Know which Zebra label fits your business. Many people might think they know all the differences between direct thermal and thermal transfer labels, but we’ve found that some people still get them mixed up. It is very important to understand the advantages and identify which label better fits your business’s needs so that you can operate more efficiently.

Direct thermal labels do not require a ribbon to print, making it ideal for applications in which confidentiality is critical. Direct thermal media is coated with a heat-sensitive layer that is imaged through direct contact with the print head. This process uses heat to start a chemical reaction within the label itself and the result is a pattern of black dots forming text, barcodes, or graphics.

Thermal transfer labels are great to use in environmentally demanding applications, where labels must stand up to conditions such as heat and sunlight. Thermal transfer printing technology uses thermally sensitive ink ribbons to produce bar codes that are both visible light and infrared scannable.

Each method uses a thermal printhead that applies heat to the surface being marked. Direct thermal printing uses chemically treated, heat-sensitive media that blackens when it passes under the thermal printhead, while thermal transfer printing uses a heated ribbon to produce durable, long-lasting images on a wide variety of materials.


  • Direct thermal printing produces sharp print quality with good scannability.

  • Direct thermal is ideal for applications requiring only a short shelf life — meaning the label image does not need to last very long.

  • Direct thermal printers are simple to operate compared to most other print technologies because there is no ink, toner, or ribbon to monitor or replenish.

  • With no supplies to replace other than the material to be printed, long-term maintenance costs remain low.

  • With recyclable materials available, direct thermal printers offer an environmental economy.

  • Direct thermal printers are typically built more durably than dot matrix or laser printers, allowing reliable operation in industrial as well as office applications.


  • Thermal transfer delivers crisp, high-definition text, graphics, and barcode print quality for maximum readability and scannability.

  • Thermal transfer printing produces long-life image stability.

  • Thermal transfer enables batch or single-label printing with virtually no waste.

  • Long-term maintenance costs are low compared to dot matrix, inkjet, and laser printing.

  • Thermal transfer technology can print on a nearly unlimited variety of media stock (except multi-form).

  • Thermal transfer printers are typically built more durably than dot matrix or laser printers, allowing reliable operation in industrial as well as office applications.

ValuTrack offers a full line of high-quality and cost-effective Zebra direct thermal and thermal transfer labels. Let us help you out in figuring out which thermal label application best suits your business needs. For more information contact a ValuTrack specialist at 877-484-8187 or [email protected]. We ask. We listen. We solve.

Labels and Supplies

Explore Barcode/RFID Labels and Printing Supplies

Barcode/RFID labels and printing supplies impact everything in your organization from printhead lifespan to operational efficiency. That’s why ValuTrack provides hundreds of pretested labels and supplies from all the major vendors such as Zebra, General Data, and Metalcraft to ensure optimized and consistent printing performance.