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Thermal Labels

Complete Guide to Thermal Labels

What are Thermal Labels?

Thermal Labels can be used for barcoding and shipping applications. These labels have a peel and press adhesive backing that sticks to packages, warehouse racks, or storage containers with ease.

Which Thermal Label should I use?

When purchasing thermal labels, it is important to know what kind of labels your printer needs to function properly. Direct Thermal Labels need to be used in direct thermal printers whereas Thermal Transfer Labels need to be used with thermal transfer label printers. However, there are printers available that will print on both label formats. Labels are available in rolls or stacks and in various sizes. Choosing the wrong labels might create a problem with your printer. When in doubt, consult your printer’s manual to determine the correct product to shop for.

How do these printers work?

Direct Thermal Printer (no ribbon required): Thermal label paper is heated as it passes by the print head. Wherever the label heats up the text will appear.

Direct Thermal Label Rolls are perfect for printing event tickets, shipping labels, and bakery or deli labels. These thermal rolls are perforated for ease of use. Not to mention, these labels are printed with Zebra, Sato, and Datamax printers.

Fanfold Direct Thermal Labels can be stacked after printing. Each Direct Thermal Label is perforated for an easy tear. These blank labels have an adhesive backing that sticks to packages and shipping containers with ease.

Transfer Thermal Printer (ribbon required): Label paper is pushed through the printer. A ribbon with hot melt ink is heated as well. The hot melt ink heats up and ‘stamps’ the label with the desired text. Many companies use transfer printers when printing on heat-sensitive surfaces.

Thermal Transfer Label Rolls are ideal for shipping and barcoding applications. Transfer Labels require a ribbon to print. These label rolls are great for printing warehouse tags.

Fanfold Thermal Transfer Labels are widely used within industrial and medical equipment distribution areas. These labels have perforated edges that reduce printing time.  

Colored Thermal Transfer Label Rolls can help identify specific product during shipment. With these labels, companies can color code certain items for their customers. Not to mention, these labels provide a professional appearance to packaging.  

Direct Thermal Label Scratch Test

If you do not know if a label is direct thermal or thermal transfer perform a scratch test. Lay the label on a hard surface and scratch with a pen cap or coin. If the scratch marks turn black due to friction—it’s a direct thermal label.

Direct Thermal Labels are printed with special paper used by thermal printers. This paper is coated with tiny capsules of ink. When heated or scratched, these capsules burst and create an image on the paper.

Use our Thermal Label Chart to discover the similarities and differences between these two labels.


Direct Thermal Labels Thermal Transfer Labels
Light Sensitive Yes No
Heat sensitive Yes No
Stored for long periods No Yes
Ribbons No Yes
Successful scratch test Yes No
Demanding applications No Yes
Temporary applications Yes No
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