Thermal Transfer vs Direct Thermal Labels: The Difference

Effective packaging labeling today is essential to the supply chain and in many cases, it is a mandatory requirement in the supply chain. Regulations surrounding traceability both forwards and backwards in the supply chain have created a whole new set of challenges for manufacturers. There are different types of labels used for different purposes – let’s discover thermal transfer vs direct thermal labels and the difference.


We provide quality labels, inks, and ribbons to support a complete packaging label printers solution and data base software packages to create effective, seamless, and efficient shipping label creation and application.

What are Thermal Transfer (TT) Labels?


Thermal transfer labels are wax, or resin based labels used to produce high quality printing. When printing thermal transfer labels, a layer of ribbon is placed on top of the label at the point of the print head. The print head element heats up and causes the ink that is on the ribbon to transfer to the thermal label, creating the required label.

Benefits of TT Labels:


  • High definition text, graphic, and barcode printing
  • Long life image stability
  • Reduced costs
  • Reduced waste
  • Reliable operation

Common Applications:


  • Durable Product Marking (UL/CUL)
  • Asset tags
  • Wristbands
  • Permanent IDs
  • Multi-weather storage

What are Direct Thermal (DT) Labels?


Direct thermal labels use a chemically treated layer of paper or synthetic material that are typically used for shorter life cycle products. Once the direct thermal label is heated, image or text is printed on the chemically treated paper creating the label. Direct thermal labels are best in environments where there is limited heat and moisture.

Benefits of DT Labels:


  • Quality labels with easy scanning abilities
  • Easy operation
  • Reduced costs
  • Reduced waste
  • High durability
  • Recyclable materials available

Common Applications:


  • Shipping and receiving labels
  • Receipts
  • Barcode labels
  • Event tickets
  • Pharmaceutical labels

Labelling Machinery

Apply Only/Print & Apply Case Labeling

Extremely accurate, reliable and durable, these case label application systems can be added to any production line. These apply/print and apply labeling machines will simplify labeling jobs and improve productivity.


Case Labeling Thermal Transfer Printers

Thermal transfer printing is the process of transferring ink to a package or label using a thermal print head and ribbon. The process produces a high-resolution print that is easy to read. Thermal transfer printers are the optimal printing method for flexible packaging.

Which Do I Need?

Whether you need DT or TT really depends on the type of products and environment you are packaging in. If you are unsure of which type of label you need, it is best to consider bringing on a packaging expert to look at your packaging operation to help determine the right solution for your application.


Need help finding the right packaging solution?


Contact Crawford Packaging today to access our fleet of knowledgeable packaging specialists.