Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.

Restaurant Receipt Printers: Thermal vs. Impact

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

How to decide which type of receipt printer you need and where you should put it.

Every restaurant needs an efficient point of sale (POS), and the printer is an integral part of that system. Like retailers, restaurateurs use POS printers to print customer and card transaction receipts. But, if your POS system is comprehensive and covers the kitchen and bar as well as front of house, connected printers are invaluable.

What Are the Differences Between Thermal and Impact Receipt Printers?

While both types of printers do the same job, there are a number of important distinctions between them. The biggest difference, though, is the way that they print. Impact models, also known as dot matrix printers, are the more traditional variety. Dot matrix printers have a print head covered in precisely placed pins. These work in conjunction with an ink ribbon to form letters via a series of tiny dots. Most models can print in black and red. Some can also print graphics.

Thermal printers, assuming they're used in the right environment, produce high-quality prints at a fast pace, with minimal noise. This type of printer doesn't use ink and toner. Instead, it uses a thermal head in conjunction with thermal paper. This is paper that's been thermally coated so it's responsive to heat. The heat-generating thermal head makes contact with the heat-sensitive paper to create printed documents. Many models only print in black, but higher-end products offer multicolor and double-sided printing.

Editor's Note: Looking for a POS system for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

Which Type of Printer Is Best?

Which type of printer is best depends on how and where you plan to use it. Impact or dot matrix receipt printers are known for their reliability but are noisier than thermal printers. They are also slower. However, they are the better choice for use in a hot kitchen. Because the paper that resides inside thermal printers is, by necessity, sensitive to heat, the performance of these printers suffers when exposed to the high temperatures and humidity levels of a professional kitchen. Therefore, if you're choosing a POS printer for your kitchen staff to pick up orders, an impact printer is the better option.

If, however, you need a printer to print out customer receipts and card transaction slips, a thermal printer may be the right choice. These printers have a fast output, at up to 20 lines per second, compared to the average of three lines per second for impact printers. Thermal models are considerably quieter than their dot matrix counterparts.

To get the right printers for your restaurant, you should also consider whether you need single-, two-color, or multicolor printing and single- or double-sided capabilities. Budget is also a significant factor in choosing the best printers. If your eatery is concerned with being green or environmentally friendly, opt for green or eco-conscious printers and receipt rolls, which can also result in significant monetary savings over the life of the printer.

Before you make your purchase, check whether the printers you want have the right interface to match your computer system and that you have enough spare ports to accommodate them. Your system will have RS-232 serial, parallel, or USB interfaces. Additionally, while most receipt printers are universal, you need to ensure the ones you choose are compatible with your POS, otherwise they are essentially useless.

What Costs Might You Incur?

As far as initial outlay goes, the more budget-friendly option is impact printers. These models tend to be less expensive per unit. Ongoing costs tend to be higher for impact printers, as it's necessary to purchase ink or toner on a regular basis, whereas thermal models don't use ink and toner.

Thermal printers have fewer moving parts than dot matrix units, so, in theory, they may require less maintenance or part replacement. However, because there fewer moving and easily replaceable parts, if something goes wrong with a thermal receipt printer, it's more likely that you'll have to replace the whole unit.

What Are the Most Notable Brands?

There are an array of brands producing thermal and impact receipt printers, and there are many high-quality models available, regardless of your budget. Epson, HP, Zebra and Star Micronics are among the top brands for receipt printers of all kinds. While some of these are simple and robust, with the basic features you need, others offer double-sided printing and grayscale graphic printing.

How Many Units Does Your Restaurant Need?

Some restaurants manage with one or two receipt printers. However, depending on the size and layout of your restaurant, multiple printers may be a better option. If you've got multiple food and beverage stations, it's advisable to purchase one printer for each station. That way, the bar gets the drinks order, the line gets the hot food orders, and the pastry chef gets the dessert ticket. You'll then obviously need a printer for each cash register or credit card processing unit.

Editor's Note: Looking for a POS system for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free: 

Photo credit: Shutterstock/

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff
business.com Member
The purpose of our community is to connect small business owners with experienced industry experts who can address their questions, offer direction, and share best practices.