a thermal transfer printer?

In short, the answer is yes; you can use direct thermal labels in a thermal transfer printer. As a thermal transfer printer has a thermal printhead, it can transfer heat to the direct thermal labels and produce a print.

In this article, we will discuss why direct thermal labels work in a thermal transfer printer. Then, we will look at the consequences of using direct thermal labels in a thermal transfer printer.

We will also examine if thermal transfer labels can be used in direct thermal printers and the consequences of doing so. Finally, we will answer related questions about using direct thermal labels in a thermal transfer printer.

To understand why different labels may work in various types of printers, we must first understand how thermal printers work. Therefore, to get the most out of this article, we recommend that you first read our guide on how a thermal printer works.

Why Do Direct Thermal Labels Work in Thermal Transfer Printers?

Before we answer the question, let’s first understand what a direct thermal label is.

Direct thermal labels are print media with a heat-sensitive coating with ink embedded in them. When exposed to heat, the ink gets activated and turns black, producing the desired print.

As a thermal transfer printer has a thermal printhead, it can generate and transfer heat.

So, when direct thermal labels are used in a thermal transfer printer, the heat from the printhead activates the ink in the label and produces a print.

What Will Happen If You Use Direct Thermal Labels in a Thermal Transfer Printer?

There are two significant consequences of using direct thermal printing labels in a thermal transfer technology printer. These are.

Low Print Quality

The print head of thermal transfer printers is designed to heat a thermal ribbon and not a label directly.

So, when you use direct thermal labels in a thermal transfer printer, the print head cannot distribute the heat evenly. Moreover, it is also possible that the thermal transfer printheads cannot generate enough heat to activate the ink on the label.

As a result, the prints produced will be of low quality with poor readability. They may even have patchy prints, missing lines, or faded text.

Print Head Damage

Thermal transfer printheads are designed to direct contact with a ribbon rather than a label.

Therefore, when a label comes in contact with the thermal transfer print head, it may cause abrasion and wear and tear. Moreover, the label may also get stuck to the printhead and begin to burn, destroying the resistors.

Such damages to the printhead are irreparable and will result in replacing the entire printhead, which can be pretty expensive.

Click the following link to buy some premium-quality printheads at unbeatable prices. 

Follow our printhead care guide for some tips and tricks to prolong the lifespan of a thermal transfer printhead.

Can You Use Thermal Transfer Labels in Direct Thermal Printers?

No, you cannot use thermal transfer printing labels in direct thermal printers.

A direct thermal printer can only print on direct thermal labels.

Why Do Thermal Transfer Labels Not Work in Direct Thermal Printers?

Thermal transfer labels do not work in direct thermal printers for two reasons.

No Ink or Heat-Sensitive Coating

Thermal transfer labels do not contain any ink or heat-sensitive coating. Instead, they have a coating (usually matte) suited to accept the ink transferred from a ribbon onto the label.

As a result, direct thermal printheads cannot produce any print on a thermal transfer label.

Requirement of Ribbons

Thermal transfer labels do not have built-in ink; instead, they rely on ribbons for ink.

Ribbons are a thin film coated with wax, resin, or a combination of both. When this ribbon is heated, it melts and gets transferred onto the label surface and produces a print.

However, as direct thermal printers do not have a provision for a ribbon, they are unable to transfer any ink onto the label.

What Will Happen If You Use Thermal Transfer Labels in a Direct Thermal Printer?

If you use a thermal transfer label in a direct thermal printer, no print will be produced. The printer will return a blank label.

However, doing so on regular bases will cause some severe damage to the printhead.

As mentioned earlier, thermal transfer labels have a thin coating on them. This coating is quite different from the one found on direct thermal labels.

When this coating comes in contact with the printhead of a direct thermal printer, it can get stuck to it and begin to burn. This will damage the resistors in the printhead, making it irreparable. As a result, you will have to replace the entire printhead, which is quite expensive.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Difference Between Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer Labels?

Here’s a table to help you understand the key differences between direct thermal and thermal transfer labels.

Difference Between Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer Labels
Direct Thermal Labels
Thermal Transfer Labels
They have a heat-sensitive coating to activate the ink.
They have a thin coating (usually matte) to accept the ink from the ribbon.
They have ink pigments.
They don’t have ink pigments.
Do require heat to operate.
They require a thermal ribbon to operate.
Ideal for short-term labeling applications.
Ideal for long-term labeling applications.

Check out our guide on direct thermal vs thermal transfer printing for an in-depth overview of both printing technology.

Can Thermal Printers Use Both Direct Thermal And Thermal Transfer Labels?

Most thermal printers support thermal transfer and direct thermal print technologies. As a result, thermal printers can use direct thermal and thermal transfer labels.

However, you will need to change the settings on the printer depending on the type of label you want to use. 

Here is a list of the best thermal printers to help you choose one. The list includes printers from popular manufacturers like Honeywell, Zebra, TSC, and Datamax

Should You Use a Ribbon With Direct Thermal Labels in a Thermal Transfer Printer?

No, you should not use a ribbon with direct thermal labels in a thermal transfer printer.

Direct thermal labels do not require a ribbon as they have a heat-sensitive coating with ink. This ink is activated when exposed to heat, producing a print.

If you use a ribbon with direct thermal labels, the ribbon will melt and get transferred onto the direct thermal label. As direct thermal labels are heat-sensitive, the melted ribbon will activate the ink, resulting in a smeared print.

Are There Any Types of Thermal Ribbons That You Should be Aware of?

Yes, there are three types of thermal transfer ribbons- Wax Ribbon, Wax-Resin Ribbon, and Resin Ribbon.

Wax ribbons are the most common and economical type of ribbon. They are less durable and suitable for printing shipping labels, shelf labels, and retail labels.

Wax-resin ribbons are a combination of wax and resin. They offer more durability than wax ribbons and can handle chemical and temperature changes. Wax-resin ribbons are ideal for printing barcodes, pharmaceutical labels, and asset tags.

Resin ribbons, as the name suggests, are made of 100% resin. They offer the highest level of durability and can withstand extreme conditions. Resin ribbons are suitable for printing labels that will be exposed to harsh solvents and environmental conditions.

Click on the link to buy some high-quality thermal ribbons

How Can You Tell if a Label is Meant for a Direct Thermal Printer or a Thermal Transfer Printer?

Identifying a direct thermal label and thermal transfer label is quite easy.

Scratch the label surface with your fingernail or any sharp object. If a dark mark appears, then it is a direct thermal label. If no mark is left behind, it is a thermal transfer label.

This test works because a direct thermal label has ink pigments in it. So, when you scratch the label, its topmost layer breaks, releasing the ink pigment. But, since a thermal transfer label does not have ink pigments, no color is released when you scratch it. 

Check out our extensive offering of premium direct thermal labels and thermal transfer labels at unbeatable pricing.

Final Thoughts

To summarize, direct thermal labels can be used in a thermal transfer printer; however, thermal transfer labels cannot be used in a direct thermal printer.

We do not recommend using different labels with different print technologies. Each label has its pros and cons and is designed to be used with specific print technology. Using the wrong label will result in smeared prints and damage the printer in the long run.

Ready to take your business to the next level with the right printer? Check out our selection of high-quality thermal printers and find one that fits your needs today. 

If you’re having trouble deciding on a thermal printer, our thermal printer buyer’s guide will come in handy.

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