Thermal printers work in a very different way to inkjet printers or laser printers. The process involves passing paper with a thermocromic coating over a print head consisting of tiny electrically heated elements. The coating turns black in the areas where it is heated. Hence there's no need to buy ink cartridges; you just need to add the paper.
Thermal printers tend to be smaller, lighter and quieter than normal printers. They require less maintenance, and are cheaper to run. Most print in mono only, but some offer color too. All these factors make them a popular choice for printing small items like barcodes, tickets and receipts – making them a must-have tool for those running an online business from home. Thermal printers are also among the best label makers for bulk printing on a budget.
In the article below, we've gathered together the best thermal printers on the market today. They cover a variety of price points and uses, and we give you the essential facts and figures you need to choose the right one for you.
8 best thermal printers in 2022
For most people, the DYMO LabelWriter 4XL Label Maker is the best thermal printer you can buy today. 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 mobile.
If the price of the DYMO LabelWriter 4XL (number one on our list) is too expensive 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, then 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 wider, so won't take up so much space on your desk. And, as the 'Twin' suggests, this printer feeds two separate rolls, so you can send separate print jobs to either one. This can prove a neat timesaver if you'd otherwise be swapping out different rolls all the time.
If you're seeking to print narrow, plastic labels for use around the office, 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 bundled 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 colour, 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 that are particularly good. And we couldn't recommend a low quality thermal printer that's essentially going to be a false economy.
If you want to save money, then, your best bet is the Munbyn Desktop Thermal Label Printer. No, 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.
So where's the catch? Well the print quality (203 dots per inch) isn't as good as the first two models on our list, which offer 300dpi. 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 durability and 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.
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.
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