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What in the World is a Thermal Transfer Printer?

by | Apr 29, 2019 | Cable Identification, Gamma Electronics | 0 comments

What in the world is a thermal transfer printer and why should you care?  Well if you need to print receipts, barcodes, and any number of different labels it should probably have some importance to you.

At Gamma Electronics we primarily focus on printers for labels: heat shrink labels, packaging labels, cable tie tags, etc..  While it’s true that you can go buy labels at your local office supply store and print them on your home printer there are good reasons you might want to invest in a different type of printer, and that quite possibly includes a thermal transfer printer.  For example, if you want to print on a material like heat shrink.

So in what scenarios do you need to use different types of printers and what are their advantages and disadvantages?  We’re so glad you asked because we’ve broken it down below.

Different Printer Types

Ink Jet Printers

Ink Jet Printers are the types of printers you most commonly use at your home or small office.  Ink Jet Printers have small ink tanks of various colors that are sprayed out of a jet and combined to create images and/or text.  As you’re probably well aware of the ink tanks require replacement depending on how heavily they’re used and they come in all sorts of varieties depending on the printer/manufacturer.

Direct Thermal Printers

Direct Thermal Printers utilize a special chemical paper that when heated changes color in the areas that where heated.  They do this by means of electrical currents which run through the thermal print head which heats as the treated paper runs over it.  This is how barcodes and receipts are typically printed as it means you have a printing system that doesn’t require you to replace ink.

Thermal Transfer Printers

Thermal Transfer Printers follow the same basic process of the direct thermal printer but instead of a paper it’s a ribbon that’s heated and the material on the ribbon, (often a wax-like substance), adheres itself to the material being printed on.  It’s probably obvious at this point why they’re called Thermal Transfer Printers as the heat causes the wax-like substance to transfer from the ribbon to the material being printed on.

It’s incredibly helpful to know about the differences in printer types so you can also know when and where you should be using each type of printer, which we go into greater depth on below.

Printers: Pros and Cons

Ink Jet Printers

Ink Jet Printers are great at printing high quality images.  Because you can combine so many different ink variations you can produce incredible images.  Depending on how often you use the printer you’ll need to replace the ink and ink jet printers tend to break down more often because of the many moving parts involved.  In addition, the prints may not hold up great over time, (depending on a number of circumstances like temperature, paper quality, etc.).

Ink Jet Printers are the least expensive of the 3 printer options listed but they can get quite expensive depending on how much you want the printer to do and what quality of print you want it to produce.

Direct Thermal Printers

Direct Thermal Printers are much more limited in terms of the quality of their prints.  The prints do tend to last longer however and do so under more difficult circumstances, (i.e. warmer temperatures).  Direct thermal printers don’t have all the moving parts of an ink jet printer but they do have direct contact with the printing material and the print heads tend to get more scratched up and worn out over time.  Direct thermal printers are great for printing high volumes of prints that don’t require photo quality prints, like receipts.

Thermal Transfer Printers

Thermal Transfer Printers share many of the perks of direct thermal printers while adding a few more.  They don’t have all the moving parts of an ink jet which means less repairs and down time, and because the print head isn’t making direct contact and is instead using a ribbon the print head has improved durability.  The prints are also more durable than those of ink jet or direct thermal printers but you will not get the photo quality prints capable with an ink jet printer.  While thermal transfer printers can print on paper one of their unique attributes is their ability to print on unique materials like heat shrink.

Similar to ink jet printers running out of ink you will also need to replace the printer ribbon in thermal printers.  Because the prints tend to be less intensive than what is often printed with ink jet printers you also tend to get a greater life span out of printer ribbons than you would with ink tanks, but of course it all depends on how much you’re printing.

Gamma’s Thermal Transfer/Heat Shrink Printers

For the reasons listed above it’s probably obvious why Gamma printers are all Thermal Transfer Printers.  Gamma’s thermal transfer printers are able to produce high quality, long-lasting prints that can be printed onto heat shrink and more.  The printers require less repairs and maintenance, and you won’t have the issue of constantly replacing ink, although you will need to occasionally replace the printer ribbon(s) depending on your usage, (a thermal transfer printer ribbon often runs about the same price of an ink cartridge).  At Gamma Electronics we also offer our own printing software, (Gamma Label), to be used with the Gamma Bolt, which makes printing on heat shrink an easier process than ever before.

In short: if you want long-lasting prints to go on labels of all varieties you should be utilizing Gamma Electronics Thermal Transfer Printers.  Check out our printers by clicking here.

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