Label makers print neat, easy-to-read text for file folders, pantry shelves, storage boxes and anywhere in 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 and fabric iron-on labels. You can find label cartridges in various colors for both background and text, including metallic. Computer-connectible label makers expand your options even farther, with fonts, graphics and templates limited only by your computer and Internet access. On the other hand, some experts say that a simple label maker that's easy to use might serve you better than a model with all the bells and whistles. For more on how to match a label maker to your needs, see the What to Look For section of this report.
Among label makers, the Dymo LabelManager 210D Kit (*Est. $45) strikes a good balance between versatility, performance and value. The kit includes the LabelManager 210D label maker, an AC adapter, case, two tape cartridges and a set of batteries. The Dymo label maker prints durable, removable labels in three widths: 0.25, 0.375 and 0.5 inches. Owners posting user reviews at retail websites like the QWERTY keyboard, and that the LabelManager 210D provides a choice of type styles: bold, italic, outline, underline and shadow. The use of Dymo D1 labels is another plus; reviews indicate that the design of those labels, 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 -- a task that draws the ire of users with almost all other types of label tape.
They Dymo LabelManager 210D label maker 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 say the display could be easier to read. For on-the-go use, you can ditch the power adapter and use six AA alkaline batteries. The Dymo label maker is also available on its own (*Est. $40), but owners at Amazon.com note that the kit is a better buy. Most also say that despite the many options, the LabelManager 210D is intuitively easy to use.
Brother label makers draw some owner complaints about wasted tape material and label backings that are hard to remove. Still, Brother label makers such as the Brother P-touch PT-1290 (*Est. $30) have some advantages of their own. The PT-1290 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 the Dymo label makers, the Brother PT-1290 can print vertically and in mirror format, with a choice of text styles. Owner reviews vary greatly by site, but feedback at Amazon.com is pretty mediocre, with the complaints about the Brother feed mechanism, which leaves a wide margin on each label leading to wasted tape material.
The Dymo and Brother label makers above have QWERTY keyboards -- an advantage for anyone used to them, but kids and non-typists may prefer the letters laid out in alphabetical order. The Brother P-touch PT-1090 Family Labeler (*Est. $30) prints a wide variety of label material, including iron-on fabric labels for clothing, special labels for wrapping around cables without getting them sticky, and both laminated and matte paper labels. The matte paper labels are good for labeling file folders, while the laminated labels resist grease and water -- good for food jars and refrigerator shelves. Label widths (available in four sizes) range from 3.5 mm to fit on the spines of CD cases, up to 12 mm (about 0.47 inch).
Owners posting reviews at retail sites find that the PT-1090 is a good value and praise its versatility, noting that it can print frames on labels, as well as symbols and decorative icons. Additional features include built-in memory of up to nine favorite labels, plus a date/time stamp (nice for labeling leftovers). This model can print vertically too. There is a bit of a learning curve, however, some reports say, and label waste is again an issue.
If you want a simple budget label maker with a QWERTY keyboard, consider the Brother PT-90 (*Est. $30), which can print labels in two widths: 9 mm and 12 mm (0.354 and 0.47 inches). This label maker takes the number one spot in Good Housekeeping's article on "The Best Tools of All Time." Editors praise this model 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.
It's expensive, but if you want the ultimate home label maker, consider the dual-function Brother P-touch PT-2730 Label Maker (*Est. $100). Dual-function label makers print from your computer, but can also be used as standalone handheld or desktop label makers. The computer connection can simplify and speed labeling, since you can use the bigger keyboard plus a much greater variety of label templates.
The Brother PT-2730 can print labels in six widths, from 3.5 mm up to about an inch wide. Labels can be auto-formatted, and a date/time stamp is optional -- good for labeling leftovers, for example. It can also print bar codes. The backlit display earns top marks for readability, and the PT-2730 label maker comes with a large assortment of templates and automatic formats -- with more available as downloads. The Brother PT-2730 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 also automatically cuts labels, but like other Brother label makers, the PT-2730 earns some criticism for wide margins and wasting label tape.
Professional reviews of label makers are hard to come by. ConsumerReports.org doesn't cover label makers, and Good Housekeeping only covers one in its article, "The Best Tools of All Time." In addition, some reports on individual label makers can be found at TrustedReviews.com and About.com (Note: Though ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, the two don't share an editorial affiliation). However, we found lots of useful user reviews at retail sites such as Amazon.com, Staples.com and elsewhere. Buzzillions.com (which also has a nice buyer's guide) consolidates label maker reviews from other sites and is another worthwhile place to find user reviews.