Last updated: September 6, 2020

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In professional areas, such as large offices, banks, and logistics centers, printing is the order of the day – especially when it comes to labels, reports, and tickets. The demand is so high that it faces heavy costs, not to mention the impact on the environment. Fortunately, we have a very efficient alternative available: thermal printers.

Have you ever heard of these devices? If not, don’t worry: you’ve come to the right place. While most of us have very little knowledge about these printers, they are actually common in a variety of sectors that use them on a daily basis. In our shopping guide, we will tell you everything there is to know about them.

Key Facts

  • Thermal printers are electromechanical devices that rely on heat and a type of thermal paper to operate. Since they require no cartridges or any other inkjet system, their printing costs are much lower, and the environmental impact is minimal.
  • The use of thermal printers is widespread in ATMs, supermarkets, shops, and logistics centers, as well as other environments where labels need to be printed. These devices tend to be very fast and easy to use. Most of them are electric, but you can also find wireless models or others that work via USB or Ethernet cable.
  • If you are contemplating buying a thermal printer, you will have to consider various criteria before making your decision. These include size and design, power supply, printing speed, and ease of use, among others we will discuss in our guide.

Our Selection: The Best Thermal Printers on the U.S. Market

Whether you’re heading to a museum, a concert, or a cinema, you need a ticket. You also receive a ticket every time you purchase something at the supermarket or in a store. Thermal printers really are more common than you might have thought originally. In the following section, you will discover our very own selection of the best models currently available on the market.

Best Thermal Printer: Amazon’s Choice

With hundreds of positive reviews and high ratings, the Rollo label printer is a high-quality commercial-grade device that will fully meet the needs of your business. With a printing speed of 150 mm/s, it is compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems. This model is easy to use and can print labels up to 4.1 inches in width. In addition, the printing quality meets the requirements of major delivery companies like USPS and FedEx.

Best Thermal Printer for Small Businesses

This may not be the fastest thermal printer out there, but it certainly is the most elegant. It allows you to create artsy label designs and print them instantly after taking a picture on your smartphone. Ideal for small businesses that like to get creative, the Phomemo pocket printer is incredibly compact and easy to store and carry. It is also a great tool to decorate your home or a travel journal, for instance.

Best Label Printer

Capable of producing up to 51 labels per minute, the Dymo LabelWriter 450 is an incredibly compact thermal printer for your business. The manufacturer’s software allows you to create your own personalized labels on your computer (Windows or Mac) before printing them. In fact, you can even print directly from popular software such as Microsoft Word and Google Contacts.

Best Receipt Printer

Last but not least, this Amazon’s Choice thermal printer is a high-quality device from industry-leading company Epson. Compatible with iOS, Windows, and Android, it offers a printing speed of 200 mm/s for a weight of under 4 pounds. Connectivity-wise, this model features a USB port and an Ethernet cable port.

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Thermal Printers

While thermal printers are incredibly common in various professional spheres, many of us still know very little about their characteristics, benefits, and potential. If you happen to work in an office with a lot of paperwork or where labels are commonplace, we have no doubt you will be interested in learning more about them. In the section below, we have answered the most frequently asked questions regarding thermal printers.

Smiling young waiter

The use of thermal printers is widespread in ATMs, supermarkets, shops, and logistics centers, as well as other environments where labels need to be printed.
(Source: Rido: 59968299/ 123rf.com)

What is a thermal printer exactly?

The printing process of this electromechanical machine is based on a system of hot needles that run through a type of thermosensitive paper. When the needles come into contact with the paper, it turns black. This is called monochrome printing. These thermal models use no cartridges or any other type of inkjet mechanism.

How do thermal printers work?

These machines are non-impact printers, which means that they do not rely on impact force to transfer the ink to the media or support. As we mentioned above, they use the monochrome printing process. They integrate pins and electronic circuits that receive commands from the computer and store the data for printing.

The print head consists of a series of pins that are heated using resistances located inside. This causes the film covering the paper to react, thus transmitting the image onto the support. The thermal head designates which pins must be heated to get the different glyphs or images it wants to print.

