What is a Thermal Printer?

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Updated November 19, 2022

If you are new to the world of reproducing documents, you may wonder what a thermal printer is. Many of the best printers feature drastically different designs, and this includes the humble thermal printer. So what exactly is a thermal printer, do you need one, and what benefits do they bring to the table? Keep reading to find out.


  • Thermal transfer printers use heat to create images on specially treated paper that presses up against the heating element.
  • These printers are popular across many industries, as thermal transfer printing is used to print shipping labels, thermal labels, receipts, medical IDs, and other label materials.
  • Thermal print heads work quickly, do not require ink, and are considered to be both light and portable.

Thermal Printers Defined

After learning the definition of a standard printer, it is time to move on to more niche subjects. You can learn all about dox-matrix printers, but the real crown jewel is the thermal printer. A thermal printer is different than MICR printers, as this type of printer uses a heated thermal printhead pressed against something to create black text or images. The heated printhead integrates with special chemically treated thermal paper, so you won’t have to learn about A5 size paper to use a thermal printer.

Insider Tip

Thermally printed labels may fade over time, which is why they are often covered in plastic.

What is a Thermal Printer Used For?

There are many uses for a standard thermal transfer printer, from creating labels, barcodes, ID badges, and various other tasks popular across a wide array of commercial industries. They are even useful for printing receipts and the like. Thermal printers are often found in the worlds of inventory management, retail sales, medical services, industrial progress tracking, and more. In other words, these printers are not often found in average households, as they are primarily used for business applications.

Benefits of Thermal Printers

Despite being something of a niche product for commercial use in various industries, thermal transfer printers bring some serious benefits to the table.

  • Light and portable – Just because these printers are found in commercial and industrial settings does not mean they are these large, cumbersome objects. As a matter of fact, many thermal printers are portable and easy to transport to different and new locations.
  • No ink required – Direct thermal transfer printers do not use ink, as they use heat and chemically treated paper to create images. The paper costs slightly more than standard printer paper, but not enough to offset saving on the cost of ink.
  • Fast printing speed – These printers are known for working quickly and efficiently, which is why they are so popular in a wide variety of commercial sectors.
  • Easy to maintain – These printers do not feature many moving parts, so they are easier to repair and maintain than many other types of printers.

STAT: The heated printhead either activates special chemically treated paper (called thermal paper) or transfers solid ink from a ribbon and bonds it to the medium, depending on the type of printer. (source)

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