Difference between Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer Labels

Thermal labels made a boom in the industry of labelling. They are convenient, easy to handle, easy to print and give a professional look to the way businesses label their products. They are used for applications where labels need to be printed individually on a regular basis and provided with generally different information on each. Most commonly uses for thermal labels are for addresses, barcodes, product prices and descriptions.

There are two types of thermal labels: Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer. Here are the main differences and benefits of both.

Direct Thermal Labels

The Direct Thermal labels are recommended to use for short term applications. They don’t require a thermal ribbon to be printed as they are heat activated. The printing process is finished when heat from the printer head transfers onto the surface of the label thus producing the text or black image. They are durable but can darken over time especially if they are exposed to the elements, heat or light. That is why they are best to be used in mailing, small parcel delivery and retail and food industry where labels don’t need to last over 1 year period of time.

They are the more cost-effective option as you don’t need to spend money on the thermal ribbon which can really up the price. They can be found in permanent adhesive and removable adhesive depending on your business needs. Also, there is a huge variety of sizes of the direct thermal labels Australia wide and you can even ask your supplier to custom make them for you.

Thermal Transfer Labels

These labels are printed in thermal printers and they do require a thermal ribbon to be printed. The ribbon is actually a wax carbon that is transferred onto the label during the printing process when the heat is applied from the printer. They are best to use for long term applications so information that needs to withstand the test of time should be printed on a thermal label. For example, barcodes and product information that need to last and be legible even after 2 years are best to be printed on thermal labels.


You can also find these labels as a permanent adhesive and removable adhesive. The permanent adhesive labels are better to stick to boxes for goods deliveries because you can be sure that they won’t come off in transit. The thermal labels can be found in different sizes and colours and also they can be custom made.

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