What is the Difference Between a Thermal and Dot-Matrix Printer?

What is the Difference Between a Thermal and Dot-Matrix Printer?

Thermal and Dot-Matrix Printers are the two most common types of printers used alongside POS systems. While neither is better than the other, the individual needs of your company will help you to determine the best kind of printer for you and your business. Read on to discover how thermal and dot-matrix printers work, which industries they are commonly found in, and which type of printer might be best for your company.



Introduction to Thermal Printers


Thermal printers produce text and images by pushing electrically heated pins against heat sensitive paper (Any Difference Between, 2016). As we delved into in our most recent blog post Can a Thermal Printer Print Color?, Thermal printers are a cost effective solution to create “simple labels, POS receipts, low-complexity logos, information cards, signs, and barcodes" (Hillside Electronics, Oct. 20 2022). Thermal printers are commonly found at self-service gas stations, as well as in many retail and grocery stores (Any Difference Between, 2016).


Introduction to Dot-Matrix Printers 

Dot-Matrix printers produce text and images when pins on a print head mechanism strike an inked ribbon. The ribbon then presses against paper and creates tiny dots that form characters and graphics (Any Difference Between, 2016). Dot-Matrix printers are commonly found in restaurant kitchens, food service stations, and retail stores.



Best Printer for Durability, Reliability, and Cost


When it comes to durability and reliability, both types of printers hit the mark. That being said, many retailers choose to utilize thermal printers, which are quite reliable and sometimes better able to meet the requirements of certain POS systems. Thermal printers are more compact, with fewer moving parts, and thus are built to last. While Dot-Matrix printers have print heads that sometimes break when they snag on their printing ribbons (Staples, 2022), thermal printers have fewer parts that could break and need to be replaced. That being said, the higher durability of thermal printers sometimes results in a higher cost, though prices are generally comparable.



Best Printer for High Quality Printing


Both Thermal and Dot-Matrix receipt printers are capable of printing logos and other graphics alongside normal text, however thermal printers are generally able to produce better graphics. Thermal printers use etching to produce images, which allows for greater detail than the ink in dot-matrix printers (Staples, 2022), although images produced by thermal printers can fade over time (Any Difference Between, 2016).


Dot-Matrix printers have an edge when it comes to smudging, because ink smudges less than etched receipts (Staples, 2022). As POS Highway states in their 2017 blog post, “The print quality [produced by Dot-Matrix printers] will also help improve customer experience since there will be fewer incidences of complaints due to indecipherable blurred texts or numbers (POS Highway, 2017).


Best Printer for Multiple Copies


Dot-Matrix printers are almost always preferable for companies that require two copies of a receipt, such as when a business needs a copy for their records and for the customer. This is an essential function of receipt printers for certain industries, such as gaming applications, where a journal of all transactions is legally required (Retail It, 2022). Multiple copies are also a necessity for credit card verification. The reason why dot-matrix printers are able to produce two copies of a receipt at once is because of the internal pressure mechanism that results in harder impressions, which allows the second (back) copy to come out as clear as the first (top) copy (Staples, 2022). Additionally, dot-matrix printers allow for two-copy printing without any wear on the mechanism (Retail It, 2022).


In order to obtain two copies of a receipt with a thermal printer, you would need to print two separate times, unlike dot-matrix printers where you can simply use double-ply paper and print just once. This process creates additional wear on the printer mechanism and also uses more paper, which can be a costly disadvantage (Retail It, 2022).




Person Bookkeeping with Receipt CopiesHaving two copies of a receipt-- a customer and store copy-- can be useful in bookkeeping for both the business and the customer.



Best Printer for Printing Speed


If you need a printer that can print long receipts at a rapid pace, a thermal printer would definitely be your best bet. Thermal printers can print about 20 lines per second-- much faster than dot-matrix’s printing speed of about 3 lines per second (Staples, 2022).



Best Printer for Quiet Operations

In addition to printing at a much faster rate, thermal printers are also quieter than their dot-matrix counterparts (POS Highway, 2017). A quiet printing mechanism is very important in boutiques and high-end stores where ambiance is a priority. Thermal printers are also generally smaller and more compact than dot-matrix printers (Retail It, 2022), also a plus in high-end establishments.



An Upscale Boutique

 Quiet printer operations is often imperative in high-end shops and boutiques.


Best Printer for Color Printing

While Dot-Matrix printers are not as adept at printing quickly and quietly as thermal printers, there can be no doubt they are the superior choice for those who require dual-color receipts. All modern dot-matrix printers are capable of printing in dual colors depending on the ribbons purchased. Some direct thermal receipt printers are also able to print in two colors if special paper is purchased; however, dual-color thermal paper is increasingly difficult to find. Thermal printers with traditional thermal paper can only print in black. If you’d like more information on the best types of printers for color printing, please refer to Hillside Electronics’ blog post, Can a Thermal Printer Print Color? (Hillside Electronics, Oct 20 2022).



Best Printer for Kitchen Use


If you are looking for a printer to use in your commercial kitchen, look no further than a dot-matrix printer! The reasoning here is all about the paper dot-matrix printers use vs. paper used in thermal printers. In high-heat restaurant applications, the heavier stock of paper used with dot-matrix printers works the best because it will not wilt under the heat of a kitchen. In addition, the paper used in dot-matrix printers absorbs ink faster, reducing fading and smudging, which is especially important in restaurants where cooks and others often handle receipts with greasy hands, which could lead to smudging if using thermal paper (Retail It, 2022).


We don't recommend using thermal printers for kitchen use. As we explain in our blog post, Which Type of Receipt Printers are Best for Restaurants?: “Thermal receipt paper can be sensitive to high temperatures, and hot kitchen lights can cause white receipt paper to turn black” (Hillside Electronics, Oct 5 2022). Retail It echoes, “a thermal printer’s thin paper stock will wilt and smear under extreme temperatures” (Retail It, 2022). There is a type of thermal paper with a top coating that covers the etching so that thermal printers can be used in high-heat settings; however this type of thermal paper can be up to three times as expensive as standard paper (Retail It, 2022).





 Thermal vs Dot Matrix Printers Pros and Cons



Most popular Thermal Printers


Here at Hillside Electronics, we are proud to sell and service some of the most popular and sought after thermal printers out there. Some of the most popular models that we sell new and refurbished, and that our service technicians repair, are the TM-T88V with Serial/USB interfaces, the TM-T88V with Ethernet/USB interfaces, and the TM-T88VI with Serial, Ethernet, and USB interfaces. For more information on these or other thermal receipt or label printers, please give us a call at 413-238-5566 or email us at hec@hec.com



Most popular Dot-Matrix Printers


Dot-Matrix printers are still selling strong, and Hillside Electronics stocks many new and refurbished models. Some of our most popular Dot-Matrix printers are the TM-U220B printer (the gold standard for restarant kitchens), both the TM-U220B with a Serial Interface, and the TM-U220B with an Ethernet interface; as well as the TM-U220D with a Serial Interface. Please Contact Us with any questions about these or other dot-matrix printers. We are here to help you find the printer you need, or to discuss your company’s individual requirements to help you find the printer that will work best for you!


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 hec@hec.com. 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, hec.com!




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