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Which Is Better For Labels – Thermal Printers Or Laser Printers?

Timmy Thermal TMWhy thermal printer beat laser printer when printing labels
Timmy Thermal

Is the laser printer the right tool for the job or is its multi-function capability and adaptability cloaking its inability to perform the task at hand?

The use of laser printers has a staple in almost every business. Its multi-function capability and ability to adapt makes it a powerful tool for any business to have. But, is it really qualified for some of the jobs it has the capability to perform? When it comes to label printing the short answer is “no”. The fact that you may already have a laser printer that has the capability to do the job doesn’t automatically make it the solution. The label printing capabilities of laser printers get completely trumped by the capabilities of a thermal printer to a point where it’s almost a crime.labels-thermal-or-laser

The reasons why thermal trumps the laser are extensive so let’s first start with the design. Laser printers are designed with significantly more moving parts and path changes then thermal. With normal printing this really doesn’t matter as much. But with adhesively connected, dual layered media of labels, the extra moving parts and path changes cause for a greater chance of labels peeling up and getting stuck on the printer leading to more unneeded and costly maintenance to the printer. This issue is greatly increased by the use of heat and compression. The heat warms the adhesive and makes it less viscous, thus weakening the strength of the label and causing it to ooze out the sides of the label. The massive amount of compression that is placed during the process can also cause a similar oozing effect as well.

When using a laser printer, there are also added special precautions that you have to manage, such as special toner cartridges, spot adhesives, more frequently maintenance, and special adhesives. These precautions all have a solution, but unfortunately they all have flaws. The special toner cartridges have no positive effects or reliability, and even the details are publicized. The special non-oozing adhesive labels prevent the problem, but also take away permanency of the bond. Even the spot adhesive and more frequently maintenance add unnecessary cost to the equation.

Design flaws aside, how does the laser printer compare to thermal printers? The answer is “not very well”. Even without the design flaws of the laser printer, the thermal printer still trumps laser in the following categories: material technology, material utilization, energy efficiency, space considerations, functionality and durability, mobility, and price.

zebra 220xi4Laser printers require the use of toner limiting you to one printing option. In comparison, thermal printers offer both direct thermal, a low cost target printing technology, or for a higher quality printing solution, thermal transfer. Material utilization also has to go to the thermal printer. The laser printer is limited to printing full sheets of labels. This normally leads to a ton of wasted labels, and that’s not even counting the ones that have to be redone due to mistypes or other mistakes. The thermal printers on the other hand have single, one-off label options allowing you to print only the labels you need.

Energy efficiency comes down to a simple equation and, that is, the more moving parts involved equals more energy used. If you recall from what was stated previously, laser printers have a lot more moving parts as well as path changes, which in turn making it less energy efficient. Space considerations are one of those advantages often over looked. However, in tight quarters, this means everything and the laser printer even fails at getting this category. Laser printers have only really one size, where the thermal printers come in all different sizes, including a desktop size that is about a third of the size of a standard laser printer.

This just leaves functionality and durability, mobility, and price left to cover. In regards to functionality, the thermal printers can print long and continuous banners where the laser printers are limited to sheets. As for durability, a thermal printer can print an element resistant label where the laser printer cannot. Mobility for the laser printer is non-existence, whereas the thermal printer has a line of mobile printing units that will allow for the printing of labels wherever it is necessary. And last but not least, the cost. There is a common misconception that thermal printers cost more than laser printers, when in actuality you can find a decent thermal label printer for half the price of the commonly found laser printers.

There is no denying that a laser printer can be a very powerful asset to any company, and for the occasional label print it will be fine. For any higher volume of label printing, it would be advised to get a thermal printer. When it comes to label printing, the thermal printer is just better, hands downs.

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