Direct thermal printing
Direct thermal printers require the use of heat activated labels and do not require a ribbon. While somewhat durable, direct thermal labels are prone to darkening over time due to age or exposure to extreme light or heat.
Direct thermal printing is popular in applications such as mailing, small parcel delivery, retail and the food industries where most items are stored away from heat and sunlight, and the expected life of the label is less than 1 year.
The primary benefit is an overall lower cost since ribbon is not required, and direct thermal printers are easier to operate.
Thermal transfer printing
Thermal transfer printing requires the use of a carbon based ribbon which is chemically transferred onto a label’s substrate when heat is applied, hence the name "thermal transfer."
Thermal transfer ribbons can be many different formulas and colors, so the user is not limited to black print.
The print quality is crisp and durable which makes thermal transfer printing an excellent choice for printing high density bar-codes and labels that require longevity.