People don’t think of printers as “cool” gadgets. They are a bit boring and notoriously unreliable. Plus, they require expensive toner to print anything. Did you know that there are printers that don’t need ink? They are called “thermal printers”.
You have probably seen a thermal printer in your daily life without thinking twice. They are mainly used by businesses, but there are many very affordable thermal printers available online. The technology is pretty cool and it might be useful to you.
What is a thermal printer?
There are several types of printers, but in general they work by applying liquid ink or powder-based toner to the paper. Thermal printers don’t actually apply anything to paper. Instead, the paper itself is what makes the image appear.
A typical printer needs to replace the ribbon or cartridge when the ink or toner runs out. Since a thermal printer does not apply a substance to the paper, only the paper itself needs to be replaced. This makes them easier and cheaper to use.
Thermal printers are everywhere around us. They are used to print airline tickets, retail receipts, shipping labels, bank receipts, and much more. Many fax machines in the 1990s also used thermal printing technology, but have since been upgraded to laser or inkjet.
Businesses love thermal printers because they are compact, easy to move, print quickly, and are cleaner and cheaper to use. If you’ve ever wondered how UPS prints your shipping label so quickly, it’s thanks to a thermal printer.
How do thermal printers work?
There are mainly two types of thermal printers: “direct thermal” and “thermal transfer”. We are talking specifically about thermal printers direct here.
The printers a transfer Thermal use ink in the form of ribbons (rolls of ink-coated material). The ribbon is heated at specific points, which dissolves the ink substance on the paper. The thermal printers direct they do not require any form of ink or toner.
A direct thermal printer has a “thermal head” that generates heat. This thermal head heats special paper in specific places as it flows. Each point that heats reveals the dye impregnated into the paper.
Since the paper itself is what contains the dye, the quality of the prints can be somewhat limited. Most thermal paper contains only black dye, which is useful for printing basic things like recipes and bullet journals. Prints also fade over time, so they’re not ideal for long-term projects.
An exception is a printing technology called “ZINK “, Which stands for Zero INK. Like other direct thermal printers, Zink printers use thermal paper. However, “Zink Paper” has several heat sensitive layers with cyan, magenta and yellow dyes incorporated.
By precisely controlling the temperature and length of heat pulses, Zink printers blend the different layers to reveal their colors. A short burst of high heat activates the yellow, a long burst of low heat activates the cyan and now that “pixel” appears as green. Pretty awesome.
Another thing that affects the quality is the DPI (dots per inch) of the thermal head. The more “dots” on the head that can be heated, the higher the resolution. A basic thermal printer might have 200 to 300 DPI, while a Zink printer will be much higher than that.
Use the thermal printer for personal use?
Thermal printers aren’t just for business use. While it is true that thermal printers are primarily used by businesses, there are many great options for consumers. Many of these printers are for creating labels, but they can do other cool things as well.
Will these thermal printers replace your inkjet or laser printer? Probably not, but they can serve a useful purpose. The fact that you never have to worry about ink or toner is a huge plus. As long as you have paper, you can print. Who said printers couldn’t be cool?