Requirements surrounding label life get back to the heart of the difference between direct thermal labels and thermal transfer labels…direct thermal printed labels simply do not offer the same lifetime as a thermal transfer printed label. An organization must know its label life requirements before considering direct thermal labels.

If the product being labeled could be in the supply chain for an extended period of time or in extreme conditions such as direct sunlight or chemical contact, then the technology used should likely be thermal transfer. For example, building materials are often transported unprotected and stored outdoors. Not a good choice for direct thermal technology. Another consideration would be if the information on the label is extremely critical and must be readable for an indeterminate amount of time. Examples might include pharmaceutical products or hazardous materials. These items should likely utilize thermal transfer printed labels to ensure a long lifetime.

Conversely, if the product has a short life in the supply chain and is not exposed to harsh environmental conditions, then direct thermal may very well be a good choice. Examples of this type product could include fresh meat, dairy products and shipped parcels. Regulatory requirements for privacy of information are another area impacting the use of direct thermal media. In healthcare, patient privacy can be at risk if personal information is available on used thermal transfer ribbon. This has led to an increased use of direct thermal media for prescription labels and patient wristbands, for example.