What Is Thermal Inkjet vs. Inkjet Printing Technology?

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In this post, we present to you our findings from a comprehensive study on thermal inkjet vs. inkjet printing technology. Our team got interested in this topic because thermal printing and inkjet printing are poles apart. So we began to wonder how thermal inkjet technology works. Is it a hybrid of thermal and inkjet printing, or it’s altogether different from both? This was the question that drove us to research this printing technology. We have found answers, and we want to share them with you in this post.

What is thermal inkjet vs. inkjet printing technology? Thermal inkjets have a resistor in the ink cartridge, which heats up to form ink droplets and force them onto the print medium. But continuous inkjet printing simply releases ink droplets from cartridges onto the print medium, without the application of heat. Thermal inkjet is a type of inkjet printing technology, but it is different from the continuous inkjet technology used by the common inkjet printers.

As you read on, we will explain thermal inkjet printing inkjet technology in more detail. We will also show you how this technology differs from continuous inkjet printers. There’s so much to learn about thermal inkjet printing technology.

Thermal Inkjet vs. Inkjet

What Is Thermal Inkjet Technology?

Thermal inkjet technology is a drop-on-demand type of inkjet printing. Thermal inkjet cartridges usually have multiple ink chambers. Each of these chambers contains a resistor that generates heat during printing and forces ink droplets out of the cartridge. These printers are used mostly by consumer households, rather than for commercial purposes.

When you are using a thermal inkjet printer, you can switch out ink cartridges whenever you need to change ink color for different printing jobs. You can also install multiple printheads to cater to multiple prints through a network.

We mentioned earlier that thermal inkjet printing is a drop-on-demand type of inkjet printing. In the section that follows, We will explain the different types of Inkjet printing so that you can better appreciate the uniqueness of thermal inkjet technology.

What Are The Types of Inkjet Printing Technology?

Inkjet printing can be divided into two broad types of printing technology, namely drop-on-demand and continuous inkjet printing. The common printers we call “inkjet printers” are continuous inkjet printers. Drop-on-demand printers are further divided into two types, thermal and piezoelectric inkjet printing technologies.

The different inkjet printer types are poles apart functionally, but one thing they all have in common is that they force ink (black or color) from cartridges to print media. Inkjet printers are common in homes and offices. You can also use inkjet printers, especially continuous inkjet printers, for large-scale and commercial operations.

Continuous Inkjet Printing

Continuous inkjet printers are called by that name because the ink flows constantly from the ink tank into the cartridge. During printing, the ink flows from the cartridge into the printing system and is forced out by pressure onto the print media.

Since the ink flows constantly, there is less risk of clogging in continuous inkjet printers. So you can use certain ink types that often clog up thermal and piezoelectric inkjet printers. What’s more, they are faster, but they also cost more than drop-on-demand inkjet printers.

Drop-on-Demand Inkjet Printing

Drop-on-demand printers are so-called because they only spray ink when needed. That makes them better at ink management than continuous inkjets, which often waste ink. Drop-on-demand printing has two types of technologies – piezoelectric and thermal inkjet printing.

Piezoelectric Inkjet Printing

Piezoelectric inkjet printing is best applied for consumer-oriented printing. These printers use heat elements in their cartridges. Heat generation within these ink chambers causes crystals to form and expands the chamber. This expansion forces ink out from the cartridge onto print media, such as paper.

Thermal Inkjet Printing

Just like piezoelectric inkjet printers, thermal inkjets also use heat. But instead of crystals, heat generation causes the formation of air bubbles in thermal inkjet ink chambers. The air bubbles then force ink to drop onto the print medium on demand. This inkjet printing mechanism is arguably the cheapest, and that’s why many consumer households use it.

Thermal inkjet printers use heat application but they are different from thermal printers. Thermal printers don’t use ink cartridges. They only use heat and print only on heat-sensitive thermal papers. While thermal printers are used mainly for printing barcodes and receipts, thermal inkjets have a wider range of applications.

How Does Thermal Inkjet Printing Work?

Thermal inkjet printing releases ink only on demand by rapidly vaporizing the ink in the printer’s cartridges. Each of the cartridges’ chambers contains ink and a resistor coil, which serves as the heating element. The coil, which is situated above the ink, gets hot during printing and vaporizes the ink. As this happens, air bubbles form and force the ink out of the chamber onto the print media.

The printing process of a thermal inkjet printer starts from when you send a file to the printer from printing. When your command gets to the printer’s ink chamber, electric current would be passed to the resistor coil and cause heat generation. The hot coil then transfers heat to the ink below it causes the ink to vaporize rapidly.

As the ink vaporizes, air bubbles begin to form and increase the pressure within the ink chamber. Pressure builds up and forces an ink droplet through the printer’s nozzle onto the substrate. Upon ejecting the droplet, the air bubble collapses thus creating a vacuum, which pulls more ink into the chamber.

✅ Video – Inside HP Thermal Inkjet How HP Thermal Inkjet Printheads Work

This video explains everything you need to know about how thermal inkjet printing works. The details contained in this video blew our minds away! Do you know that thermal inkjet printers can make as many as 150 million to 300 million drops per second? Do you know how many milliseconds it takes thermal inkjets ink droplets to form and drop on the paper? The answer is contained in this video.

What Is The Difference Between Inkjet And Thermal Inkjet?

