Thermal Printers vs Laser Printers – A Comprehensive Comparison

Thermal Printer vs Label Printer

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Businesses have an assortment of printing needs. Some businesses require high-volume, high-speed printing, while others need basic, cost-effective printing. Therefore, to cater to such a diverse range of printing needs, there are many different printers on the market.

Two such categories of printers commonly used in the business world are Thermal Printers and Laser Printers. While thermal and laser printers have their strengths and weaknesses, some key differences will help you decide which printer suits your needs.

In this article, we will delve into the differences between thermal printers and laser printers. We will compare them in terms of the printing process, print speeds, print quality, required supplies, reliability, cost of ownership, and more. We will also give tips to help you decide which printer (thermal or laser printer) suits your business needs.

But first, let’s understand what thermal and laser printers are.

What is a Thermal Printer?

A thermal printer, also called a thermal label printer, is a type of printer that uses heat to print text or images onto a print media. Thermal printers have a thermal print head, a printer component responsible for generating and transferring the heat required for printing.

Please refer to our article on how a thermal printer works for a detailed explanation of the working of a thermal printer.

Thermal printers are of two types – Direct Thermal Printers and Thermal Transfer Printers.

Direct thermal and thermal transfer printers differ depending on the print technology used.

A direct thermal printer uses direct thermal printing technology, which involves printing on heat-sensitive paper (also called thermal label or thermal paper).

A thermal transfer printer uses thermal transfer printing technology, which involves transferring ink from a thermal ribbon to print media.

Check out our direct thermal vs thermal transfer printing guide to learn about the differences between the two types of printing technologies.

What is a Laser Printer?

A laser printer is a type of printer that uses static electricity to print text and images on a print media. Laser printers are based on a process called Xerography.

A laser printer repeatedly passes a laser beam back and forth across a cylinder called a “drum.” This laser beam negatively charges the drum at certain points corresponding to the text or image to be printed.

The negatively charged areas of the drum attract positively charged toner particles. Toner is a powdery substance composed of carbon, resin, and colouring agents.

Once the toner particles are attracted to the negatively charged areas of the drum, the paper is drawn into contact with it. This transfers the toner from the drum onto the paper.

The paper is then passed through the printer’s fuser. The printer’s fuser uses heat and pressure to melt the toner particles onto the paper, forming a permanent print.

Thermal Printer vs Laser Printer - What's the Difference?

Now that you understand what thermal and laser printers are let’s take a look at some of the key differences between them.

Printing Technology

The significant difference between thermal printers and laser printers lies in their printing technology.

A thermal printer uses heat, while a laser printer uses static electricity for printing.

Printing Technology

Print Supply Requirements

Print supply requirements refer to the type of print media and the consumable supplies (like printer ink cartridges, thermal paper, and toner) required for printing.

The print requirements for a thermal printer depend on its printing technology.
A direct thermal printer requires heat-sensitive paper, while a thermal transfer printer requires a thermal ribbon and print media.

A laser printer requires paper and toner cartridges.

Triton is a one-stop shop for all your thermal printer needs. Check out our consumable section to browse through best-in-class printer supplies at unbeatable prices.

Print Speed

In general, thermal printers are faster than laser printers. Thermal printers have a straight path to printing. This means the label or receipt is printed at the same time that it passes under the printhead rather than in a separate step. 

On the other hand, laser printers require multiple steps to complete each printing page. The laser printer also takes anywhere between 1 minute to 15 minutes to warm up and start printing. This causes a delay in printing, which decreases the overall print speed of a laser printer.

Please note that the printing speed of thermal label printers is measured in inches per second (IPS), while the printing speed of laser printers is measured in pages per minute (ppm).

Printing Speed

Print Quality

Regarding print quality, laser printers have a clear advantage over thermal printers.

Generally, standard thermal printers can print at a resolution between 203 DPI and 400 DPI. Some thermal printers do offer a 600 DPI print resolution. However, 600 dpi resolution printers are more expensive and less common.

In contrast, laser printers have higher resolution capabilities, ranging from 600 DPI to 2400 DPI. This higher print resolution allows the laser printer to create sharper images with more fine details and greater colour accuracy than a thermal printer.

Size and Weight

The size and weight of a thermal printer or laser printer depend on its type, design, and intended use.

Laser printers have a small footprint and are lighter in weight than thermal printers. Laser printers can easily fit in any desktop environment and are portable.

On the other hand, thermal printers have a large footprint and are much heavier than laser printers. Thermal printers usually have a rugged and durable design, built-in display, and other features that contribute to their size and weight.

However, some thermal printers are designed to be compact and lightweight enough for portable use. Check out our article on types of thermal printers for a complete overview of the different thermal printer models.

At Triton, we offer a wide range of thermal printers to suit your unique needs and printing requirements. Whether you’re looking for compact and lightweight printers or standard thermal printers, we have everything you need at great prices.

So what are you waiting for? Check out our range of thermal printers today!

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Noise Level

When it comes to noise levels, thermal printers are generally quieter than laser printers. This is because thermal printers do not feature sound-emitting components, such as a fan (which helps maintain the temperature of the laser drum and fuser during operations).

Printer Price

Thermal printers are more expensive than laser printers. This is because thermal printers require more intricate parts and components, such as print sensors.

On average, thermal printers start at around US$400 and go up to US$10,000, depending on the features and specifications.

On the other hand, laser printers are more affordable, starting at around US$100, and can go up to US$8,000 if opted for a high-end, premium printing capability printer. Laser printers are a happy compromise between inkjet printers and thermal printers in terms of price.

