POS Thermal Printers vs Inkjet Printers

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POS Thermal Printers vs Inkjet Printers

POS Thermal Printers vs Inkjet Printers, Businesses around the world rely on printers every day to print all manner of items, including contracts, receipts, asset management tags, and more.

It’s essential that businesses understand and choose the right printer for their specific needs. An inkjet printer, for instance, may print high-quality photos but lack the capabilities to quickly and easily print barcodes.

This article will examine inkjet and thermal printers, two of the most common types of printers currently available, with information on the pros and cons of each, typical applications, and resources for choosing your next printer.

What is an Inkjet Printer?

Inkjet printers, as the name implies, use ink to print text, graphics, and images onto various types of paper.

These lable printers are most common in homes and small offices, though many commercial printing companies use inkjet printers to produce high-quality brochures, flyers, and other pieces.

How do Inkjet Printers Work?

Inkjet printers spray thousands of droplets of ink onto a piece of paper, where the colors are combined to form an image or text. The colors and sizes of these droplets can be altered to produce sharp, photo-realistic images.

Users can look at the advertised dots per inch (DPI) to gauge the printer’s resolution. The DPI measurement tells users how many tiny droplets can fit along a single inch on the page. A higher DPI means that the printer makes smaller individual dots, and a sharper image.

What are the Advantages of an Inkjet Printer cartilage?

There are many reasons a company might opt for an inkjet printer. Here are some common benefits and advantages of choosing an inkjet:

  • Cost: Inkjet printers, cartridges, and supplies are more widely available—and therefore cheaper—than their thermal counterparts.
  • Image quality: Even low-end inkjet printers can produce nearly photo-quality images.

What are the Disadvantages of an Inkjet Printer?

Inkjet printers aren’t without drawbacks and disadvantages. Here are a few:

  • Image durability: Ink-based images may smudge, stain, and run when exposed to moisture, sunlight, humidity, and routine use.
  • Moving parts: Inkjet printers typically use more moving parts than thermal printers, increasing the chance of breakdowns that require repair or replacement.
  • Reliability: Stickers, signs, labels, and other printed material may tear and peel too often for reliable long-term use.

What is a Thermal Printer?

Unlike inkjet printers, thermal printers don’t spray liquid ink through a nozzle to produce images. Rather, thermal printers use tiny heating elements to activate or transfer pigments.

Thermal printers are used most commonly to create labels, safety signs, wayfinding markers, barcodes, shipping labels, and other heavily-used items.

How do Thermal Printers Work?

There are two distinct categories of thermal printers: Direct thermal printers and thermal transfer printers. Here’s a quick breakdown of how each works:

  • Direct thermal printers use chemically-treated paper that darkens when heated by a thermal print head. Direct thermal printers do not use separate ink, toner, or ribbon supplies. Direct thermal printers are most commonly used to print items such as receipts and shipping labels.
  • Thermal transfer printers use a thermal print head to transfer a solid ink from a ribbon onto a label supply (usually made from vinyl, polyester, nylon, or other thicker materials) to produce a permanent print. Ribbon is usually made from wax, resin, or a combination of the two, and is bonded to the label supply surface with heat and pressure.

What are the Advantages of a Thermal Printer?

There are several reasons to consider a thermal printer for your facility. Here are a few advantages of investing in a thermal printer:

  • Durable: Labels and signs created with thermal printers last longer and stand up to a wider variety of weather conditions than those printed with ink.
  • Versatile: Thermal transfer printers can print documents, labels, and signs that meet various needs, including durable arc flash labels, text- and graphics-based floor marking, and labels meant for extreme conditions such as cold storage.
  • Less maintenance: With fewer moving parts, thermal printers tend to last longer, are easier to maintain, and run more reliably than inkjet printers.

What are the Disadvantages of a Thermal Printer?

For all the good that comes with using thermal printers, they aren’t without disadvantages and drawbacks. Here are a few complications that may arise from using thermal printers.

  • Cost: The specialty materials used in the thermal printing process are considerably more expensive than their inkjet counterparts; even the most basic thermal printer may cost hundreds of dollars.
  • Color choice: Thermal printers print fewer colors, and the high heat limits wax and resin choices; both factors limit color and application options. (For these reasons, users cannot print high-quality photographs with thermal printers.)Despite these disadvantages, Graphic Products offers a Custom Label Service, which allows employers to design unique labels with up to four spot colors.

When Should You Use One Printer Over the Other?

With so many printer choices and label standards, it can be tough to know when one type of printer is better suited than the other.

Use an Inkjet Printer for:

  • Office printing: Use an inkjet printer for basic office print jobs, like contracts, manuals, and emails.
  • Photographs: Thermal printers cannot print high-quality photographs, making inkjet printers the ideal solution.
  • Temporary signage: Print short-term notices, announcements, and reminders designed for short-term use (such as a sign informing workers that a meeting has moved rooms).

