How Does Receipt Paper Work?

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Many people desire to know how receipt papers work. Our team has in-depth knowledge of different types of receipt papers and how they work. So we have put this comprehensive post together to give you all the details about how receipt paper works?

How does receipt paper work? Thermal papers, which are the most common type of receipt papers, work by generating visible imprints upon heat application from thermal printheads. They contain heat-sensitive dye pigments. Wood-free papers, the traditional type of POS receipt paper, work by accepting ink or thermal ribbons on their surface to create imprints. Carbonless receipt papers, on the other hand, generate visible imprints when pressure is applied upon them.

As you can see, there are three major types of receipt papers, and each type works differently from the others. As you read on, we examine each type of receipt paper more closely and show you how they work.

How Does Receipt Paper Work
Photo by Carli Jeen on Unsplash

How Does Thermal Receipt Paper Work?

Thermal receipt paper rolls work without ink, ribbons, or toners. These papers rely on heat to generate imprints. When the printhead of a running thermal printer applies its hot pins on the paper, the heat-sensitive pigments in it are activated and imprints appear on the paper. Imprints only appear on specific spots where receipt details should appear because the printhead applies heat selectively on the paper.

These papers are called “thermal” papers because they respond to heat. The ink pigments in them are thermochromic (that is heat-sensitive). So as the paper runs through the thermal printer and passes over its hot printhead, imprints begin to appear on it, without ink. This makes it an economic option, requiring just a few inventories.

Where Does The Ink in Thermal Printers Come From?

Since thermal printers use no ink, people often wonder where the ink appears from, and how thermal papers generate imprints. Latent ink pigments that react to heat are contained on the surface layer of thermal papers. The same layer contains color developers (also called the acid matrix). Upon the application of heat, the ink pigments react with the color developer and produce imprints on the paper.

Usually, the color developer does not react with the latent ink pigments because the two are separated by a solid solvent. The heat from thermal printheads will melt this solvent on specific spots, thus allowing the ink pigments to react with the color developer on those spots. The ink pigments are usually colorless until they react with the color developer.

For more on how thermal receipt papers work, you can read our comprehensive post on the subject, titled “How Does Thermal Paper Work?”

Health Concerns about the Color Developers – BPA and BPS

The common chemical developers used in thermal papers are BPA and BPS. These are very potent color developers, but there are certain health concerns about them. BPA and BPS have serious health hazards for both humans and aquatic animals. It affects the hormones of the reproductive system, as well as causes attention disorders in children. It also has strong links with obesity and certain types of cancer.

Meanwhile, thermal papers do not contain enough BPA or BPS to affect everyday customers. They are more hazardous to cashiers and others, who work with them all day long, every day. But because of its obvious health risks, people are gradually shifting away from thermal papers. Scientists are also on top of their game, trying to find other color developers that have no health risks.

✅ Video – Receipt Paper Basics – A Quick Lesson On Receipt Paper

This video from POS guys contains details about receipt papers. Watch as an expert describes plain receipt papers and thermal receipt papers. You will also learn how to differentiate between these two receipt paper types.

How Does Traditional Receipt Paper Work?

Traditional roll papers (also called bond papers, impact papers, or wood-free papers) work by accepting ink or thermal ribbons on their surfaces. To print upon them, you will need standard thermal ribbons (if you are using a thermal transfer printer) or ink cartridges (if you are using an inkjet printer). As the paper passes through the running printer, it absorbs ink or ribbon pigments, as the case may be, and what you get is a clear and well-defined receipt print.

Traditional receipt roll papers are very basic. They do not contain any special layer of ink or dye pigments. But you must be specific if you are buying a traditional receipt roll paper. Some exist in the form of thermal transfer papers, which is the ideal option for thermal transfer printing. And then, some exist in the form of bond papers, which is the ideal option for inkjet printing.

Thermal Transfer Receipt Papers

You can only use thermal transfer receipt papers with thermal transfer printers. These printers also use thermal printheads, but the thermal printheads do not come in direct contact with the thermal transfer papers. Instead, the printheads apply heat to thermal ribbons and melt the ribbon pigments onto the thermal transfer paper’s surface.

Thermal transfer receipt papers work by receiving these melted pigments. While wax ribbons stay on the surface of thermal transfer papers, the papers absorb resin ribbons. This option is not as economical as thermal papers. In the case of thermal receipt papers, you don’t need to spend on thermal ribbons. The only inventory you need for thermal receipt printing is the thermal receipt paper rolls.

Traditional Bond Papers

Bond papers are only useful for traditional printing that use ink cartridges, typically with an inkjet printer. Their surfaces are markedly different from that of thermal papers, and they work differently too. Bond paper surfaces are designed to absorb ink while thermal papers have a slick surface that can’t absorb ink.

As the bond paper passes through a running inkjet printer, the nozzles of the printer’s printhead release liquid ink onto specific spots on the paper. The paper receives the ink and absorbs it to produce receipt prints on those specific spots.

How Does Carbonless Receipt Paper Work?

Carbonless receipt roll papers have a two or three-ply structure and, as such, are the ideal option if you want two or more copies of receipts. The front copy is usually a traditional receipt paper with a coated back while the back (or duplicate) copy has coated front and back. As you print on the traditional paper, the duplicate carbonless paper behind it also creates imprints as a result of pressure.

As the printing process applies pressure on the front copy, the back coating releases crushed microcapsules to the surface of the duplicate copy. The surface of the duplicate copy releases dye pigments, which react with the microcapsules to create imprints.


Watch this video to learn more about carbonless papers. How does pressure create imprints on these papers? What is responsible for the high accuracy of the prints? You will find answers to these and many other pertinent questions in the video below. Click the play button to watch it now.

Related Questions

How Does Receipt Printer Work?

Direct thermal printers, commonly called receipt printers, work by applying heat from their printheads directly onto the surface of thermal papers. While printing is ongoing, the printhead generates heat and its tiny pins become hot. These hot pins will selectively come in touch with specific spots on the paper to create clear imprints on the paper.

Direct thermal printers have no space for ink cartridges or ribbon. The thermal receipt papers only need heat to activate their ink pigments for receipts to be printed. Other common types of printers, such as inkjet printers which use ink, can also be used to print receipts but they are not usually called receipt printers.

Is Receipt Paper Bad?

Thermal receipt papers may be bad depending on how often you’re exposed to them and how long the exposure lasts. Studies have shown that there are strong links between thermal paper exposure and several health problems. This is due to the presence of the color developer BPA or BPS on thermal papers. These chemicals are potentially toxic when there is regular exposure for an extended time.

Some of the health problems implicated with BPA toxicity include diabetes, obesity, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. Experts are still looking for a better substitute for BPA that will have no health risks.

How Do You Know If A Receipt Is Thermal Paper?

The common trick to recognize if your receipt is thermal paper is to perform a scratch test. If you scratch the printable side of a thermal paper, it will produce a dark mark. So scratch the paper and if it produces a dark mark, then it’s a thermal paper.

Scratching a thermal paper produces friction which, in turn, generates heat. The heat from this friction is enough to cause a reaction in the thermal paper and produce imprints.  


We hope that you have learned about the different types of receipt papers and how they work. This knowledge can help you in deciding the best type of receipt paper for your business.

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