difference between TTO and laser marking

The Difference Between Laser and Thermal Printers

Laser marking and thermal transfer overprinting technology are two digital print coding methods that have enabled incredible efficiencies on process lines. The type of printing system you choose will vary based on the type of material on the product you are manufacturing and your own constraints for process and budget.

You can learn more about how each technology works and what the best use might be by reading our short, helpful guide below.

What Is Thermal Transfer Overprinting (TTO)?

Thermal transfer overprinting, or TTO for short, uses a system of transfer ribbons and a thermal printhead to apply inks to various types of non-rigid packaging.

The way TTO works is similar to a traditional “press” printing system. Large rolls of ribbon containing dry ink, a carrier substrate, and a rugged back coating provide the main ink transfer apparatus. Small sections of these ribbons are heated with the thermal printhead, which liquidizes the ink in a specific pattern, such as a product logo and SKU code. The ribbon then makes contact with the package, transferring the ink, which is usually then cured to ensure a stable bond.

TTO printing is ideal for flexible packaging, such as plastic wrappers, foil pouches, and thermoform plastic. The system uses direct contact, so it is usually installed alongside with the final packaging stage of the process line. Resolution is sharp, and process speed can be adjusted to improve quality or keep up with a rapidly moving production line.

Manufacturers most commonly use TTOs in situations where the flexibility of the material would cause issues for traditional inkjet or laser toner printing systems.

What Is Laser Marking?

Laser marking, unlike laser printing, uses bursts of controlled high temperatures to quite literally burn and etch the surface away from a material. Laser marking is used on materials that do not hold traditional inkjet or laser toner inks very well, such as plastics, metals, certain finished woods, and more. Laser marking can also be used upon cardboard and other less durable materials, although a dedicated inkjet system may be more cost effective.

The speed and design abilities of a laser marking system are actually quite impressive. A design can be rapidly etched in without making contact while still retaining full use of the 2D space. Codes, logos, and even graphics like QR codes can be imprinted onto materials in a permanent, legible way. Because the process does not require contact or drying, materials can be marked at nearly any stage in the process line.

Which System Should I Choose for My Process Line?

The choice between TTO and laser marking depends completely upon the products and materials used on your process line. TTO is most common for smaller items, usually with flexible packaging, although three-dimensional items like pharmaceutical bottles sometimes utilize TTO.

Laser marking is more commonly used on construction materials or equipment components like monitor bezels. Materials are often large and bulky, although once again smaller items like pharmaceutical bottles may be marked to indicate expiration date and SKU.

You can decide which system works best for your budget, output needs and process by consulting with one of our industrial manufacturing coding experts, who can review your operations and help you select the perfect equipment.


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