Finding the right label maker
Label makers print neat, easy-to-read text for file folders, pantry shelves, storage boxes and anywhere in your home or office where organization is a plus. Most label makers now build in options for text size and style -- italic or bold, for example -- as well as punctuation and symbols. Some can even print decorative icons and frames, making them a favorite tool for scrapbooking.
Labels are available in a wide array of materials including magnetic labels that are ideal for whiteboards and fabric iron-on labels. You can find label cartridges in various colors, including metallic, for both background and text. Computer-connectible label makers expand your options even further, with fonts, graphics and templates limited only by your computer and Internet access. Still, some experts say a simple label maker that's easy to use might serve you better than a model with all the bells and whistles.
Most moderately priced label makers print at a resolution of 180 dpi, so some letters show a slightly jagged edge. In most sizes, though, text is very easy to read. Keyboards come in two basic types: The computer-style QWERTY layout is best for anyone who can type or text well while an ABC layout is designed for kids and inexperienced typists.
Although Epson manufactures a pair of stand-alone label makers, the Brother and Dymo brands dominate the market with models that cover a wide price range. However, Dymo offers the very least expensive label maker, an old-style manual model with which you turn a wheel to select each letter. More modern thermal-transfer label makers from both brands are much easier to use and come in several handheld, desktop and computer-connected styles. You can find models in both brands that will print fabric iron-on labels for clothing, as well as labels that are either permanent or removable. Your choices are more limited if you want to print magnetic labels for whiteboards, refrigerators and file cabinets.
Considering the size and type of labels you'll want to print -- as well as where and how often -- will make it easy to match a model with your needs. Although label makers vary in features, each has specific advantages and drawbacks, so your best choice depends on your priorities and which drawbacks you can live with. In naming our Best Reviewed picks we consider ease of use, versatility -- including the ability to print on different label media -- and value, plus how well the label maker holds up over the long haul. Experts review a few label makers, but more extensive feedback can be found in user reviews at sites such as Amazon.com and Staples.com.
Best Label Makers
Best Dymo label makers
The Dymo LabelManager 210D Kit (Est. $50) strikes a good balance between versatility, performance and value. The kit includes the label maker and adds an AC adapter, case, two tape cartridges and a set of batteries. The Dymo prints durable but removable labels in three widths: 0.25, 0.375 and 0.5 inch. Owners posting reviews at retail websites like the 210D's computer-style QWERTY keyboard, and that it provides a choice of bold, italic, outline, underline and shadow styles. The use of Dymo D1 labels is another plus; contributors say their design, with a backing that's split down the middle over the entire length of the tape, simplifies the job of removing that backing when the tape is ready to be used. This task draws the ire of users with almost all other types of label tape.
The Dymo LabelManager 210D can print mirror or vertical text, and up to two lines of text on the two wider labels. Labels can be previewed, but some owners complain that the display could be easier to read. For on-the-go use, you can ditch the AC adapter and use six AA alkaline batteries. The label maker is also available on its own (Est. $40), but owners say the kit is a better buy. Most add that despite its many options, the LabelManager 210D is intuitively easy to use.
Although a QWERTY keyboard is an advantage for anyone used to it, kids and non-typists may prefer the letters laid out in alphabetical order, in an "ABC" layout. The handheld Dymo LetraTag Plus LT-100H Personal Label Maker (Est. $30) is one option. Its labels that are only a half-inch wide, but it can print on an assortment of label media. That includes magnetic labels -- useful on whiteboards, refrigerators and file cabinets -- metallic labels, plastic water-resistant labels, plain paper labels for file folders and fabric iron-on labels. However, it does not use the Dymo D1 tape used in the well-regarded Dymo LabelMaker 210D, and owners posting comments at Amazon.com and elsewhere say the tape backings can be tedious to remove. Some quality issues are also noted.
Old-style embossing label makers are still around, but they don't get good reviews. The Dymo Organizer Xpress Pro (Est. $15) earns a low overall rating from Amazon.com owners, with many complaints about letters being malformed and label tape jamming.
Best Brother label makers
Brother label makers draw some user complaints about wasted tape material and label backings that are hard to remove, but the P-touch PT-D200 (Est. $40) has some advantages. It can print 12 mm iron-on fabric clothing labels, plus extra-narrow 3.5 mm labels that can fit the spines of CD cases. Like Dymo's label makers, the Brother PT-D200 can print vertically and in a choice of text fonts and styles. It draws an Editors' Choice award at PCMag.com, but owner feedback is mixed. Its rating at Amazon.com is fairly mediocre, with the usual complaints about the Brother feed mechanism that leaves a wide margin on each label and wastes tape material. However, the DT-200 gets twice as much feedback at Staples.com and a higher rating; about 88 percent of users say they would recommend the PT-D200 to a friend.
If you want the ultimate home label maker that's loaded with options and label templates, consider a dual-function model such as the Brother P-touch PT-2730 (Est. $80) . Dual-function label makers print from your computer but can also be used as stand-alone handheld or desktop label makers. The computer connection can simplify and speed labeling, since you can use the bigger keyboard and a greater variety of label templates. It can print labels in six widths, from the narrow 3.5 mm up to about 1 inch wide. Labels can be auto-formatted and a date/time stamp is optional, which is good for labeling leftovers, for example. It can also print bar codes.
The PT-2730's backlit display earns top scores for readability, and it comes with a large assortment of templates and automatic formats, with more available as downloads. The P-touch PT-2730 is compatible with both PC and Mac computers, and comes with an AC adapter, USB cable and software. It can print up to seven lines of text on one label. You can narrow or widen letters, and adjust the position of text on the label. It automatically cuts labels, but also earns some criticism for wide margins and wasting label tape. Still, it gets generally good user feedback, a positive professional review at About.com and an Editors' Choice award at PCMag.com. It has a two-year warranty.
If you want a simple budget label maker with a QWERTY keyboard, consider the Brother P-touch PT-90 (Est. $20) , which can print labels in 9 mm and 12 mm widths (0.354 and 0.47 inch). This label maker takes the No. 1 spot in Good Housekeeping's article on the best tools of all time. Editors praise it as easy to use, noting that it "will help you label boxes, folders, and canisters alike." Owners generally give it positive reviews with one caveat: It only runs from batteries, and goes through those at a fairly brisk clip.
Best Epson label makers
While Brother and Dymo offer lots of different label makers with widely differing capabilities and prices, two largely similar models from Epson may be worth considering. The Epson LabelWorks LW-300 (Est. $30) is a good budget choice. It can print in 14 fonts and 10 font styles on up to two lines on tapes up to a half-inch wide, plus store up to 30 frequently used labels in memory. The step-up LabelWorks LW-400 (Est. $40) includes specialty print modes such as double-sided label tabs, bar codes and wire wraps. It can print up to four lines on tapes up to 3/4-inch wide, and has a two-line backlit display.
User reviews are generally very positive, though not without some caveats. Epson claims that there's less waste with its label cartridges than with competing brands, but some owners report that label materials are relatively pricey. Some say label quality is acceptable but not always the best. PCMag.com compares the LW-300 and LW-400 to the Brother P-touch PT-D200, and names the latter an Editors' Choice. Tony Hoffman prefers the user interface of the PT-D200 and says it's much faster. However, he says those who need to print wide labels or certain specialty labels like bar codes might be better served by the Epson LabelWorks LW-400.