How Long Do Thermal Labels Last?

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Both vendors and customers often wonder how long thermal labels last. These labels sometimes contain barcodes, vital information, and important receipts, among other things. There is so much to know about the lifespan of thermal labels. In this article, we will tell you everything we know about this subject matter.

How long do thermal labels last? Unused thermal labels remain viable for 3-10 years after the manufacture date when kept in proper conditions. But after you print an image on the label, the image should be legible for about seven years provided you print with the right equipment and store it properly. But with the way most people handle thermal labels, they often last for only about six months.

The lifespan of your thermal labels largely depends on how well you store and handle them. Used or unused, you must keep thermal labels in the right condition and handle them properly for them to last long. As you read on, we will show you how to properly store and handle your thermal labels to increase their durability.

Why Thermal Labels Don’t Often Last Long

The typical lifespan of thermal printed labels (6 months – 2 years) is far less than what manufacturers indicate (7-10 years) because most people don’t follow the manufacturers’ guidelines in storing and handling thermal labels. Most people handle thermal labels carelessly and don’t protect them from sweat, mostly from the palm. Also, many people don’t pay attention to the recommended storage conditions for thermal labels.

Here are a few general recommendations to increase the lifespan of your thermal labels.

Shelf Life

Manufacturers recommend that for long shelf life of ten years, you should store your thermal label in a dark storage area with a 45-65% relative humidity. You should also keep thermal labels away from light as much as possible. And the temperature of the storage area should be lower than 77°F (25ºC).

These storage conditions will keep the label in optimum conditions for a minimum of three years. Anything short of these conditions would reduce the shelf life of your thermal label.

Image Life

As soon as you print on a thermal paper, your printed image or information should remain on the paper for about 7-10 years. But for the document to last that long, you must file and store it properly. The proper storage conditions are the same as that of unused paper. You should keep them in areas with 25°C or lower temperatures and a 45-65% relative humidity. Besides, you should take heed of fade resistance recommendations.

Storage ParameterAppropriate Conditions
AreaCool and dry
Relative Humidity45 – 60%
Atmospheric Temperature25°C (77°F)
ExposureAway from sunlight, water, and other contaminants

Light Exposure

Thermal labels often use co-reactant and dye technology to create images. This combination can’t withstand intense light exposure. Even the light bulb in your office can damage your thermal papers if the exposure is long enough. Short UV light exposure (under sunlight) could cause mild damage to thermal labels, while prolonged exposure would cause discoloration.

Contraindicated Materials

To make your thermal labels last longer, you should keep them away from the following substances.

  • Organic solvents, such as alcohol and ketones
  • Cleaning fluids
  • Petroleum solvents
  • Plasticizers
  • Certain types of carbon paper
  • Certain oils
  • Diazo wet-type copy paper
  • Paper solvents
  • Tributyl phosphate papers
  • Ammonia
  • Water

Thermal papers generally have little to no resistance against these substances. However, some thermal labels have specialty top-coating that gives them some sort of resistance. However, even if your thermal label has specialty top-coating you should still avoid prolonged exposure to these contraindicated substances.

Which Type of Thermal Label Lasts Longer?

Thermal transfer labels are better for printing long-lasting labels. The images they produce are more durable and can withstand scratch and various elements better than direct thermal labels. Also, thermal transfer labels made with BOPP (Bi-Oriented Polypropylene) last much longer than those made with ordinary paper. And those printed with synthetic media last longer than BOPP labels.

Thermal Transfer Printing Lasts Longer

Thermal transfer printers produce more durable and superior quality images and prints. They are also compatible with different types of durable label substrates, including BOPP. So if you want a label that would remain scannable for a long time, you should choose thermal transfer labels.

Some thermal transfer print materials can withstand extremely cold temperatures of -40°F to -80°F, as well as extremely hot temperatures of about 1000°F.

With Thermal transfer labels, you have a wider range of options that have longer shelf and image lives. These include Synthetic media. What’s more, most direct thermal printers can’t print on synthetic media. They only print on paper media.

Why Do People Still Use Direct Thermal Labels If They Fade Faster?

Unlike thermal transfer printers direct thermal printers don’t need thermal transfer ribbon cartridges. The only maintenance cost for direct thermal printers is when you have to change the printhead. And you might only need to do this once every ten years. More so, the printers are portable and only take up little space.