Howard RheingoldAmerican Critic & Writer

“You can’t have an industrial revolution, you can’t have democracies, you can’t have populations who can govern themselves until you have literacy. The printing press simply unlocked literacy.”

Can thermal printers print in color?

Historically speaking, thermal printers have been monochromatic. In fact, this is the feature that allows them to be so cost-effective. However, more recent models are offering the possibility of printing two or even three colors. This feature is in high demand in stores that print labels, as they can save on long-standing pre-printed labels.

Black remains the most common color because thermal printers were initially (and still are) very popular to create barcodes. After black, red and blue are now the most popular colors for these types of devices. This difference in color is obtained by heating the head pins to distinct temperatures.

What are their structures composed of?

Thermal printers have a very different design and structure from other types of printers. First of all, they tend to be smaller. Because they can fit into any space, they are a real advantage in professional environments where there is a high number of devices. Here is a list of the different components of thermal printers, as well as a brief description for each:

  • Input tray: Space allocated for the special paper feed roller.
  • Lid: It protects the interior of the machine from dust and allows you to see the printing process.
  • Output tray: Space designed to receive the printed sheet.
  • Panel: It features LED indicators regarding the printer status (power, paper jam, in process), as well as buttons for different functions.
  • Covers: They protect internal circuits while having an aesthetic role.
  • Connection ports: Used to transfer data or files with your computer.
  • Power connector: It provides power.
  • Support: It allows you to position the printer in the most convenient way.
printer in a restaurant

The printing process of thermal printers is based on a system of hot needles that run through a type of thermosensitive paper.
(Source: Corciulo: 2880280/ Pixabay.com)

What power source do thermal printers use?

Energy costs are always a problem. Thermal printers are generally powered via alternating current, which means that you need an electrical connection for it to operate correctly. Recently, however, many models can work with a USB cable, an Ethernet connection, wirelessly, or a combination of these different options.

What are the advantages of thermal printers?

Ever since their arrival on the market, thermal printers have revolutionized the printing industry when it comes to labels, bank receipts, barcodes, and other types of tickets. From supermarkets and banks to businesses and stores, the benefits these devices offer have made them incredibly popular. In the following table, you can compare the pros and cons of thermal printers:

Advantages
  • They affordable since they do not use ink. The only consumable you have to buy is paper. In addition, the maintenance cost is virtually non-existent.
  • They are quiet and accurate, as there is no percussion mechanism, and paper jams hardly occur.
  • These devices are small and compact.
  • They are reliable, simple, and clean.
Disadvantages
  • You need to buy special paper.
  • Thermal printing is often only black.
  • The wear and tear of ticket printing, particularly in high-temperature environments, makes its durability relatively low. The waxy layer of the paper reacts with the temperature and causes the text to be erased over time.

What type of paper is used with thermal printers?

The paper used by thermal printers is coated with a waxy substance that reacts and usually turns black when heat is applied. This paper is generally purchased in large rolls, with a standard width of 40 mm. In addition, you can find rolls of 50 and 80 mm; these are used by thermal printers in ATMs.

label themal slip printer and computer destop on cash counter

These machines are non-impact printers, which means that they do not rely on impact force to transfer the ink to the media or support.
(Source: Vacharapong: 93567003/ 123rf.com)

What is the difference between direct thermal printing and thermal transfer printing?

Thermal printers aren’t all the same. In fact, not all use the same type of printing. Direct thermal printing works by applying heat to the printer heads. These heads come into contact with the printing surface, which must be heat-sensitive.
Upon contact, the printing surface turns darker.

Thermal transfer printing is a different process. In this case, the printer heads come into contact with a ribbon that causes the material to adhere to the printing surface when heated. This second option is actually considered to be more flexible in terms of material when applying the print.

If you use it to print on materials that are not heat-sensitive, they won’t degrade over time, and the print quality is maintained in the long term. Thermal transfer printers are used in many industries, especially where labeling procedures are essential in the production process, and where quality must be maintained.

