Understanding the Difference Between Thermal Transfer, Inkjet, and Laser Printing

Understanding the Difference Between Thermal Transfer, Inkjet, and Laser Printing

Label Printers | 31 July 2017

Posted by John Masica

Understanding the difference between thermal transfer, inkjet, and laser printing

An important aspect of running a well-equipped business includes determining what methods and applications will best suit your needs, while allowing for process improvements. The same can be said with that of your barcode and label printing needs. In this article, we’ll discuss the three primary technologies for printing barcode labels on demand: thermal transfer, inkjet, and laser, to provide you with the knowledge you need to determine which is the best for your on-demand label printing needs.  

Marking Technology Pro's Con's
Thermal Transfer Cost efficient and extremely durable option Limited color printing
Inkjet Cost efficient full color option Durability is limited. Proper material & ink matching or laminates can help.
Laser Durable, full color option Not always a cost effective option

Thermal Transfer: 

Cab EOS1

With a moderate price-point and ribbon-saving feature, the total cost of ownership for a thermal transfer printer solution can be a cost-effective, easily implemented solution for organizations with a need for one color and the flexibility to print on-demand.

The transfer of heat provides a durable image when used with Computype materials with an end result that survives chemical and water exposure and is resistant to smudging. Some thermal transfer printers, such as the Cab Squix, have the option to upgrade to a printer-applicator, improved efficiencies and fast ROI can be realized for organizations that print high volumes.

This printing option offers reduced downtime, a short learning curve, overall risk reduction, efficient print speed, pristine image quality, increased throughput and operational efficiencies, and reduction in label operation costs.

One of the primary reasons thermal transfer printing is a preferred technology is because of the durability of the label stock and the quality of the images. To achieve these results however, it is critical that the label stock and ribbon be carefully matched; working with an experienced solutions supplier will ensure proper label/ribbon kitting to withstand the expected environment. With proper maintenance to your print-head, they can last up to 3 million lineal inches of printed stock.

Consider these 5 things before commissioning a thermal transfer printer >


Epson C831 Printer

If full color printing is desired on-demand, or if the labels you need to print exceed the size limitations of thermal transfer printers, a full color inkjet printer can be a viable solution.

Full color inkjet, like the Epson C7500, also provides ample opportunity to create internal process improvements to an existing labeling system. With the flexibility to print variable text, brand logos, graphics, photos, and product information in full color, these industrial inkjet printers can serve multiple purposes.

Overall, full-color inkjet printers require minimal startup costs and achieve a relatively low cost of total ownership. Ink cartridges are purchased individually (CMYK) and are easily loaded into the printer. Purchasing and replacing each color on an as-needed basis allows for cost and time savings while reducing overall waste.

With high print speeds, inkjet printing allows for increased throughput and efficiency improvements. Just how not every ribbon works with every label when using a thermal transfer printer, not every label material receives ink in the same fashion when it comes to inkjet printing. There are a variety of paper, polyester, and polypropylene materials that will provide a durable and lasting inkjet image; as always, make sure your solutions supplier is well educated in matching the proper label material with media.


In cases where budget is not a restraint and full color and prime print quality output are sought after, laser print technology is a consideration as laser printing offers the benefit of true multitasking technology.

Aesthetically more pleasing than other print technologies, but often costlier than its inkjet rival, laser technology provides the best in image quality and widest print width availability. Initial capital investment is often times exponentially higher than other technologies on the market, while consumables and service costs also tend to be greater. Coupled with the potential that this kind of print quality can often be unnecessary for basic labeling and tracking applications, laser print technology doesn’t accommodate all budgets or compliance goals.


Landed on a print technology, but unsure which printer is right for you? Check out our ‘Top 10 best barcode label printers of 2020’ article to find the printer for you!

We’d love to discuss which print-on-demand technology can improve productivity and efficiency for your organization

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John Masica

Based in St. Paul, MN, USA, John Masica is Computype’s Technical Support Specialist. Specializing in label printer maintenance and engineering, John is the go-to person for all things label printing. Through his 24 years here at Computype, he has learned many tips and tricks to make your label printing easier and more efficient.