Thermal printers are types of printers that print using carefully controlled heat generated by the print head. There are two types of thermal printers. Direct thermal and thermal transfer printers. Direct thermal printers, as their name implies prints directly on to the media. The media has a chemical coating that changes color with the heat of the print head. Thermal transfer printers use a ribbon that makes contact with the print head and the media. To create an image the heat from the print head is “Transferred” through the ribbon melting the ink in the pattern generated by the printer. The ribbon usually consists of a plastic lining that is coated ink on one side. Thermal transfer ribbons can come coated inside, or coated outside depending on the make and model of the printer the ribbon is used with. The ink is usually made of a wax and/ or resin. Wax ribbons are good for printing on natural paper media. Resin blended ribbons are usually reserved for printing on synthetic media that is very smooth. The higher the resin content the more smudge resistant the printed media will be. Since both of these printers rely on precise temperatures to create an image, both print technologies are affected by very cold conditions.
Direct thermal printers have an advantage when it comes to printing in cold conditions. Since the print head makes contact directly with the media, it can tolerate temperatures a little colder than thermal transfer printers can. Direct thermal printers can work in temperatures in the low 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In contrast, thermal transfer printers may have print quality problems below the mid 40 degrees Fahrenheit temperature range. Most thermal printers will give a low head temperature warning. If the temperatures are not below freezing levels, the printer will warm up at it starts printing. If the temperatures are below freezing levels a space heater or portable warming lamp can be placed to face the direction of the thermal printer. You do not want to put a heater too close to the printer or turn the heat too high because metal parts could concentrate the heat and do more harm than good. A distance of 4 to 6 feet away should suffice. In addition, a target temperature in the 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit would be good for cold weather days. Just warm enough is better than too warm. If the printer is being used in an environment that is refrigerated, a box can be obtained or created to maintain an environment for the printer separate from the outside refrigerated environment.
If thermal printer print quality is important in cold conditions, make sure to keep it in its normal operating temperature range.