Use a Thermal Transfer Printer for:

  • Durable signs and labels: Thermal transfer printers can print signs and labels that stand up to extreme environments and meet OSHA and NFPA requirements, including arc flash labels, marine signage, safety signs, and more.
  • Specialized visual communication: Print magnetized shelving labels, wire wraps, low-light visual communication, and more for applications unique to your facility’s needs.
  • Floor marking: Boost efficiency and safety with custom floor marking signs, which can be modified to create pathways, cordon off areas, and alert pedestrians to forklift traffic.

Thermal Printer Solutions from Graphic Products

Graphic Products has developed a comprehensive line of printers that cater to site-specific needs and help employers meet requirements for industrial labeling and signage. Learn more about Dura-Label industrial label and sign printers.

Graphic Products has produced a Best Practice Guide to Industrial Label Printing, a guide that looks at how Dura-Label thermal transfer printers create labels and signs that won’t fade.

The free resource shows readers how to use a thermal transfer printer, introduces various printers for specific applications, and explains how thermal transfer printers work.

How to choose the right POS or Receipt Printer?

The printer technology for most of us (home/office users), generally boils down to two technologies: laser and ink-jet printing.

However, in the Point of Sale industry, the printer technology has two different dominant choices, which are a great unknown to most novices. The choices in the POS printer technology are : thermal and dot-matrix.

Yes, you heard right, dot-matrix, one of the oldest (if not the oldest) printing technologies in home and office printers, which was long abandoned in the office/home computer industry.

So why are these two choices different in the home/office industry and in the point of sale industry?

First let’s concentrate on the benefits / drawbacks and differences between thermal and dot-matrix and the special needs of the point of sale industry and that will actually answer the question of why these technologies are different in the POS industry comparing to the home/office computer industry …

Thermal Printers are probably almost always the obvious choice for all retail and fast paced establishments that operate under normal circumstances.

Thermal POS printers, print by burning on the paper with a hot printing head. Special thermal paper is used so that the burning has sharp edges and high resolution impressions can be made.

The thermal technology offers these advantages:

– Fast, really fast printing, faster than laser
– Quiet, really quiet printing, quieter than laser
– High resolution, really high resolution
– No need to change the toner or ribbon, no ink to run out of, nothing to replace but paper


Thermal paper is really sensitive to heat (because of its properties to be very responsive to the hot printing head).

So if you work outside, on warmer days or in a kitchen or other high heat environments, the hot temperature will turn your paper black and your receipts will be illegible.

– Only available in black color of printing (the color of the burned paper dictates this limitation)
– The special thermal paper is priced higher than regular paper

Dot-Matrix Printers are the POS Thermal Printers vs Inkjet Printers of choice, in cases and situations where the point of sale system is in a high heat environment or multiple copies are needed with every printout (simply because thermal Receipt printers fail in those cases).
Dot-Matrix POS printers, print by a needle striking a ink-ribbon on the paper.

The Dot-Matrix technology offers these advantages:

– Hot/cold temperatures are not a problem for this printing technology
– Ink-Ribbons are very affordable
– The paper is plain and is very affordable
– Easily prints on two ply paper, so the printouts come out in two copies – for establishments that need two copies of every printout
– Two-color option is available on these POS printers (as well as high range of colors to choose from for the one-color versions).


Slower printing.
– Louder printing.
– Lower resolution.
– The need to change the ink-ribbon when it runs out or the printing color fades.

Here is one common application in the POS business, where both technologies are used: In a restaurant, the front POS System has a thermal POS printer for fast, quiet and high resolution receipt printing and in the kitchen there is a dot-matrix kitchen printer, to combat the heat and humidity and print legible receipts in this harsh environment.

So now that you know these relatively unknown technologies of printing, which dominate the Point of Sale System industry, we can finally answer the question: Why is the POS Thermal Printers vs Inkjet Printers technology different than the one of home/office printers?

We cannot use laser or ink-jet printers in the Point of Sale industry because:

1 It will be hard to fit that complex technology in a small 4x4x5 inches box which is the usual size of the typical Point of Sale printer or receipt printer [the retail space on a checkout counter is very valuable and always short of supply].

2 A fairly busy retail shop or gas station goes through around 380 invoices per day, so 380 receipts per day that translates to roughly 63 pages of letter-size printouts per day.

So a ink-jet cartridge will last 3.5 days in the Point of Sale industry! And a laser toner would last about 31 Days. So purchasing a toner each month or ink jet cartridge every 3.5 days, is a little cost prohibitive.

3 An ink-jet printer would smudge the fresh ink printout, when you hand the receipt to the customer, at the Point of Sale

POS Thermal Printers vs Inkjet Printers

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