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How Does A Thermal Printer Work?

Thermal printers are primarily used in big organizations. They are not seen in the home for personal use. Thermal printers are famous for their extensive production capability and high-quality image creation. That is why thermal printers are standard for businesses and stores. They are primarily renowned for a point-of-sale option that includes the printing service for receipt, labels, and bar codes. 

Some offices or stores use thermal printers for fax machines or MFP. How does a thermal printer work? It is the reason for the application. Thermal printers use a heated print head that can produce premium quality images. These printers are time savers and can make high production levels. So, let’s know the mechanism of a thermal printer.

How Does A Thermal Printer Work?

Depending on the uses of the thermal printers, they are also known as receipt roll printers. The primary mechanism for the thermal printers works with the temperature-reacted special media. Yes, the printer is not a specialized fact for thermal printers instead of print media.

How Does A Thermal Printer Work?

The thermal print head heats the print media, and the media react to a specific temperature. For this reaction of the media, the image gets burned and set on the page. So, the name comes as thermal printing. The process of printing and the print media is responsible for the specialty, not the printer machine.  This print media works on temperature, heat the device, and transfers the image to a particular area. 

Thermal Printing Mechanism On Two Printer Types

Thermal printers work in two different mechanisms for two types of printers. One is the direct thermal printer, and the other is the thermal transfer printer. Let’s discuss their processing.

1. Direct Thermal Printing

Most of the older models of thermal printers use the direct thermal printing process. These printers use heat-sensitive papers as print media. These papers are placed in a container that is set inside the printer machine. They come from the roll sheet, and the end of the roll stays stuck into the slot to feed the printer. 

During the printing process, the printer produces heat. The heat-sensitive paper reacts to the heat developed inside of the machine. The heat-sensitive coating of the paper turns black for the heat when the paper passes through the thermal print head. The printer provides heat selectively to specific areas that support the image or text design and color. Thus, the desired image or texting is printed, creating a perfect color presentation.

How Does A Thermal Printer Work?
Passion Labels

2. Thermal Transfer Printing

Most of the newer thermal printer models use the thermal transfer printing mechanism. This mechanism is more popular as it can produce durable and long-lasting images or texts. The printed copies are not only durable but also smear-resistant that increases their life length.

This printer uses ribbon printer cartridges which contain waxy material inside. In this process, paper or print media pass through the printer slot between the roller and the print head. During the process, the heat is created, and it melts the substance from the cartridge and lets it stuck into the paper. 

For this mechanism, thermal printers have earned recent popularity for producing long-lasting labels to make receipts, wristbands, tickets, vouchers, name badges, etc. These labels are easily scannable too. 

Thermal Printer Parts

Two types of printers use different printing papers, ink types, etc. that makes the difference in application. The quality of the printed output also differs for the variation in printer parts. 

  • Paper and Printhead

A direct thermal printer uses a specialized thermochromic paper with coating. This paper is reactive to temperature and put the color on the regarding the design. 

On the other hand, thermal transfer printers use heat-sensitive ribbons responsible for added durability and quality. Thermal transfer printers are more famous for their different sharp-end quality.

how does a color thermal printer work

It is possible for the ribbon style and the printhead nature. The printhead of the thermal transfer printer is smaller in size and gets heat evenly. Each pin is responsible for a specific image format, and the microprocessor controls it. These microprocessors determine the pins that can form a particular image. Pins get heated, and heat melts the wax or ink and transfers it from the ribbon to the blank pages or other media. 

Both the thermal printers are suitable for common label printing purposes. If you need extra benefits, you should go for the thermal transfer printers. 

  • Ink

There are three kinds of ink used in thermal printers. Each of them has its own features and characteristics that make them different from one another. These three types of inks are-

  1. Wax ink
  2. Wax-resin ink
  3. Pure resin ink

Wax ink is durable and long-lasting but sensitive to some materials like oils, chemicals, and abrasives. You have to take care of the labels made of this ink and keep them dry.

Wax-resin ink is more durable ink for thermal printing comparing to wax ink. These inks are used to make precise images. 

Pure resin ink is the most durable ink that is hard to wear. Printed items by this ink are waterproof and not be damaged by the touch of chemicals and oils. This ink is also sunlight resistant that does not fade for heavy light exposure for outdoor use.

How Does A Thermal Printer Work?

The only disadvantage of pure resin ink is that it cannot be used on paper.  This ink is actually fused on polyester, vinyl, polypropylene, etc., material. So, this ink is used to create durable labels and sign in different specialized sectors, including marine, automotive, transport, aircraft, and engineering industries. 

What ink is suitable for you?  It depends on the business or personal need. You have to be sure of what types of print media you will use. You have to select the print media depending on the requirement of your business. Many thermal printers of top brands provide vast choices to print on and can print by different ink types. 

From the customized labels to the cater labeling needs, thermal printers are the first choice for prominent business owners. There are thermal printers with desktop and portable features that can make durable and full-colored printouts.

Advantages Of Thermal Printers

Though thermal printers have a wide reputation for exceptional printing services like label or receipt printing, these printers have some specialized advantages.

How Does A Thermal Printer Work

  • Thermal printers are low in price even when they come full of features and supportive functions.
  • Thermal printers are wide in design so that they can be easy to handle. The operational options are also more accessible. Pressing some buttons is enough to run the thermal printers.
  • Thermal printers are entirely noise-free. It does not disturb the people around it. So, you can run your business quiet and you do nto have to worry about your customers and other colleagues.

Disadvantages Of Thermal Printers

There are disadvantages of thermal printers that make them less useful for other purposes.

benefits of thermal printer

  • Thermal printing is not efficient enough in terms of ink used. As the heat is used to melt the ink and set, ink can overflow and lose.
  • During the printing process, ink can overflow for excess heat production. It is responsible for hampering the precision of prints. 
  • The printed output is not smudge-proof; instead, a simple touch of ink onto the paper can smudge easily. It reduces the quality of the printed products.
  • Most of the thermal printers are monochrome printers. Thermal printers do not do well for color printing, as the thermal printing ink is incredibly carbon pigmented. You have to use more wax-based ink for color production. 
  • As thermal printers use heat, it is common to have issues with damaged printheads frequently. You have to spend often on the maintenance and replacement of these print heads. It is costly. Though the initial price of the thermal printer is low, the maintenance cost sut the gap and sometimes becomes hard to bear. 

The thermal printers’ demerits are not suggested for photography or other image printing businesses.

Application Areas For Thermal Printers

Though thermal printers have some lacking, these printers are widely used and also popular in some fields. Some specialized industries prefer thermal printers for their quality of printouts.

How Does A Thermal Printer Work?

These industries include- shipping and receiving, cross-docking and stocking industry, inventory management, picking and packing, rental car return, proof of delivery, parts management, compliance labeling, manufacturing, proof of delivery, transportation and logistics, positive patient identification, healthcare industry, work in process, quality assurance, equipment maintenance, traceability, asset management, accurate specimen labeling, and laboratory management.

Final Words

Thermal printers have earned their popularity for their own features and quality. The printing process is quite different comparing to inkjet and laser printers. So, how does a thermal printer work?

On this page, you have all the clear ideas of how the thermal printers use heat to print on heat sensitive print media and what type of ink these printers use. These printers have their own benefits and some demerits too. With detail ideas on the thermal printing process, you can make the right decision on where you will use the thermal printers. 

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