How does a Thermal Printer Work

A thermal printer, as the name implies, mainly works with heat derived from electricity. This technology is mainly found in office fax machines, supermarket checkout counters, barcode printers, label printers, and multipurpose printers. If you want to find out more about how thermal printers work, read on for more details:

  1. Old models. In older thermal printers, a heat-sensitive or thermal paper is used. This paper is fed into the thermal printer; a thermal transfer then occurs as the paper reacts with the printer’s print head. An image is produced as the heated areas turn black.
  2. Newer models. Newer models work with ribbon cartridges, which contain wax-like ink. Paper is fed inside the thermal printer.  Once heat is applied to the ribbon cartridges, the ink melts and forms the desired image on the paper. Color images may also be produced through the use of colored panels (CMY or CMYK). 

Advantages and disadvantages

Two main advantages of a thermal printer would be the relative affordability of the machine and its quietness when printing. However, thermal machines have more disadvantages than advantages: for one, they are considered to be inefficient since too much heat would mean too much ink is used on an image. Aside from the waste, this could also mean that the image would smudge before the ink dried.

Another disadvantage is that the images produced are of poor quality (that is, generally grainy and blotchy), since thermal printers are unable to vary the intensity and dot sizes that make up the produced images.

The thermal paper should also be handled carefully and must be protected from moisture, light and heat. The printer itself requires constant maintenance since the regular use of heat in its mechanism makes it more vulnerable to damage.

All these are reasons that make thermal printers not so widely used as other printer technologies, and why they are considered to be special use printers. However, thermal printers are useful for specific retail applications such as printing labels for CDs or DVDs, barcodes or receipts.


There are many models of thermal printers available today. One example is the Hewlett Packard HP Hybrid Thermal Printer, a solid and compact make that can print up to 59 lines per second and which boasts of a large paper roll capacity; and zebra printers, which are available under high-performance (industrial), midrange, and mobile (handheld and lightweight) models. These mobile printer models are usually available as receipt and label printers.  Other manufacturers that offer thermal printers include Kodak, Samsung, Canon and Brother.

To look for thermal printer model reviews, check out technology websites such as, and

There you have it! This is basically how thermal printers work. If you’re planning on purchasing one, remember that it requires more maintenance than regular inkjet versions; otherwise go ahead and browse through the available user reviews to help you buy the best value for your money.


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