What Is A Barcode Or Thermal Printer?

We all recognize a barcode when we see one, but knowledge of the barcode or thermal printer behind that prints these barcodes is less common.  Think of the last time you purchased cold cuts from a local delicatessen or supermarket and saw the barcode label sealing the package, this label was printed on a barcode / thermal printer.

Package meat label

Ever order something through the Internet and receive it in labeled box?  These shipping labels were printed by a barcode or thermal printer as well.

Package with label

In a nutshell, thermal barcode printers take blank or partially preprinted labels and print variable information on them which often includes a scannable barcode.

So what is a Thermal Transfer or Barcode Printer?

A Thermal Transfer printer is sometimes referred to as a barcode printer; which is a non-impact printer that uses heat to register an impression on paper or a thin film material.  A thermal transfer printer has a print head containing many small resistive heating pins or cells that on contact, depending on the type of thermal transfer printer, melt wax-based ink onto ordinary paper or burn dots onto special coated paper.

sato printer
A microprocessor determines which individual heating pins are heated to produce the printed image. The print head spans the entire width of the paper or medium to be printed on. Thermal transfer printers are popular for printing bar codes, labels, price tags, and other specialty print jobs. There are two types of thermal transfer printers: direct thermal and thermal transfer.

  • Direct Thermal Printer: A direct thermal printer prints the image by burning dots onto coated paper as it passes over the heated print head.  Direct thermal printers do not use ribbons. Early fax machines used direct thermal printing. The paper has a special coating that turns black when heated.
  • Thermal Transfer: This type of printer uses a thermal transfer ribbon that contains wax-based ink. Heat is applied to the ribbon using a thermal printhead (same as in a direct thermal printer) that melts the ink transferring it to the paper or film substrate (labelstock where it becomes permanent). A typical thermal transfer ribbon consists of three layers: the base material, the heat melting ink, and the coating on the print side of the base material. The ribbon type will vary depending on what you need printed.

There are countless applications for thermal printing from healthcare to ticketing.  We here at Apogee Industries service more of the B2B applications such as manufacturing, warehousing and shipping / distribution applications.

sato logo

Apogee is an authorized distributor for SATO thermal printers.  SATO is a Japanese brand printer that is recognized as one of the best in the world.  They are considered as the “Toyota” of thermal printers, with a worldwide brand and outstanding value with unsurpassed dependability.

Apogee goes beyond providing thermal printers:

• Installation help:  Apogee will install, set up and train you on your thermal printing needs working with you directly or with third party integrator.

• Service & Repair: Apogee not only sells parts, we are one of the few label companies to repair and refurbish your printer.

• Spares: If you are stuck and can’t afford downtime we will swap you a spare while we fix your old printer.

• Label Recommendation and Printing: Since Apogee is primarily a label printer we will help you make the best decision on your label or tag needs – we KNOW what works!!

Everything Barcodes: Barcodes, Barcode Labels, and Barcode Label Printers

Barcodes have come a long way from a simple UPC (Universal Product Code), invented in the 1960s. The adoption of the Universal Product Code, on April 3, 1973, transformed bar codes from a technological curiosity into a business juggernaut. At that time, everything was run through the register by hand. Fast forward in time and now retailers use scanners to capture the coded information from the label. Additionally, packaging and labeling printers have overcome improper bar scanning issues that were commonplace in the past. Now there are visual and automated checks performed on-press to ensure that the barcodes are readable and accurate. At Apogee we inspect on press and off press with scanners and barcode checkers to verify accuracy and quality. The problems from the past have been eliminated.

bardcode 1d
Single Dimension or Linear Barcode

Barcodes are used in many applications with the most common being linear barcodes that are scanned with infrared scanner, and are part of the UPC’s on most packages, from shampoo to soda. Other barcodes are used for product tracking, such as work-in-process (WIP) inventory in production facilities or factories.
Label printers print everything from common UPC labels for food & beverage products, to 2d & 3d barcodes, as well as QR (quick read) codes that are sometimes sequentially numbered for asset management and logistics shipping.

2D & 3D Barcodes
2D & 3D Barcodes











If you are looking to label retail products with a barcode, you have to get your own UPC code. The UCC (Uniform Code Council) must be contacted and they will assign you the info that you need for the UPC. Once you have this information, Apogee can import this into software to generate UPC and other types of barcodes to drop into the label. If you are looking to create barcodes yourself, Apogee is an authorized reseller of thermal printing and barcoding systems. We can consult with you on the best barcode printing system for your application.

Apogee printer
SATO Brand Thermal Label Printer

Barcodes have become so ubiquitous we don’t even notice them and they are not too hard to understand. Apogee can help guide you by understanding with the type of barcode application and environment that the product will be used in, as a starting point towards making the best solution choice.