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Printable Labels Guide: What Printer Accepts My Labels?

on 03/02/2018

Professional-looking printable labels are essential for any business. You need labels for your address, mailings, shipping products, packaging, and branding. Fortunately, printing labels has never been easier! There are a wide variety of printing and label solutions available that meet the needs of large companies, small businesses, and even those running operations out of their home.

The trickiest part may be finding labels that are compatible with your printer. Some label materials only work with specific types of printers. Using the wrong materials can result in unusable printed labels — and could even damage your printer. Either way, choosing the wrong label could cost your business a lot of time and money.

This guide will identify the printable labels and materials that are compatible with the popular printers used today. There are four common types of label printers: inkjet, laser, thermal, and direct thermal. We will look at these label printers and talk about the printable labels that work best with each.

Non-Thermal Label Printers

For companies that only need to label a small number of items each month, non-thermal label printers are a great choice because they’re the most affordable upfront investment. This category of printer includes the inkjet and laser label printers typically owned by small businesses and businesses run out of a home. Let’s take a look at each type of non-thermal printer.

Inkjet Printers

You’ll find inkjet printers in homes and business all around the world. These types of printers work by depositing ink onto the label surface, where it’s absorbed by the material and left to dry.

As a result, inkjet labels are designed to have a porous surface. This allows the ink to be deeply absorbed and more efficiently dried.

In general, inkjet printers and labels are ideal for printing photographs and graphic designs. Inkjet printers also work well with standard white matte, white removable matte, weatherproof matte, brown kraft, vinyl, clear matte, pastel paper, and fluorescent paper.  You can also get white and clear gloss labels that are specifically made to work with inkjet printers.

Keep in mind, though that inkjet printers do not work as well to create weatherproof labels because the inks tend to be water-based and will smudge or run when exposed to water.

Laser Label Printers

Laser printers use heat and pressure to bond toner onto the label surface. To be compatible with laser printers, label materials have to withstand exposure to high temperatures. Otherwise, the labels will be damaged and deformed by the printing process. For example, laser labels need to have a higher moisture content to prevent to paper from drying out and cracking after being exposed to extreme heat.

Printable label materials that are compatible with laser printers include standard white matte, white removable matte, glossy white, waterproof polyester, clear matte, clear glossy, brown kraft, silver foil, gold foil, pastel paper, and fluorescent paper.

Typically, laser printers and labels are also best when you need to produce waterproof labels.

Thermal Label Printers

As your business starts to grow, you will find that laser and inkjet label printers may become more costly and less efficient over time. While thermal printers typically have a higher initial purchase price, they will make up for it in fewer recurring fees and increased printing speeds.

Thermal label printers do not require ink or toner cartridges like inkjet and laser printers. If you’re printing high quantities of labels, this advantages can easily save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a few months.

Moreover, you can get the same quantity of printable labels for significantly less money when you own a thermal printer. Laser printers use only label sheets, and some inkjet printers can use small label rolls. Thermal printers, on the other hand, use large label rolls. In the end, buying thermal labels is more economical, especially for operations with lots of products they need to label.

Thermal printers also tend to offer much higher print speeds. They can print more labels per second than inkjet and laser label printers. Every second counts when processing orders.

Finally, thermal printers are ideal for precise printing needs, such as one- and two-dimensional barcode printing. They’re designed to print with tight tolerances and to produce the exact bar widths that successful barcode printing and scanning require.

If you are a large business with a lots of products to label, a thermal label printer may be your best choice for saving time and money in the long term. Let’s take a closer look at the two kinds available: thermal and direct thermal printers:  

Thermal Transfer Printers

Thermal transfer label printers use printhead elements that heat the backside of a ribbon to melt and transfer the compounds on the front side of the ribbon to the label surface. They’re compatible with a wide variety of media including paper, polyester, and polypropylene materials.

Direct Thermal Printers

Direct thermal printers also use printhead elements. However, unlike thermal printers, no ribbon is used in direct thermal printing. The image or design is directly printed on the label surface.

Direct thermal printers require chemically treated, heat-sensitive media that darken in response to heat. This limits the variety of printable labels and materials that are compatible with direct thermal label printers. Your options include certain specially treated paper and synthetic labels.

How To Determine Your Label Printer Type

Not sure what type of printer you currently own? There are a few ways you can easily find out.

  • Search the Web — The easiest and fastest way to figure out the type of printer you own is to conduct a web search using the printer’s make, model, and SKU number. With one or more of these product identifiers, you will probably find all the information you need to determine your printer type.
  • Check the Printer & Owner’s Manual — Model information and data specs on the printer itself may indicate whether it’s an inkjet, laser, thermal, or direct thermal printer. If you still have the instructions or owners manual that came with your printer, it will indicate the printer type.
  • Rub the Print — For inkjet printers, labels that have just been made will smear or bleed when touched due to the ink still being wet.
  • Feel for Warmth — Laser and thermal printers apply heat to create labels. As a result, your printed labels will be warm to touch shortly after they are created.
  • Inspect the Insides of Your Printer — If your printer has smaller, fewer ink cartridges, you’re using an inkjet printer. Multiple large, bulky toner cartridges indicate a laser printer. If your printer has a ribbon, you’re working with a thermal transfer label printer. The lack of an ink cartridge and ribbon would suggest that you own a direct thermal printer.

If you’re unsure about the type of printer you own and the label materials you should use, call or contact the label experts at LLT Labels.