How Do Thermal Printers Work
HomeHome > News > How Do Thermal Printers Work

How Do Thermal Printers Work

Mar 29, 2023

If you run a small business (or planning to get into one), you might be using a thermal printer already. These small printers are great at printing shipping labels, container labels, and other documents. The best part about thermal printers is that you do not have to worry about ink and toner, unlike conventional inkjet printers.

But have you wondered how a thermal printer works? We will explore that in this post to tell you all you need to know about thermal printers. However, check out the following first,

A thermal printer uses heat to transfer text and images to paper. Sometimes, the printer heats selective parts of the paper to turn it black. Or, it may use a ribbon to darken specific parts.

The best part about thermal printers is that they are no fuss. No need to refill or replace the ink cartridges or toner. Plus, most thermal printers that print shipping labels are compact. They need a power source to function. Plus, they do not have a big footprint.

Plus, most labels or any media printed on thermal papers are durable. The print lasts a long time and does not fade away with time. They are smear-resistant as well.

So how does a thermal printer work? First, there are two types of thermal printers—Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer.

Direct Thermal tech is the more popular printing method, especially for printing slips from teller machines, vending machines, and Point-of-Sale machines. These printers use a special type of paper that darkens in specific parts when it comes in touch with direct heat. Here, the printer's head applies pressure and heat to print graphics with text.

However, media printed with direct thermal tech is usually not durable. With time, the prints on the paper may fade away. Thermal paper (or thermochromic-coated paper) is sensitive to light and heat. In some cases, it may either darken when exposed to excessive heat, and you may lose valuable information.

Unlike the direct thermal tech, Thermal Transfer uses normal media and a heat-sensitive ribbon to transfer images and text to media. So when you engage the printer to print, it heats the ribbon, which melts the wax and presses it to the paper (hence the name). Simple enough, right?

Besides wax, some thermal printers also use resin and wax-resin thermal transfer inks. Out of these, pure resin is one of the most durable forms of transfer. However, it's rarely used on paper despite being so accurate.

Papers printed using thermal transfer are durable and are less prone to fading or darkening with time. Because the paper is not heat-sensitive, you can use these printers to print labels for shipping packages. However, do note that pure wax labels are sensitive to external factors like oil or water. Exposure to these elements can lead to loss of text or image.

Wax-resin prints are more resistant to the above and deliver neat and precise prints, whether an image or a text print. Lastly, thermal printers can churn out multiple printouts altogether.

As mentioned above, thermal printers are compact and lightweight. If you talk specifically of thermal printers for printing shipping labels, they are lightweight and compact, and you can easily fit them on your desk.

One of the primary advantages is the no-frills operation. You do not have to worry about ink refills, toner replacement, or other supplies for a long time. At the same time, prints come out precise and have fewer chances of smudges, leaks, or smears. More importantly, the wax-coated thermal ribbon on quality thermal printers lasts about ten years.

As long as the printer supports the format you normally use, you are clear. So, this was how thermal printers work. Let's now check out some of the quality thermal printers.


The Munbyn Shipping Label Printer is a simple device that churns out regular 4 x 6-inch shipping labels. The main highlight is its speed and print quality. It advertises an IPS (inches-per-inch) of 5.9 and delivers labels fast.

The best part is that it's compatible with macOS and Windows computers. You will need to connect it to a laptop or desktop using a USB cable. It works brilliantly with popular shipping platforms like UPS, USPS, and FedEx.

While it is true that it churns out 4 x 6-inches, it can also print other labels. Interestingly, the Munbyn printer can automatically determine the label dimensions. However, it's easier said than done. But if you want one label size, this one works brilliantly.


Another thermal printer that delivers precise prints is the one by DYMO. The LabelWriter 4XL is super fast and delivers 4.16 x 6.3-inch shipping labels. It supports a variety of different formats as per the shipping platforms and shopping platforms.

As noted earlier, it's fast. The folks at PC Mag found a single print to take around 3.1 seconds. Interestingly, printing a 50-label roll takes about 60 seconds. Again, it's not a wireless thermal printer, and you will need to connect to your system via a simple USB cable.

It churns out precise and high-quality prints. They are dark and durable. However, the printer doesn't come with a cutter, and you will have to invest considerable time in slicing the labels manually.


The Brother VC-500W stands out from the above and lets you print labels in black and red colors. You can also mix both colors. It's super compact and supports various sizes of label dimensions.

The best part is that it supports Mac, Windows, and Android. You’ll need to download the companion app to design and print labels from your Android phone.

It's fast, and the print quality is high for the price. However, the software associated with designing comes with a little bit of a learning curve. That said, it's popular on Amazon, and users love its print quality and the easy installation process.

So, this was how thermal printers work. These printers seldom need additional drivers. And the companion software is simple to use. They can stand their share of abuse, and the cost-benefits make them highly affordable.

Last updated on 20 November, 2022

The above article may contain affiliate links which help support Guiding Tech. However, it does not affect our editorial integrity. The content remains unbiased and authentic.

Most websites can estimate your location accurately even without permission.

Get Guiding Tech articles delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *

Email *

Comment *


Namrata loves writing about products and gadgets. She has been working for Guiding Tech since 2017 and has around five years of experience writing features, how-tos, buying guides, and explainers. Previously she worked as an IT Analyst at TCS, but she found her calling elsewhere.