Do You Need a Thermal Printer for Shipping Labels?

Do You Need a Thermal Printer for Shipping Labels? Thanks to modern technology, you can print shipping labels without leaving the comfort of your home. However, some people don’t make use of this opportunity because they think that they need to buy a special thermal printer for shipping labels first. Do you really need a thermal printer to print shipping labels at home or can you make do with a regular one?

First things first: let’s figure out what a thermal printer is. There are two main types of thermal printers: direct thermal printers and thermal transfer printers. Direct thermal printers are used to print on special paper with a thermochromic coating that changes color locally when heated above certain temperature. Thermal transfer printers use a special wax- or resin-based ribbon that is melted onto the paper and stays glued to it. Shipping labels printed using a thermal transfer printer are more resistant to abrasion, moisture, and sun than those printed using a direct thermal printer.

Thermal printers have a number of benefits over inkjet and laser printers when it comes to shipping labels. They produce high-quality and durable images on various media, which is important when you print anything with a barcode that will be scanned repeatedly.

Another benefit is that thermal printers can print on adhesive stickers, whereas laser printers can break down due to adhesive bleeding from adhesive-backed media. Finally, thermal printers have less moving parts than inkjet printers, which means that they are less likely to break down and therefore have lower maintenance costs.

For these reasons, many e-commerce businesses use thermal printers to print labels for orders they ship to customers. However, even the most basic thermal printers are more expensive than inkjet or laser printers, plus the materials used in the thermal printing process (thermal paper or ribbons, depending on the type of printer) cost more than ink, toner powder, or regular office paper. It makes no sense to invest in an expensive piece of equipment that requires expensive materials when you only need to print shipping labels a few times a year.

Fortunately, we have some good news for you: while you can use a thermal printer to print shipping labels, you don’t have to. Postal and courier companies, as well as most third-party shipping label platforms, allow to print shipping labels on office paper using a regular inkjet or laser printer and then affix them to packages using self-adhesive label pouches or clear packing tape.

So, not owning a thermal printer shouldn’t stop you from printing shipping labels at home. You can use whatever kind of printer you have at your disposal, although a laser printer is more preferable than an inkjet printer since ink is prone to smudging and is less water-resistant than laser toner. If you have to use an inkjet printer, you should let the ink dry before affixing the label to the package, as well as make sure that the label is protected from the elements.

Keep in mind that most shipping labels are smaller than regular letter-sized or A4 printer paper, so you’ll probably need to cut the label out before attaching it to the box. If the box is small and the label doesn’t fit on its address side, you can scale the label down a little before printing; it’s better than folding the label over the edge of the box, as long as the barcode is clear and scannable.

By the way, you can print shipping labels yourself even if you don’t have a printer at home or in your office. Shipping label platforms allow to download labels as PDF; once you’ve downloaded the file, you can email it to a friend who has a printer or take the label to the nearest print shop or public library, where you can have it printed for a small fee.