Vendors who desire to run their business on a low budget prefer to use direct thermal printers despite their obvious lifespan limitations. They are very prone to damage when exposed to light and heat. After a while, the label starts darkening gradually until the image eventually fades off completely. Even when the image is still visible, scanners might only be able to read the label for six months after printing.

Direct Thermal Labels Are Sometimes Good Enough

Six months is long enough for several applications, including shipping labels, receipts, tickets, and identification slips. So, direct thermal labels are not that bad after all. The application you need the label for would determine which kind of label you should use.

If you intend to create a more permanent print, you should go for thermal transfer labels. They are ideal for making asset tags, certification labels, product identification, and diverse forms of outdoor applications. 

Benefits of Durable Thermal Transfer Labels

Business owners should opt for these long-lasting label types. As s business owner, filing your sales receipts will be free of unnecessary hassles when you invest in durable label types. You will save yourself from problems and embarrassment when the tax man shows up.

Customers also benefit from durable labels. So long as label receipt remains in good shape, customers can easily claim rebates, item returns, and extended warranty. Note, however, that even the best label type in the world would not last long if you don’t store it properly.

Many business owners know the benefits can come with using long-lasting labels. But the use of the less-durable direct thermal labels is still prevalent because direct thermal printers sell for a cheaper price, and it doesn’t cost much to maintain them.

How to Differentiate Between the Two Types of Thermal Label

If you already have a thermal label and you’re not sure if it’s a direct thermal label or a thermal transfer label, a simple way to find out is to perform a scratch test. To do this, place the thermal label on any hard surface. Then run a hard object or your fingernail across it in a back and forth movement. This test creates a black scratch on direct thermal labels but does not affect thermal transfer labels.

The scratch test creates a black scratch on direct thermal labels black because the labels have a special paper stock formulation. Direct thermal paper is coated with heat-sensitive material. Upon heat exposure, the microscopic ink capsules in these papers burst and create an image. When you scratch the paper, you would burst the ink capsules manually. That’s why the label would turn black.

While direct thermal labels use special heat-sensitive substrates, thermal transfer labels use ribbons. As such, they require no specially treated paper. Thermal transfer printers even accept more label types aside from paper, including polypropylene and polyester. When you scratch these materials, they do not turn black.

✅ Video – How to Determine Direct Thermal vs. Thermal Transfer Labels

In this short video, RighterTrack explains that the scratch test might sometimes give you a false negative. The video goes further to demonstrate how you can solve this mystery. Watch this video to see how else to differentiate between direct thermal and thermal transfer labels.

Related Questions

Will Laminating A Thermal Label Prevent Fading?

Laminating a thermal label will not prevent it from fading ultimately, but it can extend its image life. The laminate can act as a transparent shield that provides deflection from UV rays. It also guards the label against general damage due to wear and tear.

The laminate film also prevents elements, such as dust particles from damaging thermal labels. This alone can add to the label’s lifespan. What’s more, laminate adds a polished look to the label and makes it appear more professional.

Can You Restore A Thermal Label After It Fades?

You can restore a faded thermal label by applying dry heat at a low temperature. One way to do this is to blow heat from a dryer at arm’s length distance. Make sure to set the dryer on “lowest heat” so that the entire paper will not turn black.

Too much heat will turn the entire paper black and you will completely lose the receipt. But low heat will only make the faded areas reappear. So make sure you use this tip with great caution.

Do Thermal Printers Wear Out?

All printers, including thermal printers, will wear out eventually even if it takes a long time. The first part to wear out is usually the printhead. But this usually takes about ten years to happen if you take care of the printer properly.

All printheads have a lifespan. But the lifespan is not gauged in years. Instead, it is gauged in the volume print done (in million inches). So the volume of printing you do will determine how long the printhead will last.

But then, the print volume is not the only variable that determines the lifespan of a printhead. Printheads are delicate, and they could damage if you do not take good care of them or do proper servicing and maintenance.


The lifespan of thermal labels is a dynamic topic. Many factors can affect how long a thermal label would last. But with the information in this article, you should be able to make your labels last longer. More importantly, you should be able to decide what type of label is ideal for your intended operations, long-term or short-term.

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