Point of Sale System For Retail or Restaurant

Thermal printers are generally powered via alternating current, which means that you always need an electrical connection for it to operate properly.
(Source: Zavgorodny: 47072099/ 123rf.com)

How is the speed of a thermal printer measured?

The printing speed is obtained by calculating the number of millimeters of black text that the device can print per second. You have to keep in mind that these machines specialize in tickets and receipts, so they do not print a large number of characters but do their job at a very high speed. The unit of measure is, therefore, the mm/s (millimeters per second).

In which sectors are thermal printers used?

The POS (point of sales) business is one of the industries where this type of printer is most widely used. Combining the right balance between speed and quality, as well as the sufficient durability of the document produced, means that virtually all POS terminals in any business use a thermal printer.

Another sector where this system is common is the logistics sector, due to the use of thermal label printers – better known as labeling machines. Operating with rolls of self-adhesive paper, they are the most efficient and allow you to save significant time. Besides, their sturdiness and low printing costs have made them absolutely irreplaceable today.

Thermal printers are also commonplace in amusement parks, cinemas, theaters, nightclubs, museums, and zoos.

In short, the whole entertainment sector has turned to these devices. Indeed, their low maintenance and ease of use mean that very few resources are needed to operate them.

Why are thermal printers sustainable?

Traditional printers, such as inkjet and all-in-one models, are a source of pollution due to the cartridges and types of paper they require to function. One of the greatest advantages of thermal printers is that there is no inkjet whatsoever. The heat directly acts on the thermal paper, completely eliminating cartridges and other consumables capable of contaminating the environment.

Buyer’s Guide

Are you looking to expand and complement the working tools and equipment in your office or company? Then a thermal printer is probably what you need. Not only do they offer various advantages in terms of cost and time savings, but they are also extremely simple to use. In the following section, we have detailed the shopping criteria that you should keep in mind when making your decision.

Printing Speed

Thermal printers can be distinguished by their high level of productivity. Logistics centers, supermarkets, and banks print a massive amount of receipts, tickets, or barcodes on a daily basis. This is why speed is a fundamental aspect that you have to consider when purchasing your thermal printer. In that regard, we encourage you to opt for a model that can print at least 150 mm/s.

Office equipment, A point of sale receipt printer printing a receipt

Thermal printers are quiet and accurate, as there are no percussion mechanism and paper jams hardly occur.
(Source: Boonpong: 87163610/ 123rf.com)

Size & Design

As we briefly mentioned earlier, these devices also set themselves apart from other printers such as inkjet and all-in-one printers in the sense that they take up very little space. You should pay attention to the design of your thermal printer because some models can turn out to be very uncomfortable in offices or working environments. Wireless devices allow you to save space and get rid of cumbersome cables.

Power Supply

While most thermal printers are electric, you can now find wireless models on the American market. As we’ve just explained, they offer various advantages in terms of space-saving and ease of use. You should also think about the connectivity options available; USB and Ethernet cable ports are the most recommended ones.

Receipt printer for POS on the wooden table, 3D rendering

The paper used by thermal printers is coated with a waxy substance that reacts and usually turns black when heat is applied.
(Source: Alexmx: 116480121/ 123rf.com)

Printing Color

Historically, these machines have only printed in black. However, there are more and more models out there that allow you to print in red and blue. This feature can be convenient if you need to print labels where a multicolored design is required. That being said, the printing speed should not be affected by this functionality.

Summary

Thermal printers are electromechanical devices whose process relies on heat rather than inkjet. This means that you will make significant savings in printing consumables, as cartridges tend to be expensive. This type of printer is very useful in logistics centers, supermarkets, banks, and small businesses and stores in general where printing receipts or tickets is needed.

While they often only print in black, the latest models are offering a couple of colors more (red and blue). Not only are thermal printers very energy efficient, but they are also very fast, contribute to protecting the environment, and are usually very quiet. They require electric current to operate, although you can now find wireless models.

We hope that you enjoyed our shopping guide on thermal printers. If that’s the case, feel free to share it with your friends and family so others can learn more about them. You can also leave us a comment in the section below!

(Source of featured image: Boonpong: 87163609/ 123rf.com)

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