There are many brands of thermal printers. Easily the most popular thermal printers are the ones given out by UPS or Fedex for printing shipping labels. Thermal printers are so much more than the little desktop printers that are given away by shipping companies today they can fill very technical rolls in printing environments.
Zebra Technologies currently is the industry leader in terms of distribution, but there are many manufacturers of thermal printers that have better features and price points. Zebra gained a huge market share in 1998 when it purchased the California based company Eltron International. Eltron had the contracts for supplying these small Phone Case 3d Printer to both UPS and Federal Express. With this acquisition Zebra was able to enter the market in the 'Desktop' printer business and get name recognition with every business that shipped product using UPS or Fedex. Zebra was already a formidable force in the 'Tabletop' printer business. Tabletop thermal printers are medium to large size printers that are meant for higher production volumes.
Source Technologies is the new kid on the block. They currently have a product line in the tabletop size of printers that is more innovative and lower priced. With pricing that starts around the industry low to mid end tabletop printers, Source Technologies printers have innovations like touch screen control panel, active print head cooling, automatic print head pressure control, Integrated ethernet adapter and single label calibration. Most programmers are already familiar with PCL-5 because that is the control language used by almost every laser printer made today.
Last year Datamax-Oneil launched the E-class Mark3 line of thermal dual extruder 3d printer. These printers not only print faster in terms of inches per second, they also have a fast CPU and a decent amount of DRAM so they can process the labels and print them out at speeds that compete with tabletop printers. Although Datamax still has some work to do in fine tuning the firmware for some 'Glitchy' behavior, the E-class printer line is the perfect fit for companies that need a small form factor and labels printed fast.
Almost every major thermal company has a line of printers designed for automation systems. In my opinion these printers are overpriced and over engineered. Southern California based company Vanomation has built the LPA1000 print and apply system using a Printronix T5000 series thermal printer. With only some slight modification to the firmware the printer is pretty much the same as the T5000 printers sold to the public. This saves on the implementation cost of an automated thermal printing system by utilizing a product that is already commercially available.