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Computing & Information Services Newsletter
 Thermal Printers

What Thermal Printers are good for...

Thermal printers can produce small dots with spacing in the range of 200 to 300 dpi, which makes them comparable to low end laser printers in quality. Generally, the vast majority of thermal printers are used in business for bar code label applications. In this arena, thermal printers, unlike lasers and impact printers, are almost always application specific. Thermal printers, with their narrow print carriages (usually 4 to 8 inches), are compact - a strong advantage when space is at a premium.

The thermal printer uses a horizontal array of many small heating elements to melt "ink" from a ribbon, which moves in tandem with the label material past a stationary print head. The print head transfers those dots to the label material to form the image. Thermal printers can print very attractive labels on a broad range of media, because of the wide variety of inks available. These inks range from relatively inexpensive wax ribbons to high priced premium wax and resin ribbons. However, virtually all these ribbons are one pass. That raises the cost per label, since the ribbon cannot be reused and only part of the ink is used in printing. Using resin ribbons, images can be printed on some special synthetic and plastic materials where the bond between the resin and the media is caused by a chemical reaction. The tradeoff, of course, is cost. The exotic and high durability inks are more expensive.

Another form of thermal technology is direct thermal printing. In direct thermal printing, an image is formed by applying heat to specially treated paper, which then changes color. No ribbon is required. While direct thermal images are not as durable as thermal transfer images, direct thermal printing is often lower in cost because there aren't any ribbon costs. Both types of thermal printers are used almost exclusively for bar code label printing and are particularly well suited for on-demand applications, where the labels are removed and applied one at a time at the printing location. Typically, the thermal transfer printers are preferred for high quality labels.

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This article is the last one of our printers' series. Looking forward to see you with a new topic...


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