How Does a Thermal Printer Work? – The Complete Explainer

As you might imagine, thermal printing is a hot topic for tech enthusiasts. But it’s actually used for a lot more than just printing on T-shirts and coffee mugs.

How does a thermal printer work? It’s a significant question when it comes to using any sort of printer. But in the case of a thermal printer, it may seem a bit different. As you’re probably aware, a thermal printer uses a thermally sensitive ribbon or paper, which reacts to heat, to transfer ink to a page.

In this blog post, we’ll take a detailed look at the technology behind thermal printing and some of the many ways it can be used.

What is a Thermal Printer?

Invented way back in 1965 by Texas Instruments, thermal printers have come a long way. As we have noted, a thermal printer uses a thermal sensitive ribbon or paper, which reacts to heat, to transfer ink to a page. This is the biggest difference when comparing these types of printers to traditional inkjet printing.

This also means that many of the parts of the printer are different, so they require a unique design. Therefore, many people say that a thermal printer looks nothing like a traditional printer.

Now let’s get into more details and learn about the different parts of thermal printers and how they work.

How Does a Thermal Printer Work?

Since it’s a thermal printer, it uses a thermal-sensitive ribbon or paper. When a thermal printer is in operation, it heats the ribbon or paper, which in turn, transfers ink to the page.

The ribbon or paper is a part of the printer that’s responsible for transferring ink to the page. Both are thin, flexible materials that are used to transfer ink to the page.

Heat-sensitive papers are generally used for older printers, while the ribbons are associated with newer and more advanced thermal printers.

Different Types of Thermal Printing

These make up for two different types of thermal printing: direct and transfer printing, which we are about to get into more detail now.

Direct Thermal Printing

The process of direct thermal printing is pretty straightforward and easy to understand.

So the printing process in the thermal printer begins like on any other printer; the first step is to put paper into the paper assembly. When you do that, the thermal printer pulls the paper through the heated printhead to produce the image you wish to print.

Thermal Transfer Printing

Thermal transfer printing is a bit of a different story. As we mentioned, in the process of thermal transfer printing there is no paper, instead, there is a ribbon that is heated.

Next, the ribbon is pulled across the printhead, which transfers the ink to the page. The ribbon is a particularly thin, flexible material that is used to transfer ink to the page. It is coated with a material called wax. The wax is heated by the printhead and transfers the ink to the page.

The thermal transfer printing produces excellent quality prints and the prints that come out are highly durable and resistant.

What are they used for?

Thermal printer printing a receipt

In this day and age, thermal printers are used for a variety of purposes and in many industries, including healthcare, transportation, labeling, and many other.

So, people use them to print photos and images, others use them for barcodes, receipts, and even labels.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Now let’s weigh the advantages and disadvantages of thermal printing. These printers produce high-quality prints and are truly silent. This is an enormous advantage over inkjet printers, which can be loud when printing.

However, they are very sensitive and a slight touch can lead them to produce an imperfect print. Along with that, they are not particularly great at printing colored prints, and that is why they are mostly used for printing barcodes and receipts.