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Laser Printing vs. Thermal Printing … Here’s what you should know

For years now, Gulton, Inc. has received inquiries daily regarding printheads for laser printers.  We’ve always directed those making the inquiry to proper sources.  But we’ve come to realize that for quite a few people, a thermal printhead and a laser printhead may as well be the same thing.  They aren’t though.  So, we thought it might be a good idea to take a little time and provide some education regarding the differences.

Laser Printers
Laser printers are popular choices for any number of printing applications.  Because of their wide marketplace acceptance, they were adapted for label printing.  Many companies make the decision to use laser printers for label printing for the simple reason that they may already have a laser printer in house that they can dedicate for this application.  That seems to make sense on an immediate basis. 

Designed for cut-sheet paper, laser printers weren’t designed to handle adhesive backed media in an efficient manner.  Laser printers run hot … so hot that they can cause the adhesive to bleed from the label.  It’s not great for your laser printer because it causes adhesive buildup internally.  It’s also not great for productivity because it will cause the printer to jam. The adhesive build-up must be cleaned from the printer. You will also most likely need to replace toner cartridges and fuser rollers more often than you would have if you weren’t running labels through your laser printer.  That’s a costly endeavor.

Your main concerns, though, really should focus on productivity.   Cut sheet labels are used for laser printers.  You can’t print one or two labels without running an entire sheet of labels through the printer. If you decide to be frugal and you don’t throw away the remainder of the sheet, it will be challenging, at best, to map the remaining labels for printing the next time.    

Thermal Transfer Printing

With Thermal Transfer Printing, the printhead heats a ribbon which then melts the image onto thermal paper.   This results in exceptionally clear images.    In addition, thermal paper resists moisture, chemicals and even bacteria.   Adhesive will not overheat and leak so there’s less down time with printer jams and constant adhesive clearing.  It saves time, uses media more efficiently and saves money.More importantly, thermal transfer paper is constructed in rolls.  This allows for easy printing of one to thousands of labels.   Additionally, each label can be unique giving the user the ability to create and print a multiple of different labels with no waste.

Laser Label Printing Vs. Thermal Transfer Printing 
The short answer: Laser Printing was not designed to print labels.  Thermal transfer printing was developed for the specific purpose.  Labels printed with a thermal transfer printer will have a longer life span than those printed by other printer types.

Of course, the printhead you would need for a laser printer isn’t the same printhead you’ll use for a thermal transfer printer.  We’ll cover the differences in an upcoming blog post.