FAQ - Alpha Free

Below are answers to frequently asked questions we receive about Alpha Free and direct thermal chemistry.

 About Alpha Free
Why did Appvion develop a phenol free product?
We developed Alpha Free in response to converter customer, end user and consumer demands for a thermal receipt paper made without the use of phenols.
What are phenols?
Phenols are a class of organic compounds that function as a weak acid, such as BPA.  BPA has traditionally been the developer of choice in POS chemistries.  BPA has also been used as a plasticizer in the production of plastic materials as well as in the liner of canned food containers.
Does Appvion use BPA in any of its thermal products?
Appvion stopped the use of BPA in its thermal paper in 2006.  We made that decision after toxicology reports and published studies caused growing concerns about the safety of BPA.  Based on the scientific evidence at that time, Appvion decided to stop using BPA because it was the responsible thing to do.
Why choose Alpha Free over other phenol free papers?
Alpha Free is an industry first – vitamin C has never been used in thermal chemistry. In place of traditional phenol-based thermal developers like BPA, Alpha Free uses vitamin C, a naturally occurring nutrient.
Why did Appvion decide to use vitamin C in its thermal receipt paper formulation?
BPA and other phenols work as weak acids in thermal chemistry.  We found that some organic acids, including vitamin C could be used as a developer in thermal chemistry.  Our use of vitamin C was an obvious choice because vitamin C is well known, well studied, and taken as a nutritional supplement by millions of Americans on a daily basis.
Where is the Vitamin C derived from?
The material is synthesized to control costs and material variability.  The vitamin C that Appvion uses in Alpha Free is the same kind commonly used as a nutritional supplement.
Does the vitamin C that we use contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?
We have not evaluated our product for anything pertaining to GMOs.  While Alpha Free uses vitamin C, which is FDA-approved, the receipts are not designed to be ingested by humans or animals.
 About Recycling and Composting Alpha Free
Is Alpha Free recyclable?
Appvion’s thermal receipt paper is recyclable and does not contain bisphenol A (BPA).  Since other thermal receipt producers use BPA to make their products, people may be reluctant to recycle their receipts.  Alpha Free can be identified as a receipt that you can feel comfortable recycling based on the natural yellow shade of the paper.
Is Alpha Free Compostable?
We recommend recycling our receipts before considering compost. Appvion does not certify to specific standards for compostability, but Alpha Free is made from mostly organic based materials.

Compost policies and recommendations vary from city to city; we recommend you check with your local municipality for their recommendation, e.g., Whole Foods in Denver has worked with their waste, recycling, and compost contractor, Alpine Waste. Based on regulations and guidelines in their area they are actively promoting the compostability of Alpha Free.
 About Direct Thermal Chemistry
How does direct thermal paper work?
Thermal paper is produced by coating a base material, typically paper, with a mixture of colorless dye, coreactant, sensitizer, stabilizer pigments and binders.  Until heat is applied to the paper, the dye and coreactant are separated on the paper’s surface within a mixture of sensitizer and stabilizer.  Heat causes the sensitizer to melt and form the vehicle that allows the dye and the coreactant to combine, react and form an image on the paper.  Once the reaction occurs, the coating’s stabilizer maintains the image by preventing the reaction from reversing itself.
How is thermal paper produced?
Thermal papers are virtually all constructed in a similar way.  Generally speaking, thermal products fall into two main categories:  topcoat and non-topcoat.  Most direct thermal products will have a primer layer between the base paper and the thermal imaging layer.  This helps to improve the efficiency of the thermal layer in the same way as one would prime a wall before applying the paint finish.  The thermal imaging layer is where the image is formed.  This layer is made of a specific chemical formulation that reacts when heat is applied, thus forming the printed image.  Depending on the use of the direct thermal, some products also contain a “topcoat”.  Using a topcoat layer increases the products resistance to chemicals, handling and other materials that may be in the environment which could affect the image quality.
When was thermal paper developed?
The space program in the 1960s demonstrated the United States’ technological and innovative ability.  In the early 1960s NASA needed a printer developed to be used in the Apollo space capsule.  The requirements of that printer were that it had to be the size of a cigar box, and produce a reliable, clean dark image.  NCR Corp. developed the thermal printer and paper to meet those requirements.  Later Texas Instruments took the technology and made small, printing calculators.  Then the Japanese connected the printers to a phone line and developed the fax machine.  Today, the use of thermal paper is the technology of choice for variable imaging especially point-of-sale (POS) applications.  The POS market is a direct result of the performance to cost benefits thermal paper technology provides in terms of speed, reliability and low maintenance, due to the lack of ribbons, or cartridges.  Thermal paper technology is also quiet, has a small footprint, and delivers full graphic capability and high resolution.
Explain how the thermal paper and printer work to make the image.
The print head on a thermal printer contains many small dots or elements.  The printer is like a small electric heater.  The heater generates up to 400° F in a fraction of a second.  The heat transfers to the paper through contact.  The heat melts the material in the thermal paper coating – just like sugar dissolves in water.  The materials react chemically to develop the image on the paper.
What is the difference between direct thermal and thermal transfer paper?
Direct thermal is the printing process that produces a printed image when heat is applied as the paper passes through a thermal printer.
Thermal transfer printing is a digital printing process in which material is applied to paper by melting a coating of ribbon so that it stays glued to the paper on which the print is applied.  This printing process contrasts with “direct thermal” where no ribbon is present in the process.