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How Do Thermal Printers Work?

how do thermal printers work?Your average home user will probably never own a thermal printer. One of today’s primary uses of thermal printers are in businesses or stores that need a POS (point of sale) receipt printer. Some offices may have thermal technology in their fax machine or MFP.

Thermal printers work in one of two ways, for older models heat sensitive paper is used by placing a roll in a container inside the machine and the end of that roll is stuck into a slot. The heat that has built up in the machine reacts with the heat-sensitive paper and the pigments transfer the image to the sheet.

For newer machines, they use ribbon printer cartridges. Inside of the ribbon cartridge there is a waxy material stored inside. When the printer is in use, paper is fed through the a slot located between the print head and a roller and the heat then melts the substance and sticks it onto the paper.

Despite their reputations as solely special use printers, thermal printing does have some distinct advantages. The first advantage is in the price; thermal printers are fairly inexpensive. Second, thermal printers by and large are easy to use. Usually to run a thermal printer it is just a combination of a few buttons and that’s all. A third advantage is that they are quiet printers so they won’t disturb customers or office co-workers.

Others will argue that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. For one thing, thermal printers are not extremely efficient when it comes to using ink. Because these machines rely on heat to operate, if the machine becomes too hot while in use more ink will come out. This ties into the second problem which is prints that are not always precise. Thermal prints are prone to smudges, even from the heat given off by a person’s fingers can trigger a reaction from the paper. The third disadvantage with thermal printers is the fact that they are almost exclusively monochrome printers. The majority of the ink used with thermal printers is carbon pigmented ink which does not work well with color. For thermal printers to use colors, they utilize more wax based cartridges. The final disadvantage of thermal printers is also related to heat. The high heat used in the printing process can be harmful to the printhead, costing owners money to repair the machine when it breaks down.

About William Elward

Founder of Castle Ink, William Elward has 20 years experience in the printer industry. He's been featured on CNN Money, Yahoo, PC World, Computer World, and other top publications and frequently blogs about printers and ink cartridges. He's an expert at diagnosing printer issues and has published guides to fixing common printer issues across the internet. A graduate of Bryant University and Columbia's Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program, he's held various leadership positions at The College Board, Bankrate, Zocdoc, and Everyday Health. Follow him on Twitter at William Elward's Twitter Profile