Our top picks↴
1. Best overall: LabelWriter 5XL
2. Small labels: LabelWriter 450
3. Narrow plastic labels: PT-P710BT
4. Quick labels: Polono PL60
5. Best color: Brother VC-500W
6. Best value: Munbyn Desktop
7. Easiest: Brother QL-1100
8. Best for volume: Zebra GK420d
9. Premium labels: Rollo X1040
How to choose
How we test
The best thermal printers don't need ink, so they're cheaper to run than inkjet or laser printers. They're also compact and portable, reliable, and durable, and tend to run quieter too. That makes them a good choice for small items like barcodes, tickets, and receipts. They're among the best label makers too.
They work by moving thermochromic-coated paper over a print head that's packed with tiny electrically heated elements. Where the coating is heated, it changes color. So there's no need for ink cartridges; just the paper.
Although the quality is poor compared to a normal printer, and usually black and white, it's normally legible enough for the specific purposes detailed above. To help you find the right one, we've brought together the best thermal printers available today below.
Our top picks
This thermal printer is easy to set up, reliable in use and offers high 300dpi print quality at an affordable price.
Read more below
This cheaper printer will print the smaller 2.3 x 7.5-inch shipping address labels that are suitable for USPS.
Read more below
Best thermal printers in 2024
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The best thermal printer overall
The DYMO LabelWriter 5XL Label Maker is the best thermal printer for most people. It's easy to set up, reliable in use and offers high 300dpi print quality at an affordable price. You get speeds of up to 62 labels a minute, and you can print labels up to 4 x 6 inches in size.
It's nice and compact, too, so it won't take up too much space on your desk, and it's light enough to carry around on trips. The main potential negative is that while you can print from a Windows or Mac computer via USB, you can't print from your phone or tablet.
The best thermal printer for small shipping labels
If the first printer on our list is too pricey for you, you can save some cash by opting for a cheaper model, the Dymo LabelWriter 450. It won't print the 4 x 6-inch shipping labels you need for Amazon, but if you're happy with the smaller 2.3 x 7.5-inch shipping address labels that are suitable, for example, for USPS, you'll be fine. And you'll still get the same high print quality of 300 dots per inch.
The 450 Twin Turbo is also faster than the 4XL, at 71 labels per minute, plus it's slightly less wide, so won't take up so much space. Plus, this printer feeds two separate rolls, so you can send separate print jobs to either one. This can be a neat timesaver if you'd otherwise be swapping out different rolls all the time.
The best thermal printer for narrow plastic labels
If you want to print narrow, plastic labels, we recommend the Brother PT-P710BT. It uses the company's TZe tapes, which are available in up to 60 different colour and size combinations, and in widths of 6, 9, 12, 18 or 24mm (1 inch).
You can print from both desktop and mobile devices via Bluetooth or USB 2.0, and the software makes it easy to create customised labels including barcodes, images, logos, symbols and frames. You can even spellcheck your text before you print it.
The printer itself is beautifully compact, and the price is very reasonable too. Admittedly, the 180dpi print resolution it provides isn't the highest, but at this size of label, that doesn't really matter that much.
The best thermal printer for quick labels
This printer can be used to print postage labels for most major shipping platforms, from eBay to Amazon, as well as 4 x 6 inch stickers. It offers some smart features including automatic label calibration, is quick to install, supports label widths from 40mm (1.57 inches) to 118mm (4.65 inches) and can fire out 72 labels a minute. Overall then, it's relatively affordable, yet still produces high-quality labels, fast. So if you regularly mail items out as part of your business, we'd highly recommend it. Note, though, that it's not wireless.
The best thermal printer for color
If you want to print in color, check out Brother's VC-500W, which is good for printing labels, in 9mm, 12mm, 19mm, 25mm and 50mm (2 inch) widths, and up up to 50cm long. The print quality, at 313 dots per inch, is excellent. You can print from Windows computers, Macs, and mobile devices. And you also get a 5m label roll and a cleaning roll included free.
The best thermal printer for value
Looking for the best cheap thermal printer? Unfortunately, there aren't any current models under $100 we can recommend. So your best bet is the Munbyn Desktop Thermal Label Printer.
