The best thermal printers are cheaper to run than inkjet printers or laser printers. They're also more portable, reliable, and durable, and tend to run quieter too. And although the quality is relatively low, it's normally quite legible. For this reason, they're often used to print small items like barcodes, tickets, and receipts. They're also among the best label makers for bulk printing on a budget.
Thermal printers 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; you just need the paper.
Below you'll find the best thermal printers on sale today, for a range of budgets. We'll explain the differences between them, and provide the facts and figures you need to choose the right one for you.
Best thermal printers in 2023
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The DYMO LabelWriter 4XL 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 53 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you're looking for a thermal printer for receipts, our top choice is the Epson TM-T20II. It's one of the most popular receipt printers on the market, and for good reason. It's easy to use, sturdy and reliable. Its speed of 200mm per second is pretty decent. It supports printing from Windows, Mac and Linux (although not mobile). And it's nice and affordable too.
This model prints in black and white, on paper that's 3.125 inches wide and up to 230 inches long. Overall, this is a great choice if you're looking for a low-maintenance, low-cost printer for receipts.
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 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.
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.
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