What Is Thermal Transfer?

Published by Kinsbrae Packaging


Posted on June 20, 2022

Custom packaging solutions are essential for branding, but how do you know which printing process works best? With today’s advancements in print technology, there are more options than ever for packaging labels, but few can compete with thermal transfer. Whether you are opening a new business or looking to upgrade your existing labels, thermal transfer printing has a lot to offer.

What Is Thermal Transfer?

Thermal transfer printing utilizes heat to adhere text and graphics to a label. The process requires several supplies:

  • Sleeve material
  • Thermal transfer printer
  • Ribbon of resin- or waxed-based ink

Unlike inkjet and other ink printers, thermal transfer equipment doesn’t deposit pigment. Instead, all colours are contained within the ribbon. During the printing process, the ribbon is applied to the packaging, and the printer heats the “ink.” The label and ribbon are sealed together, creating a sleeve of singular durability. Rather than the graphics laying on top of the material, they’re effectively integrated into it.

Thermal transfer printing also differs from direct thermal printing, though both use heat. Direct thermal printing doesn’t use a ribbon — instead, the heat itself “prints” text and graphics. This process requires special label material that reacts to heat, and the results aren’t as crisp or durable as thermal transfer printing. While direct thermal printing has its place, it’s not a top choice for colourful packaging.

What Are Signs a Label Was Printed With Thermal Transfer?

Thermal transfer packaging has a distinct look, as the process leaves the surface glossy. There’s also no smudging or running ink. The lines are crisp, and the colours are vibrant, making them excellent for eye-catching graphics and innovative branding efforts such as QR codes.

Why Choose Thermal Transfer for Your Product?

One of thermal transfer printing’s most significant advantages is durability. You don’t have to worry about ink running or labels getting damaged during shipping, as water won’t impact the readability of text and barcodes. Additionally, they’re incredibly cost-effective so that you can print more, higher-quality labels.

The process is also relatively fast and requires no drying time so that you can generate packaging on short notice. You can even make changes in the middle of printing with minimal interruption. This feature makes it perfect for custom labels with individualized QR or barcodes.

Finally, thermal transfer minimizes waste since there’s no need for liquid ink, which contains ingredients that aren’t environmentally friendly. If your company is trying to minimize its environmental footprint, this type of printing is an excellent choice.

What Kind of Labels Can You Make With Thermal Transfer?

Since thermal transfer is so flexible, you can create a wide range of sleeves. The one caveat is that the label material must be compatible with the ribbon and heat application, but that still leaves you with many options:

  • Synthetic plastic polymers with a petroleum base
  • Non-porous vinyl
  • Polypropylene
  • Polyester
  • Heavy coated face stock

Depending on the material, you can create a tearproof, waterproof sleeve that survives any environment — even the outdoors.

You can even choose the level of adhesive for the backing. For example, if you intend for consumers to recycle your products, you can make the labels easily removable. In contrast, you can choose permanent backing for items designed for use in harsh conditions.

How Can Kinbrae Help You Create Custom Packaging?

Kinsbrae understands that packaging serves several purposes:

  • Protect products
  • Identify brand
  • Communicate nutrition and other facts
  • Make products stand out on the shelf

You need custom packaging labels to deliver all these points while standing the test of time. Fortunately, our team is excited to help. We work with many industries and strive to offer the best packing for your needs. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact us online or give us a call.