Can a Thermal Printer Print Color?

Can a Thermal Printer Print Color?

Thermal printers are designed to be a cost effective method for creating simple labels, POS receipts, low-complexity logos, information cards, signs, and barcodes. Special thermal printers can print on-demand photos, ID badges, and customizable CDs and DVDs, and more. They are cheap to buy and maintain, easy to use, work silently, and are long lasting (Gorilla Output, 2022). 

There are many different types of thermal printers on the market depending on the type of printing that is required. This post will primarily focus on thermal printers used to print labels and receipts. 

As you will learn in this post, thermal printers are capable of producing color— however, if you are looking for a receipt printer for two-color printing, you will more than likely be better off choosing a dot-matrix model. 


Color Printing with Thermal Transfer Printers

Thermal transfer printers (which are primarily used to print labels) are capable of printing in color according to the ribbon that is inserted, however most can only print one color at a time. Common ribbon colors (apart from black) are blue, red, and green (Barcode Factory, 2021). While there are a few thermal transfer printers available that can print multiple colors along with a black bar code simultaneously, these “process color” printers can be quite costly— often as much or more than $10,000 apiece (Thermal Images, 2022).

Thermal transfer printers work as follows: Heat builds up on thermal transfer printer printheads. The hot printhead then applies heat to ribbon cartridges which contain either wax, resin, or both. The ribbon’s ink pigments melts under the heat and sticks to the paper to create a color print. Thermal transfer printers have color limitations, but are the most widely used thermal printer. The printing technique is simple and cheaper than other thermal printing techniques capable of color printing (Gorilla Output, 2022).

The drawback to thermal transfer color printing is that most labels require a barcode which should be printed in black/a dark color that is scannable. Printing labels twice by lining them up and trying to print in multiple colors can be time consuming and ineffective. Often, companies will purchase labels pre-printed with colorful logos or other consistent information that needs to be present on each label, and then will use a black ribbon for the barcode printing (Barcode Factory, 2021).

 Barcode Thermal Label and Scanner

Some companies order pre-printed labels with colorful logos and company information, and use their thermal printers just to print barcodes


Color Printing with Direct Thermal Printers

While Thermal Transfer printers use a ribbon to produce color, direct thermal printers (the technology used in thermal receipt printers) require the use of special heat-sensitive paper or material. The printer head activates the heat sensitive coating on the given material, forming a black image (Thermal Images, 2022). 

Thermal receipt paper is generally monochromatic, however dual-color thermal paper is also manufactured. Dual-color thermal receipt paper is made up of two different layers, with a certain color on each layer (usually black and red). What color shows up on the receipt is dependent upon the temperature that is applied to the paper. That being said, dual-color thermal paper is increasingly difficult to find on the market. Because of this, we recommend that the average customer use a dot-matrix receipt printer instead for the purpose of dual-color receipt printing.


Epson TM-T88VII Thermal Receipt Printer

The Epson TM-T88VII (pictured) is one model of thermal receipt printer capable of printing in two colors with special receipt paper.

Alternative to Thermal Receipt Printers for Color Printing

Thermal receipt printers are not optimized for color printing; however, all modern dot-matrix receipt printers are easily able to print in two colors. While many thermal receipt printers are capable of dual-color printing (including the Epson TM-T88 series and TM-T90 series), two-color thermal receipt paper is necessary, and can be difficult to find in today’s market. While thermal receipt printers use heat to produce color on special paper, dot-matrix receipt printers use ribbons to produce color. Dot-matrix receipt printers work with traditional and easily accessible receipt paper, making them the superior choice for color printing. 

If you have any questions about whether a dot-matrix or thermal printer is best for your company, please give us a call at 413-238-5566, or email us at, and we would be happy to help you choose the best receipt or label printer for your individual needs! 


Final Note

If you have any questions about the information contained in this post, please feel free to give us a call at 413-238-5566, or email us at And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay up-to-date on new products and promotions available here on our website,! 


Helpful Links:

1. Epson TM-T88VI Thermal Receipt Printer

2. Epson TM-T90 Thermal Receipt Printer

3. Epson TM-T88V Thermal Printhead




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