Direct Thermal printing (DT) media does not use any kind of ink or ribbon to print. The media is coated with heat-sensitive layer that changes color as it is exposed to the printer’s printhead. The printhead heats up and cools down according to your barcode design which is then imprinted into the media. Because the technology prints without a ribbon, direct thermal media is noted for its simplicity and lower overall cost. Direct thermal media has a considerable shelf life,(< 1 year), but is not well suited for environments exposed to heat, long periods of direct sunlight or abrasion. The printing on direct thermal media still produces sharp images with good scan ability. For any short term application, like shipping labels, Direct Thermal is the most efficient option.
Thermal transfer media is not thermally coated and will require using a ribbon that is matched with the specific material type. In this case, the ribbon is essentially melted onto the media in the pattern of your barcode design. While thermal transfer media does use 2 consumables and is more costly upfront, the long term benefit may result in a cost savings over a direct thermal application. The thermal transfer media is not only impervious to heat and moisture, but the image cannot be rubbed off, making the print the most durable, long-lived option. Since the color and density is determined by the ribbon and the printer’s resolution, this method produces consistent, reliable printing on every label. For any application that needs a long lasting (> 1 year) and/or durable label, tag, or wristband, thermal transfer media will provide the most bang for your buck.