Label makers print neat, easy-to-read text for file folders, pantry shelves, storage boxes, and anywhere else in your home or office where organization is a plus. Today's label makers are actually little handheld computers (some are hardly bigger than a TV remote) that let you get quite creative. Even our $20 cheap label maker pick can print lots of different fonts, text sizes and styles (bold, italic, etc.), hundreds of tiny decorative icons, emojis and symbols -- it can even create dressy frames around your labels, making label printers a favorite tool for scrapbooking.
Label tape isn't just plain old tape anymore, either. You can buy the classic sticky-back tape (in a rainbow of colors, plus white, black, clear, metallic and more), magnetic labels that are ideal for whiteboards, fabric iron-on labels, and even satin ribbon suitable for crafts and gift wrapping.
Fancy label makers can cost $60 to $100 or more. These can connect to your computer, giving you access to a basically unlimited array of downloadable fonts, graphics and templates. However, experts say a simple $20 to $40 label maker that's easy to use might serve many users better than an elaborate 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 few stand-alone label makers, the Brother and Dymo brands dominate the market. Dymo sells the very least expensive label maker, an old-style $15 manual model with which you turn a wheel to select each letter. More modern thermal-transfer label printers from both brands are much easier to use.
To name our Best Reviewed picks, we consider a label printers' 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.
If you're a hardcore labeler, reviews say the Brother PT-D400AD (Est. $40) is most likely the label printer you want for your home or office. You could spend more for a label maker, but it's probably not necessary for most users and uses. "If you're planning on giving your label maker heavy use, or want one for a busy office environment, consider upgrading to the Brother PT-D400AD," says Marisa McClellan at TheSweethome.com.
The PT-D400AD can print on skinny tape or wide tape (up to about 3/4 inch). Besides the standard laminated tape, it can print on flexible tape (for labeling cords, etc.), iron-on fabric tape, acid-free tape and extra-sticky tape. It can print teeny-tiny type or big, bold type, so you'll be able to read the label on that storage bin from across the garage. It can even print barcodes, if you need them. And it comes with an AC adapter, so you won't be stuck if the batteries die (it uses six AAs). Holding the PTD-400AD is kind of like holding a chunky tablet: It's about 7 inches square, nearly 3 inches thick, and weighs over a pound and a half without batteries.
TheSweethome.com also tests the step-up Brother PT-D600 (Est. $70), which is a little bigger and heavier -- really more of a sitting-on-the-desk type of machine. However, it's probably overkill for most users, McClellan says.
The pricier PT-D600 accepts even wider tape (up to 1 inch), has an automatic tape cutter, and boasts a backlit color LCD screen that shows you vividly what your label will look like (cheaper Brothers just have a non-backlit, grayscale LCD). The PT-D600 has preset shortcuts (cable labeling, files, etc.) to make designing your label quick and easy. Finally, it can connect to a PC or Mac, to tap into countless online fonts, templates, and the like.
"It's a mighty machine (with a bit steeper learning curve) than the average home user needs," McClellan says. Still, "for the labeling power user, a PT-D600 might be the right fit."
For crafting and sewing, consider the Epson LW-400 (Est. $35). Unlike the Brother label makers, the Epson can print on satin ribbon -- and you can wash and dry these ribbon-labels. Epson's iron-on labels stay adhered in the wash better than Brother's, too, McClellan says, and owners at Amazon.com say they're soft and non-scratchy.
Otherwise, though, the Epson can't match the Brother label printers in reviews. Its ordinary laminated labels aren't as tough; McClellan tortures them by peeling and replacing them on a glass jar a bunch of times, leaving the Epson labels' edges curled up and raggedy (the Brothers' remain smooth and flat). The Epson labels fall off in the dishwasher (the Brothers' don't).
User reviews are a bit more positive -- two out of three purchasers at Amazon.com award the Epson LW-400 a perfect 5 stars. However, the Brother label makers consistently earn marks from customers at Amazon.com, Staples.com and OfficeDepot.com that are higher still. Some users find that the Epson is hard to learn and hard to use (McClellan calls it "a real slog") and say its printing looks more ragged, less evenly spaced, and just not as neat and professional as the Brother label makers. The Brother label makers also carry a longer warranty (two years, versus one year for the Epson).
For $20, you can get a pretty sweet label maker: the Brother PT-D210 (Est. $23). In fact, TheSweethome.com testers prefer it to all seven other label printers in their test -- including Brother's more advanced label makers (profiled above). "It was the easiest to use and printed consistently high-quality labels, despite being one of the cheapest models we tested," McClellan says.
The PT-D210 can do almost everything our Best Reviewed pick, the Brother PT-D400AD, can do. It prints the same clear, crisp text on the same durable tape materials. It prints 14 fonts and more than 600 symbols, just like its pricier sibling. It boasts the same intuitive QWERTY keyboard, and the PT-D210 is smaller and easier to hold, too.
So why isn't it our Best Reviewed label maker, period? The PT-D210 doesn't include the Brother AD-24ES AC Power Adapter (Est. $24) that comes with the pricier Brother label makers profiled above; though cheaper, knock-off adapters can be found, that largely negates the cost savings, compared to the Brother PT-D400AD. The cheaper Brother also can't accept any tape wider than 1/2 inch.
None of that bothers reviewers. The PT-D210 earns PCMag.com's Editors' Choice award, and it's a customer favorite at Amazon.com and Staples.com. It remains TheSweethome.com's top pick, after a full year of testing.
"The battery life is excellent, the finished tapes are durable, and we continue to appreciate how intuitive the device is to use, even after a prolonged labeling hiatus," McClellan says. "Sourcing replacement tape is easy, and a set of third-party rechargeable batteries has solved the power issue for us." The PT-D210 runs on six AAA batteries. It carries a one-year warranty.
The Brother's top competitor in this price range, the Dymo LetraTag LT-100H (Est. $22), runs a distant second in reviews. Still, people who have bought the Dymo tend to like it: It gets favorable reviews at OfficeDepot.com, Walmart.com and Amazon.com. But for the same price as the Brother, the Dymo offers less. It has only one font, for example -- and that prints out pixelated according to reviews.
"I dismissed the Dymo Letra-Tag after only initial testing, because it felt cheap and was lacking things as basic as dedicated number keys," McClellan says. PCMag's M. David Stone isn't crazy about the lack of number keys, either, nor the Dymo's ABC keyboard. However, Dymo does offer a couple of tape types -- paper and magnetic -- that Brother doesn't.
TheSweethome.com conducts the most definitive label maker test: Recipe developer and hardcore labeler Marisa McClellan spends 15 hours testing eight popular label makers.We also found professional label printer reviews at PCMag.com, The-Gadgeteer.com and IHeartOrganizing.com. Owner reviews at Amazon.com, Staples.com, OfficeDepot.com and Walmart.com reveal what each label maker is like to use in real life.