Hardware Tip: The Best Printer for Barcode Labels

There is a lot to consider when it comes to choosing the right type of printer for your operations - inkjet, laser or thermal? While most of today’s printers have the capability to produce the necessary output, not all printers provide the same return on investment. 


It is important to take note of the total cost of each printer–from the initial investment, to the time and manpower required for operation and maintenance, and even to the longevity and adaptability of both the hardware and software components. Another consideration, particular to barcode labels, is the need for prints to be as precise as they can get, given the sensitivity of scanners and how the littlest inaccuracies in bar width and contrast can render a label void.

Inkjet, Laser Printer or Thermal Printer?

Compared to other kinds of printers, such as the dot matrix, inkjet, or laser printer, an industrial thermal printer can withstand long continuous hours of mass printing while maintaining a superior print quality in the fastest print speeds. This makes the thermal printer the best choice for barcode label printing.

Direct Thermal or Thermal Transfer?

There are two main types of thermal printers: direct thermal and thermal transfer. While both make use of heat to transfer print to material, the main difference lies in the use of a ribbon with thermal transfer printing. For this type of printing, instead of the print getting applied directly to the material, a carbon ribbon is melted in order to ensure that the print adheres more sturdily to the material.

This means that prints produced by thermal transfer printers are more durable and last longer than the cheaper direct thermal prints. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the former is better than the latter, as it all still depends on the demands of the application and the particular use they will be subjected to.

  • Direct Thermal Printers: Typically used in industries in which a label is unlikely to be subjected to much abuse and is only expected to last for less than a year (since direct thermal prints also darken eventually through time). An example of this would be labels used in the food industry, where there is a quick turnover of product on the shelf and items are expected to be stored away from heat and sunlight, which can cause prints to fade more easily.

    It is important to note, however, that direct thermal printing is normally restricted to black prints only. Special chromatic inks may be purchased for an additional color option, but in general, it is wiser and less costly to use thermal transfer printers for applications requiring colored labels since different colors are more easily accessible with colored ribbons.
  • Thermal Transfer Printers: Given the durability of its prints, thermal transfer printing is the best choice for labels that will likely pass through harsh environments and, thus, get subjected to a lot of surface friction. Because of this superior durability, thermal transfer prints tend to have a longer shelf life than direct thermal prints. Furthermore, thermal transfer provides more precise printing, which means higher density labels would fare better with this kind of printer. 

RF-SMART offers the ZT610–the most recent innovation from Zebra Technologies for industrial thermal transfer printers. Zebra printers are known for reliable structures that can withstand even the harshest environments while maintaining good print speeds and quality output, and with a smarter, more improved system that hosts the Link-OS, user experience is guaranteed to be a breeze.  

Once you select the right option for your operation, make sure you also preserve the life of the printer with proper maintenance. 

Want to try out the newest printing technology in your warehouse?