Thermal Printers vs Inkjet Printers: Which One is Right for Your Business?

Thermal Printer vs Inkjet Printer

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Printers are essential to most businesses. They are used to create hard copies of important documents, such as invoices or purchase orders, reports, or charts.

However, with so many different types of printers, it is challenging to decide which is suitable for your needs. 

In this article, we will compare two popular types of printers: Thermal Printers and Inkjet printers. We’ll look at key factors such as cost, speed, quality, and reliability to help you make the best printer choice for the business.

So, without further ado, let’s get started.

What Are Thermal Printers?

As the name suggests, thermal printers are a type of printer that uses heat to print text or images onto a print media. They have a printer component called “Thermal Print Head“, which generates and transfers the heat. Thermal printers are also called thermal label printers.

Check out our guide on how a thermal printer works to learn about the working principles of thermal printers.

Thermal printers offer two types of print technologies – Direct Thermal Printing and Thermal Transfer printing.

Direct thermal printers use heat-sensitive paper, also called thermal paper. This heat-sensitive paper changes colour when exposed to heat (from printhead), which results in the text or images being printed on the paper.

Thermal transfer printers use a thermal transfer ribbon, a thin film made using wax, resin, or a combination of both materials. In this technology, the printhead applies heat to the thermal transfer ribbon, causing it to melt and get transferred on the print media. The ribbon material then cools and solidifies, resulting in a printed image.

Please refer to our article on direct thermal vs thermal transfer printing to understand these printing technologies in-depth.

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What are Inkjet Printers?

Inkjet printers are a type of printer that sprays thousands of droplets of liquid ink from tiny nozzles on the print media (such as paper and plastic substrates) to recreate a digital image. They are based on inkjet technology. Inkjet printers are also called ink jet printers or simply inkjets.

Inkjet printers typically are full-colour printers. The ink is stored in cartridges that fit into the printer. The cartridges contain four different colours of ink – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and black.

The four “CMYK” cartridges are placed individually inside the printers. Some printers support a single “CMYK” cartridge with multiple nozzles to handle all the different colours of ink. 

Nowadays, inkjet printers come with “ink tanks” rather than cartridges. These ink tanks store the liquid ink and supply them to the printheads. 

When an inkjet printer receives a print job, the printer moves the print media, using rollers, to a position below the printhead. The printhead is then activated and moved in a left-to-right motion. As the printhead passes over the print media, thousands of droplets of liquid ink are sprayed on the area corresponding to the digital image.

Inkjet Printers

Thermal Printer vs Inkjet printer - What's the Difference?

In this section, we will compare the key differences between thermal printers and inkjet printers.

Printing Method

The main difference between thermal printers and inkjet printers is their printing method.

Thermal printers use heat to print text or images. In comparison, inkjet printers spray thousands of droplets of liquid ink from nozzles onto the print medium to produce an image.

Printing Consumables

Printing consumables are materials that the printer uses to produce a printed document. These materials require periodic replacement as they are consumed during the printing process.

There are two main categories of printing consumables:

  1. Printing media – It is the material on which digital images are printed. Print media can include paper, cardboard, plastic, and other substrate materials.
  2. Printing ink – This is the ink required for printing.

The printing consumables required by thermal printers vary depending on the printing technology.

The direct thermal printing process requires heat-sensitive paper as the printing medium. Direct thermal printers do not require any printing ink.

The thermal transfer printing process requires print media and thermal transfer ribbon (made using wax, resin, or a combination of both). The thermal transfer ribbons act as the printing ink.

On the other hand, inkjet printers use paper or plastic substrates as the printing media. They require cartridges filled with liquid ink, which acts as the printing ink.

Print Speed

When it comes to printing speed, thermal printers are much faster than inkjet printers.

Inkjet printers have a complex motion control mechanism that enables the movement of ink cartridges. This motion control mechanism and the cartridge’s movement across the print media length add to the printing time, resulting in slower print speeds.

In contrast, thermal printers use simple mechanical components to move the print media under the stationary thermal printhead. This reduces the printing time and leads to faster overall printing speeds compared to inkjet printers.

Printed Image Quality

In terms of image quality, inkjet printers produce better results than thermal printers.

Thermal printers are capable of printing at a resolution ranging from 203 DPI, 300 DPI to 400 DPI. Some thermal printers offer a high resolution of 600 DPI; however, these printers cost more and are less common.

On the other hand, inkjet printers offer a print resolution ranging from 600 DPI to 2400 DPI, contributing to high-quality images with smooth gradients and fine details. 


Thermal printers require less maintenance compared to inkjet printers.

Inkjet printers have more moving parts that wear out over time. This contributes to regular maintenance and replacement of parts, resulting in high overall maintenance costs.

Moreover, inkjet printers use a system of nozzles and channels. These components are prone to clogging, especially due to dust particles on the print medium or in the printer itself. In extreme cases, this damages the entire nozzle area or cartridge, which is expensive to replace.

Printer Durability and Reliability

Thermal printers and inkjet printers differ a lot when it comes to durability and reliability.

Thermal printers are intended for industrial and commercial use. Therefore, they feature a rugged design and are built using durable metals like aluminium and steel.

In contrast, inkjet printers are designed for home or office usage. Therefore, they are built using plastic or similar materials, making them less reliable and durable than thermal printers.

Physical Dimensions and Weight

The physical dimensions and weight of thermal and inkjet printers vary depending on the type, features, brand, and model.

Generally, thermal printers are bulkier and weigh more compared to inkjet printers.

However, some thermal printers are compact and lightweight, depending on the intended use. Please refer to our guide on types of thermal printers for more information.

Total Cost of Ownership

Cost is a major concern for many businesses and is one of the main factors that should be considered when choosing and comparing a printer.

We have divided the total cost of ownership into two main components:

  • Total upfront cost 
  • Total running cost

Total Upfront Cost

The term “upfront cost” describes the initial price of buying a printer, including any accessories, upgrades, and installation.

The upfront cost varies significantly depending on the printer’s features, type, brand, and model.

In general, thermal printers are more expensive than inkjet printers.

On average, a basic thermal printer will cost between AU$600 and AU$14,000, whereas an inkjet printer will cost between AU$75 and AU$3000 (industrial inkjet printers). 

Total Running Cost

The term “running cost” describes expenses incurred over time due to using a printer for printing tasks. Running cost includes the cost of consumables, maintenance, and repairs.

Thermal printers have a low running cost compared to inkjet printers.

Thermal printers use thermal paper or thermal transfer ribbons as consumables. These are relatively affordable compared to inkjet printer cartridges or liquid ink refills.

Moreover, thermal printers require less maintenance and repairs as they have fewer moving parts. This results in a lower total cost of ownership compared to inkjet printers in the long run.

Follow our thermal printer maintenance and care guide and thermal printhead care guide for tips and tricks on extending the printer’s lifespan and lowering maintenance and repair costs.

The Bottom Line

Thermal printers and inkjet printers have their own set of pros and cons. Choosing between these printer types will ultimately depend on your specific needs and usage requirements.

We hope that this article has provided a comprehensive overview of the main differences between thermal printers and inkjet printers.

Are you looking for a thermal printer for your business? Check out our range of thermal printers. At Triton, we provide a comprehensive range of thermal printers to meet your specific needs and printing demands. Whether you’re looking for small, light printers or regular thermal printers, we’ve got you covered.


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