Thermal paper bills making life hard for consumers

With many customers unhappy with receipts given in shops and restaurants that fade away too soon, experts say switch to direct thermal printer will help.

Published: 19th August 2017 01:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th August 2017 07:52 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Malar Ravikumar (name changed) is a homemaker who does not get rid of a single bill. She sits down with them every month to budget her household expenses. However, she was in for a rude shock when all she could see were blank sheets of paper staring back at her. The ink on all the bills, that were printed on thermal paper, had completely faded, making it impossible to decipher the text.

Thermal paper is a special fine paper that is coated with a chemical that changes colour when exposed to heat or light. It often leads to the ink on the paper completely fading. It is used in thermal printers and particularly in ATMs, POS (Point of Sale) machines and cash registers at shops and restaurants.

“I am fed up,” Ravikumar says. “Month-end accounting is something I have always done and it has become so hard to do that with these bills. As an elderly person, it gets harder because I can’t make anything out of the faded text. So now, as soon as I get home after making the purchase, I write the amount I have spent and the date at the back of the bill for my reference.”

It isn’t just homemakers who are finding it difficult. Even business people are having a tough time. For Deepak Rajendran (name changed) who runs a company that hires several hundred people and has to pay employees against their claims, these bills are a real bane. “Thermal paper bills are not conducive for business,” says Rajendran. “We often have to reimburse employees for their travel, stay, food and transport. For that, we rely solely on bills and many a time they come back with completely faded bills. It even promotes malpractices.”

In a few states, the Sales Tax departments had advised against the use of thermal paper bills in order to safeguard the interests of consumers. However, many continue to use this paper. This is a huge concern for consumers as bills are integral to stage legal battles or even for something as basic as a warranty benefit.

“Thermal paper bills are a huge nuisance and serve no purpose,” says Sucheta Dalal, senior business journalist and Trustee of the Moneylife Foundation. “With the way the Income Tax department is cross-referencing all kinds of things, one has to be extremely careful and preserve bills as proof for a very long time. As the ink on thermal paper fades so quickly, it cannot be preserved.”

She goes on to highlight that it doesn’t even make for an environment friendly option. “All of us end up photocopying the bill or, at petrol pumps, we routinely demand a hand written bill,” she said. “This completely defeats the purpose of having automated billing attached to printers!”

Restaurants and shops are among the most common users of this paper. A number of shops concede to using thermal paper printers as they are cheaper.

“A lot of shops, especially in the Purasawalkam area which is an important shopping hub use thermal paper,” says C Paul Barnabas, president of the Tamil Nadu Consumer Protection Organisation. “This is an unfair trade practice as bills are always helpful and necessary for consumers. The Sales Tax department has to be more stringent.”

Others are drawn to these printers as they feel the software was superior.  “We used to use regular paper but discontinued that when we upgraded our software,” says Mathangi Kumar, partner and head chef at That Madras Place. “The problem is that most of the best software is only compatible with these printers. But we realise that this is an issue which is why we send e-bills to customers and even keep bills with photocopies ready for our corporate clients.”

However, experts disagree. They say that if people switched from using direct thermal printers to thermal transfer printers, the problem would be solved as the ink doesn’t fade on the latter.

“It is a misconception that sophisticated software is only compatible with thermal paper printers,” says Preethi Ojha Mandal of SATO Auto-ID India, a barcode and Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology provider.

“It is generally used to save cost and space at a retail point of sale counter. There is no major price difference between the thermal transfer and direct thermal printer but people pick the latter as they can save on ribbon costs.”

It is this ribbon that makes all the difference. Mandal explains that thermal transfer printers utilise a thermal ribbon while direct thermal printing does not. Thermal transfer requires the ribbon to create the printed image on the print head whereas Direct Thermal printing requires a heat sensitive label material that comes into direct contact with the print head and then the heat from the elements causes a color change in the material to create the printed image.

What is it?

Thermal paper is a special fine paper that is coated with a chemical that changes colour when exposed to heat or light. It is used in thermal printers and particularly in ATMs, cash registers at shops, restaurants or petrol bunks.

Moving to e-bill

Mohamed Ibrahim, co-founder of Relishious, a Customer Experience Platform for restaurants, says: “We are just accustomed to getting bills. We send customers the e-bill that they can keep for their reference while giving them a a thermal paper bill also.


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