It's not mega-cheap, but it is a bit more affordable than most, and it does have a lot to offer. This well-made thermal printer allows you to print labels up to 4 x 6 inches, and you can print from Linux and ChromeOS, as well as Windows PCs and Macs. Speeds are fast, too, at 72 labels per minute. You can even print in color.
On the downside, the print quality (203 dots per inch) isn't as good as the first two models on our list, which offer 300 dpi. But otherwise, this is a darn fine thermal printer and excellent value for the price.
The best thermal printer for easy use
Looking for something easy to use? Compatible with Windows and Mac, and integrates with Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook, the QL-1100 has a Plug & Play feature that makes it easy create and print labels without having to install software. The device also detects the size of the tape in the machine and automatically adjusts the onscreen template. Offering 300dpi resolution and able to print up to 69 labels per minute, it all adds up to a great value thermal printer for the price.
The best thermal printer for volume
The Zebra GK420d is another good choice for a small business needing to print a lot of labels. Well, as long as you're using Windows because it doesn't support other platforms. Designed for frequent use, this is a well-built workhouse for churning out address labels, file folder names, barcodes, binder labels, name tags, and more on a large scale; up to four inches wide.
Admittedly, its resolution of 203 dots per inch isn't the highest on our list, but it should be good enough for most purposes. And anecdotally, people seem to find this printer very reliable and consistent in practice.
Premium choice for shipping labels
If you need to print a lot of 4-by-6-inch shipping labels, this wireless, monochrome thermal printer does an excellent job. As well as a USB port, it offers Wi-Fi printing via iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows, Chromebook, and Linux. And speeds of up to 150mm/s are decent too.
The accompanying Rollo Ship Manager allows you to organise all your shipping within one interface, and offers discounts on shipping too, although note that these are with USPS and UPS, but not FedEx. Also note that the printer itself is on the pricey side.
What is a thermal printer?
A thermal printer doesn't use ink cartridges or toner like normal printers. Instead, it uses heat to print on special paper coated with heat-sensitive material. This type of printer is often used in point-of-sale (POS) systems, ticketing machines, portable printers, and label printers.
Thermal printers can print quickly and quietly, and are more cost-effective than normal printers over time because the special paper is usually cheaper than ink. You also don't have to worry about clogged nozzles. However, the quality of reproduction is conversely lower.
How does a thermal printer work?
The thermocromic-coated used by thermal printers is coated with a heat-sensitive material that changes color when it is exposed to heat. So as the print head applies heat, the part of the paper it touches reacts by changing color. The intensity of the heat, as well as the duration of the exposure, determines the color and intensity of the image or text it prints.
What are the different types of thermal printer?
There are two main types of thermal printer. The first are direct thermal printers, which use heat to blacken a special type of paper. This type is typically used for short-term applications, such as shipping labels and receipts, because the print can fade over time. They are pretty cheap and easy to use. The other type are thermal transfer printers. These printers use a ribbon that melts and transfers ink to the paper, creating a more durable and long-lasting print. For this reason, they're typically used for applications where the print needs to last longer, such as product labels and ID cards. They are also more expensive than direct thermal printers.
How to choose the best thermal printer
Choosing the right thermal printer involves considering several key factors to meet specific needs and preferences. Firstly, what do you want to print: receipts, labels, barcode, or something else? Also consider the size of labels, receipts, etc you require. Secondly, What resolution do you need? Higher res printers will offer clear and crisp output, but will also cost more, so you have to strike the right balance for you there. Also think about whether print speed is important, what connectivity options you require, and what systems and software the printer needs to be compatible with. ensuring the chosen printer accommodates the necessary dimensions.
How we test the best thermal printers
We put the best thermal printers through their paces to ensure they deliver what they promise. In doing so, we assess print quality, examining resolution, clarity, and consistency across various printing tasks, including labels, barcodes and receipts. We'll measure print speed to ensure it matches the promised specs, scrutinise the connectivity options and check they're compatible with popular software, and evaluate the durability and robustness of printers, subjecting them to stress tests to simulate real-world usage.