Inkjet vs. Laser vs. Thermal: Which is the Right Printer for Your Business?

Inkjet and laser and thermal… oh my! There are so many options when it comes to selecting the right printer for your specific business needs. This blog post will help break down how each of these printers work, as well as the applications for which they are best suited.

Below are the key differences between these three main types of printers:

  • Inkjet Printers

    Many businesses lack the latest color printing technology, requiring them to manually add color to their labels using highlighters or color labels. Inkjet printers offer an easy, cost-effective way to print one label with data and color simultaneously—thereby reducing the time and labor involved. During printing, the inkjet printer deposits thousands of tiny ink droplets onto the paper, where the colors combine to form an image or text.

    Inkjet printers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, as well as water-based pigments, dye-based inks and UV inks. Ideal for moderate- to large-scale printing jobs, the label-specific inkjet printer is typically used by businesses, warehouses and factories. Utilized for its high quality and versatility, the inkjet printer requires the use of either roll or fanfold labels.

    Ideal for optimizing inventory management, color inkjet labels help with visual organization and identification across applications like retail, hospitals and warehouses. Inkjet printers can be used for anything from variable-image paper labels to durable film labels that meet regulatory requirements such as BS5609, which requires labels to withstand three-month marine immersion. Customers can choose from stock and custom inkjet labels in a variety of film and paper facestocks that can be custom printed at the point of application.

    In addition, inkjet labels can be used in situations involving extreme temperature swings. In fact, I.D. Images is one of only a few inkjet label suppliers that use lower-temperature adhesives to withstand below-freezing temperatures and perform at more than 200°F.

  • Laser Printers

    Although the name may sound intimidating, laser printers are one of the simplest printers on the market. The basic principle behind laser printing is static electricity. When a label is sent to the printer, a laser beam “draws” the text and images onto a selenium-coated drum using electrical charges. This drum is then rolled in toner, a dry powdered ink that adheres to the charged image on the drum. That toner is transferred onto the label, then fused with heat and pressure. This is the reason why paper is hot when it comes off a laser printer.

    Often found in small business or retail grocery environments, laser printers are ideal for signage applications such as promoting specials or newly stocked items. While they offer color printing through the use of toner, laser printers are typically outperformed by inkjet printers when it comes to more detailed imagery.

  • Thermal Printers

    Optimally designed for variable information labels and barcodes, thermal printers are highly reliable and versatile when it comes to printing just one label or up to thousands at a time. With the right combination of ribbon and media, thermal transfer printing results in text and images that are highly durable and resistant to smudges or solvents.

    Direct thermal printers utilize special paper—fittingly called “thermal paper”—that is coated with chemicals, which cause the paper to change color when heated. A roller feeds this thermal paper over a print head, which then heats the paper where you want the text or image to show up on the label.

    While thermal printers can be extremely small and portable, they are not able to handle color very well and the print quality is low. However, the maintenance of a thermal printer can be minimal due to the lack of ink cartridges and other moving parts.

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