Inkjet (continuous inkjet) cartridges do not contain heating elements and their ink flows constantly. But thermal inkjet cartridges contain heating elements and only release ink on demand. What’s more, thermal inkjet printers print with a higher resolution than continuous inkjet printers. They are also the more suitable option for HIBCC or GS1 compliant barcodes among other medical and pharma applications. While thermal inkjets are good for consumer environments, continuous inkjets are more suitable for commercial purposes.

Inkjet and thermal inkjet technologies share a few similarities, but they have considerable differences in functionality. They also differ along the lines of costs, maintenance, print speed, and print quality, among other factors. Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between these two mechanisms.


Thermal inkjets have a lower capital cost than continuous inkjets. While you can buy a good thermal inkjet printer for $1,000, you would need about $10,000 to buy a continuous inkjet printer. However, the running cost of thermal inkjets per print is higher than that of continuous inkjets.

Thermal inkjet cartridges are quite expensive. Conversely, continuous inkjets probably have the lowest running cost among all types of ink printers.

Print Quality

Thermal inkjets have evolved rapidly and now offer great print resolutions, even better than continuous inkjets. This is not to say that the print quality of continuous inkjets is poor. Continuous inkjets also offer clean and clear labels. But thermal inkjets offer better print resolutions.

Thermal inkjets can print with a resolution as high as 600 by 600 dpi. The maximum resolution for continuous inkjets is just around 31 pixels.


Both thermal inkjet and continuous inkjet printers are fast and can produce rapid outputs while printing. But continuous inkjet printers are much faster than thermal inkjets. Continuous inkjets have a Rayleigh mechanism which helps break up ink droplets and eject them at a faster rate.

The maximum speed of continuous inkjets averages around 200m of printing per minute. Conversely, thermal inkjets can only print a maximum of about 100m per minute. However, this seemingly little speed is more than enough for the speed requirement of most production lines.


Continuous inkjets typically have a larger size and are hard to integrate into small production lines. Thermal inkjets, on the other hand, have smaller footprints and occupy less space. Thermal inkjets can be portable, a feat that’s difficult to achieve with continuous inkjets. But then, continuous inkjets still offer a bit of position flexibility since they connect with the production line through a cable.


You need to service continuous inkjet printers at least once every year to ensure optimal functioning. You will need an engineer for this task. The engineer will check the printer’s calibration and cable connection. Servicing a continuous inkjet printer also involves changing filters, among other things.

The maintenance of a thermal inkjet printer is less complex because of its cartridge-based design. Each time you replace the cartridge, it’s like you’re adding a new printer. More so, this is an easy and simple task that you can do without the help of an engineer.

Is Thermal Inkjet Waterproof?

Inkjet printing is generally not waterproof because inkjet inks are water-based. This means that water can ruin or smudge your inkjet-printed label if gets wet. One possible solution to this problem is to add a layer of varnish or laminate coating to the label after printing. This should offer some measure of waterproof protection to your label.

Laminating your label of adding varnish to it will secure not only the print but also the label surface. They effectively seal the print off and prevent contact with water. Note, however, that the label material or substrate will still be exposed and can be damaged if the label is immersed or submerged in water.

For an almost perfect waterproof quality, use synthetic media, and add a layer of varnish or laminate after printing on it. Examples of synthetic media include vinyl and polypropylene. These media are water-resistant but paper rolls are not. For more on this subject, you can read our post on “Is Thermal Inkjet Waterproof?”

Related Questions

Is Thermal Inkjet Better Than Inkjet?

Thermal inkjets are better for consumer printing. Also, thermal inkjets are better when it comes to ease of maintenance and print at higher resolutions. And they occupy less space too. However, inkjets are better for commercial printing and have a lower running cost. Inkjets also offer a higher print height and throw distance.

To choose between thermal inkjet and inkjet, you must consider your printing needs and preferences carefully. Other factors you should evaluate include your budget for the upfront purchase and operational costs, as well as the print quality and speed requirement of your production line.

What Is The Difference Between Thermal Inkjet And Laser Printers?

While thermal inkjets, like every other inkjet printer, uses liquid ink, laser printers use dry ink. Thermal inkjets release ink droplets from their cartridges through nozzles. But laser printers use ink toners in place of cartridges. These toners contain electrically-charged dry ink in powdered form.

Thermal inkjet and laser printers both use heat but the type of ink they use is different. The printing mechanism also differs greatly. While the heat in thermal inkjets vaporizes liquid ink, heat in laser printers fuses the ink powder to the paper fibers.

Which Is Better Inkjet Or Laser?

Inkjet printing is better for printing color documents and photos while laser printers are better for printing long-lasting monochrome (black) texts. But then, laser prints often last much longer than inkjet prints because dry ink from the toner fuses to the paper fibers. You can also print color documents and photos with some laser printers, but they are usually very expensive.

Your printing needs will determine the better printing mechanism between inkjet and laser printers. However, you must ensure to get the appropriate paper type for the printer of your choice. Some papers work well with both laser and inkjet printers but each mechanism has specialized papers too. You should not use inkjet papers in a laser printer and vice versa.


Both thermal and continuous inkjet printers play vital roles across diverse industries for rapid printing. They are, however, functionally different and suitable for different applications. If you want a good printer for your consumer household, you should probably get a thermal inkjet printer. But for commercial purposes, a continuous inkjet printer would be your best bet.

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