Price Comparison

Environmental Impact

Thermal printers have a lower environmental impact than laser printers.

Thermal printers do not require toner cartridges or any components that can release toxic, hazardous fumes when disposed of incorrectly. Moreover, they consume less electrical power than laser printers. Thus, thermal printers are more energy efficient and have a lower carbon footprint.

Added Features

Thermal printers and laser printers both offer a wide range of added features that suit different business needs.

Thermal printers are best suited for industrial and commercial applications. Therefore, they feature a rugged and durable design, in-built processor and memory, display screens, high print speeds, options and accessories compatibility, label printing software, and other features that help them be a good fit for industrial use cases.

On the other hand, laser printers are best suited for personal or office printing needs. They come with added features like scanners, fax capabilities, duplex printing capabilities, Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity options, and more required for day-to-day office printing needs.

What Are the Costs Associated With Thermal Printers and Laser Printers?

As a business owner, one of the primary considerations when choosing a printer is how much it will cost you over the printer’s lifetime.

The total ownership cost of a printer can be categorized into two main components:

  • Total upfront cost
  • Total running cost

Upfront Cost

Upfront cost refers to the initial cost of purchasing a printer, including any additional accessories, upgrades, and installation.

Upfront costs will vary depending on the features, specifications, options & accessories, printer brand (such as Honeywell, Zebra, Datamax, and TSC), and other factors.

In general, the upfront cost of a thermal printer will be higher than the upfront cost of a laser printer.

Running Cost

Running cost refers to the total expenses associated with operating a printer. This includes the price of consumable items such as toner cartridges, replacement parts, maintenance, and repairs.

Thermal printers have a lower running cost compared to laser printers. Thermal printing requires thermal labels or ribbons to operate, which are less expensive than toner cartridges required in laser printing.

Moreover, thermal printers have a longer lifespan, as they are built with materials like aluminium that withstand harsh working environments. They have fewer moving mechanical parts and components, which decreases wear & tear and lowers the need for frequent repairs and maintenance.

With thermal printers, the printhead is the only component that may require periodic replacement (depending on usage). As a printhead comes in direct contact with a thermal label and ribbon, it is exposed to a lot of wear & tear and can degrade over time. In general, a printhead can cost anywhere from US$100 to US$1,000 (or even more), depending on the printer’s brand and model.

Please refer to our thermal printer maintenance and care guide and printhead care guide for tips & tricks on how to extend the lifespan of the printer and reduces its maintenance and repair costs.

Laser Printer vs Thermal Printer - Which One Should I Choose?

When deciding between a laser printer and a thermal printer, it’s important to consider and answer the following questions. 

What Are Your Printing Needs?

The first and most important consideration is to assess your printing needs. You should carefully evaluate your printing volume, frequency of use, and the types of documents that you need to print.

For example, if you need to print barcodes and labels like shipping labels, product labels, identification labels, or asset tags regularly, a thermal printer is the right choice.

On the other hand, if you need to print documents such as reports, letters, pamphlets, or documents with high-quality text and graphics, a laser printer is a better choice.

Do You Need Color Printing?

Considering the need for colour printing is an essential factor to consider.

In general, thermal printers are monochrome printers that can only print in black and white. Check out our article on can thermal printers print colour for more information. 

Laser printers, on the other hand, offer an array of options when it comes to colour printing. Laser printers can print in black and white and in full colour, depending on the printer’s configuration.

What Kind of Print Media do You Need?

Another thing to consider is the type of print media that you need.

Thermal printers are designed to use thermal labels and ribbons, while laser printers accept a wide range of print media types, including thick paper stock, envelopes, letterhead paper, business cards, transparencies, recycled paper, or specialty papers.

What Kind of Environment Will Your Printer Face?

One of the most important considerations is assessing your working environment and how much abuse the printer will get.

Thermal printers are designed to withstand tough industrial and commercial situations. They can easily withstand harsh environmental conditions, mishandling, and rigours of daily usage.

Laser printers, on the other hand, are less durable and reliable than thermal printers. They have delicate parts that can easily break down when exposed to physical abuse and rough handling.


Do You Need Any Specialty Features?

Specialty features refer to the additional features and functions that complement a printer’s core capabilities.

For example, if you need features like automatic in-line cutting, automatic peel & presentation, RFID encoding, and in-built barcode verification, you should opt for a thermal printer.

On the other hand, if you need features like scanners, fax capabilities, duplex printing, or wireless connectivity, a laser printer is a better choice.

What Are Your Budget and Time Constraints?

When it comes to business, time and money are always important factors.

As we mentioned earlier, a thermal printer will generally have a higher upfront cost but lower running costs than a laser printer. Thermal printers also have a faster printing speed, making them a better choice for high-volume printing.

However, a laser printer is always the way to go if your budget is limited or you need higher resolution printed designs.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it – a comprehensive comparison of thermal printers and laser printers.

While thermal printers have some advantages over laser printers, such as greater print speed, lower running costs, and durability, laser printers still have many benefits, such as colour printing options, a wider selection of special features, and more versatility.

Ultimately, the choice between thermal printers and laser printers will depend on your specific needs and preferences. Do your research, assess your printing needs carefully, and choose the option that works best for you.

We hope this blog post has helped you better understand the key differences between thermal printers and laser printers.

Check out our thermal printer buyer’s guide for more tips on choosing the right thermal printer for your needs.

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