The Uses and Benefits of Direct Thermal Labels

A thermal label is a product that uses a thermal print head to heat specific areas of the label to transfer relevant information. The most common form of direct thermal printing is a label, but this technique can also be used in printed products such as posters and signs. Direct thermal labels are typically used in places where high volumes of products need to be displayed quickly and efficiently so that shoppers can see them easily, such as in warehouses and retail environments. They have many benefits and uses, which we will discuss throughout this blog.

What are direct thermal labels?

Direct thermal labels are a cost-effective solution to label printing and are used to print high volumes of labels quickly and simply. These labels are popular due to their compatibility with printers that don’t have ribbons, such as printers from manufacturers including Zebra, Toshiba TEC, Intermec & Datamax-O’Neil. Direct thermal labels are usually used more for short-term applications as whilst they are durable, over time they tend to become darker and harder to read due to the exposure to heat and light. These labels have a chemical layer that is applied to a paper or synthetic base, which is then activated by heat. This is how the image is created, through heating up elements on a direct thermal printer which activates part of the chemical layer to create the required image or information for your label.

What are direct thermal labels used for?

Direct thermal labels have many uses, but due to their short-term applications, industries such as hospitality and retail tend to gain the most advantage from them. Direct thermal labels tend to be printed on a regular basis, especially if the information changes frequently. An example of this is addresses, barcodes, product prices and descriptions as they frequently require change or altering. Many of the places and industries these labels are used in tend to not be exposed to high heat or moisture levels after the label has been applied, making them the ideal solution.

The benefits of direct thermal labels

More environmentally friendly labels

Direct thermal labels do not use a ribbon when printing, therefore it’s a much more environmentally friendly process than some other types of printing. This is because it reduces the amount of non-recyclable waste and by-products. Also, as they tend to have a lighter shipping weight than the alternatives, their carbon footprint is also lower.

Time efficient

As there is no need for a ribbon with direct thermal label printing, the time it takes to produce the labels is greatly reduced. This allows extra time to focus on other important tasks rather than wasting time on reloading the printer or adjusting settings.


Some ribbon printers can cause issues such as wrinkling or sizing, so using a solution that doesn’t require a ribbon printer eliminates these risks. Thermal printing can be simple, more compact and requires less physical inventory space.

Greater productivity

Once setup, the process for printing using this method can essentially be automated, simply input the new price or information and then leave the printer to do all the work. Thermal printing can therefore provide much greater productivity within your business, giving your staff more time to focus on important areas of business.


Just like integrated labels, direct thermal labels have multiple uses from tickets, address/shipping labels, pricing and more. However, they can be used for more than just simple labels, they’re able to be used as barcodes too. Therefore, these labels are useful to keep on hand for numerous uses.

The drawbacks of direct thermal labels

Fading over time

Direct thermal labels only tend to last 6-12 months due to how quickly they fade over time. When exposed to too much heat they start to fade. That’s why they’re much better suited for items that will need changing more regularly or will be stored in colder temperatures, such as retail for the use of labelling in the chilled and frozen food areas.

Unable to withstand long exposure

Thermal labels are unable to withstand exposure for long periods of time. This discolours the material, making the label harder to read, therefore these labels are better suited on products that need changing more often or in less hot and bright environments.


This blog has covered the benefits and uses of direct thermal labels, as well as some careful considerations. Now you have all the information needed to make a decision on if these are the right solution for your business labelling needs. If not – don’t worry! We also provide a large range of printer labels that could be perfect for you.

Got a question?

If you have any questions and still aren’t sure on the best solution for you, get in touch with one of our expert Zoo Keepers – they’ll be happy to guide you in the right direction. You can contact us by calling us or leave us a message, as we’re always happy to help.