Thermal printing applications span a wide range of opportunities for companies looking to improve their packaging supplies. These printers offer portability, speed and capabilities to create high quality, vibrant labels that are both sturdy and visually appealing.

Modern thermal printers can produce color labels and flexible packaging — without ink, toner or ribbons. How is this possible? It is accomplished by the implementation of thermal imaging technologies such as those created and patented by the ZINK Zero Ink printing system, which is currently available for various packaging applications.

ZINK technology and thermal paper (a unique substrate) are available from the privately held ZINK Holdings LLC. ZINK's dive into the realm of packaging supplies rests upon its major accomplishments in the consumer marketplace. For multiple years now, brands like, HP and LG have implemented ZINK’s technology in mini photo printers designed for consumers (such as the HP sprocket).

Recently ZINK decided to partner with Brother International Corp, whose VC-500W compact multi-color printer was launched shortly after the 2019 CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada. This device, which utilizes ZINK’s zero ink technology and thermal substrate, prints dazzling multi-color digital imaging and text on labels with ZERO drying time. 

The History of Zero Ink Technology

While it’s becoming all the rage in labeling applications today, ZINK's zero ink technology dates back to the '90s. "ZINK, or "zero ink," is a color printing technology for digital printing devices that does not utilize ink cartridges and does single pass printing.

This technology and the thermal paper used in the machines are developed by a U.S. company called ZINK Holdings LLC. The company has offices in Edison, New Jersey, and Billerica, Massachusetts, in addition to a manufacturing facility in Whitsett, North Carolina.

ZINK Holdings produces all the thermal paper for the devices featuring their technology and licenses said technology to other companies who are developing printing and imaging machinery. 

This technology started as a project inside the Polaroid Corporation in the 1990s, which, in turn, created ZINK as an independent company in 2005.

In addition to their use for labeling, zero ink printers are also used to print photos as seen in Hewlett-Packard's Sprocket Printers and related devices.

HP however, is not the only company producing printing devices with ZINK's zero ink technology. Dell, Canon, LG, Polaroid, Lifeprint and Brother are other options for these devices.

Zero Ink and Thermal Tech In Labeling Applications

Professional-grade thermal printers are made to produce high volume printing in rough environments. 

This rugged equipment can output content including barcodes, text and imagery on labels and tags at super-fast speeds 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Applications for these devices include item labeling, package labeling, shipping and etc. Some even utilize RFID technology for smart label applications.

The printers mentioned above have been around for years and while based on essentially the same technology, prior to ZINK's advancements, direct thermal printers could only produce two colors. You could print in black and a subsequent color — the most commonly chosen option often being red, which made for a high contrast visual aspect.

Direct thermal printing is a digital printing process that allows for the production of a printed visual by carefully heating a specialty substrate called coated thermochromic paper, or just thermal paper as it is known in most organizations.

When the substrate moves over the thermal print head, the coating on the thermal paper turns black in the areas where it is heated, producing a visual impression on the substrate. Two-color direct thermal printers can print in black and an additional color (most commonly red) by applying heat at varied temperatures.

ZINK's thermal printing technology is not limited to two colors and offers an impressive array of stunning visual dynamics that prior to said technological advancements, were not possible.

That being said, not all packaging labeling applications require what ZINK has to offer and traditional thermal options may be more cost effective.

Furthermore, when considering purchasing a thermal printing device, consider the differences between direct thermal printing and Thermal Transfer Printing as well as what is most important for your business from color options to consumable costs.