ISG Blog

Thermal vs Laser Printed Patient ID Wristbands

Re-posted with permission from PDC Healthcare and edited.

Technology has transformed healthcare. From mobile monitoring devices in telemedicine to advanced imaging equipment, technology advances continue to improve efficiency, communication, and patient safety. The adoption of EMR systems (electronic medical record) has put tremendous power and knowledge in the hands of caregivers and patients alike, and it has become a central part of modern healthcare. EMR technology continues to evolve and Healthcare IT professionals are responsible for supporting the overall organization and implementing the myriads of on-going updates and upgrades.

Printable patient identification wristbands with barcodes are the common standard in Healthcare. The adoption of barcoded wristbands was heavily driven by Meaningful Use objectives established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Ahead of that mandate, however, many forward-thinking hospitals implemented barcoded patient identification wristbands to ensure positive patient identification and improve patient safety by reducing human errors.

Because implementing a printed barcode patient wristband solution requires deep, technical understanding of the EMR, hardware, and networking, the IT team plays a critical role in assessing any technical gaps and is a stakeholder in selecting the right solution. One of the key early choices to be made when selecting a barcode wristband solution is to decide between using a thermal or laser based print technology.

Thermal Patient ID vs. Laser Patient ID Comparison

The comparison table below provides an overview of the two technologies and the relative benefits of each. Each value analysis team, along with IT, must determine which print technology is a better fit for the overall organization in terms of costs, performance, efficiency, and implementation investments.
If you want to learn more about wristbands EMR compatibility and laser wristbands or thermal wristbands, contact PDC Healthcare today. As the patient identification experts for the past 60+ years, we help healthcare providers determine the solutions that will best fit their unique needs and applications.

 Thermal Patient IDLaser Patient ID
OverviewThermal patient identification wristbands are printed with a dedicated direct thermal printer. Direct thermal print technology is a digital printing process which produces a printed image by selectively heating thermo-sensitive material. There’s no ribbon, ink, or toner required.Laser patient identification wristbands are printed with a laser printer. Laser print technology is a digital printing process that makes a laser beam scan back and forth across a drum inside the printer, building up a pattern of static electricity. The static electricity attracts toner onto the page and a fuser unit bonds the toner to the paper.
  • Thermal wristbands are smooth, pliable, and comfortable.
  • Easy to assemble and apply to patients.
  • Available with adhesive closures or clasp closures.
  • Variety of thermal wristband formats and sizes available for adults, pediatrics, and infants.
  • Laser wristbands vary and may include a fold-over laminate shield, requiring extra assembly.
  • Laminated laser wristbands are stiffer and less comfortable while non-laminated laser wristbands are more flexible and comfortable.
  • Only available with adhesive closure.
  • Variety of laser wristband formats and sizes available for adults, pediatrics, and infants.
  • Print only the labels you need to prevent waste. Requires a roll change or a dedicated thermal printer for labels.
  • Greater variety of label stock for special applications and to withstand harsher conditions.
  • Labels are included on the wristband sheet so they’re printed in a single pass.
  • Paper label stock is less durable and susceptible to damage.
DurabilityVery durable and long-lasting. More durable than laser wristbands. High- quality barcodes allow for high, reliable scanning rates. Material resistant to soap, chemicals, moisture, and bacteria.Laminated shield style laser wristbands are most durable and resistant to moisture, alcohol, and solvents. Non-laminated style laser wristbands are somewhat durable and resistant to moisture, alcohol, and solvents.
Environmental Impact/WasteLess waste as you print only what you need. No toner cartridges to replace or dispose. Long-lasting, thermal printhead may be recycled and meets EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) guidelines. Thermal printing is more energy efficient than laser (which has more moving parts), using 2-3 times less energy.Requires you to print many labels & wristband on the same sheet. Toner and ribbon must be replaced periodically. Laser toner is a class 2B carcinogen that requires special disposal.
  • Compact desktop and mobile options give users the ability to print on demand at point of care.
  • Fast and flexible.
  • Dedicated thermal printers for wristbands or labels at point of care workstations.
  • Larger footprint and weight requires more space and a permanent workstation.
  • Prints wristbands and labels on one sheet, as well as general purpose documents.
  • Printers are not dedicated to only wristbands or labels.
Printing SpeedFast printing speed, no warm-up period for printing wristbands or labels.Most laser printers require several seconds to warm up before printing the first laser sheet.
Printer PerformanceSimple media path prevents paper jams.Prone to printer jams due to complicated media path.
Initial IT InvolvementIT support is required to help install and implement new printers and print formats for wristbands and/or labels using existing hospital information system (HIS) or EMR software.Little-to-no IT involvement needed since existing printers are being used. Drop-in replacement wristband formats available. If a new wristband format is used, IT support will be required.
Capital ExpenseInitial capital expense required to purchase and install new printers. Initial costs dependent upon number of printers required.No capital expense if using existing printers and infrastructure.
Total Cost of Ownership
  • Less maintenance and replacement costs since printer does not require toner or ribbon
  • Uses less energy than laser
  • More maintenance and replacement costs for printer toner
  • Uses more energy than thermal
  • Laser wristbands are more costly than thermal wristbands
  • More printer downtime

Ask Your Local ISG Expert

We know that choosing the right solution, or even solutions, depending on your various needs, can sometimes be complicated, the ISG is in your backyard and ready to help you. Talk to an ISG Expert for advice on the various benefits of specific wristband and/or label products, thermal or laser printed, that will meet your organization’s needs.


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