Finding the right label maker
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
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
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.
Finding the best label makers
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
Brother makes the best label printers
If you're a hardcore
labeler, reviews say the (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
tests the step-up (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 (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).
Cheap label makers: Brother's $20
cheapie is a gem
For $20, you can get a
pretty sweet label maker: the (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 (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 (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
Expert & User Review Sources
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.