Heat-transfer printing, also referred to as thermal printing, thermal-transfer printing and thermal-wax transfer, uses heat to transfer an image from wax to an object. Thermal-based printing methods work with pre-printed images on a single wax sheet or produce printed-on-the-fly images made by layering wax dye onto an object. Heat-transfer printing can replace or supplement alternative printing methods.
A heat-transfer printer requires a type of wax-based ink ribbon to create an image. The printer works by pressing the ribbon against the printing object and heating the opposite side until the ink melts off the ribbon and transfers to the object. The wax-based ink ribbon can work two ways depending on the printing process. The desired printing image may be inked onto the wax ribbon and applied as is through heat and direct pressure. Alternatively, the printer may use four ribbons — in cyan, yellow, magenta and black — to draw the image during the printing process by layering colors on the printing surface.
Heat-transfer printing is more useful for some printing situations than others. When applied correctly, heat-transfer printing produces high-quality, colorful prints of photo-realistic images, which makes it useful for digital photography prints. Heat-transfer printing works well for adding or customizing prints on fabrics such as athletic uniform numbers. Because heat-transfer prints are durable, they work well when the printed object is exposed to the elements. Heat-transfer printing is a better long-term solution than using direct-thermal printing, which is known to wear out.