Thermal labels use heat to create an image. Thermal transfer uses a thermal ribbon where heat from the printhead releases the ribbon attaching it to the label surface. Direct thermal images are created when heat from the printhead causes components on the label surface to mix causing them to (usually) turn black.
A label is a label right? Wrong. Each of the thousands of different materials used in thermal printing has its own unique set of features that must be considered to ensure optimal performance in its intended application—not to mention in the specific printer in which it will be used.
Sacrificing consistency for price is risky, because unscannable barcodes must be reprinted, cancelling out the intended cost savings. Workers may have to make adjustments to the printer between rolls to account for inconsistencies in the media, make more IT calls, deal with costly downtime and risk losing productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction. And choosing printing supplies that aren’t well suited to thermal printers can cause unnecessary wear and tear on printheads, resulting in higher replacement costs.
On the other hand, the right printing supplies will help you improve operational efficiency, keep track of all your assets and optimize the customer experience. The right printing supplies will ensure brand consistency and maintain regulatory compliance. The right printing supplies will support the growth of your business—not hinder it.
Selection of the label material depends first on whether direct thermal or thermal transfer print technology is being used.
There are two types of thermal facestocks: paper and synthetic. Understanding these facestock types and qualities will be one step in helping you to determine the right label for your application.
Paper is an economical material for indoor use and a shorter lifecycle. It is a versatile facestock that supports labeling across a wide variety of surfaces such as corrugate, paper, packaging films, (most) plastics and metal & glass.
There are different types of paper labels, first there is uncoated paper which is workhorse for business and industrial applications providing an optimal balance between performance and price. Coated paper, which is ideal for high-speed volume printing and when enhanced print quality is required.
Color is a very useful tool to provide a visual cue for highlighting important information on a label like special handling instructions or package priority. Zebra’s IQ Color technology enables you to print color on demand using your existing Zebra thermal printer. With IQ color, the customer defines the color zones on the label and the color for that particular zone. The printed image for those zones are in the defined color.
Like paper, synthetic materials also support labeling across a wide variety of surfaces. However the advantages of a synthetic label over paper is their resistance and environmental qualities such as a longer label lifecycle, the ability to withstand an outdoor environment and resistance to abrasion, moisture and chemicals.
Synthetic labels are referred to as poly and are available in four variations of poly material. The key material differentiators are outdoor durations, temperature exposure or facestock color and treatments.
Polyolefin is flexible for curved and rough surfaces and an outdoor exposure of up to 6 months.
Polypropylene is also flexible for curved surfaces and outdoor exposure of 1 to 2 years.
Polyester is used for high temperatures up to 300°F (149°C) and outdoor exposure of up to 3 years.
Polyimide is also for high temperature exposure for up to 500°F (260°C) and is often recommended for circuit board labels.
Thermal printers are designed to operate with a variety of media configurations, including die-cut, butt cut, perforated, notched, hole-punched and continuous, receipts, tags, ticket stock or pressure-sensitive labels.