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Buying Guide: Label Makers

By: Tara Tuckwiller on March 15, 2017

What the best label maker has

  • Thermal printing. The old-fashioned embossing models are slow and awkward by comparison. Thermal printing needs no ink or toner. Text doesn't always have to be black, either -- you can buy tapes that produce white, red, navy, gold, or other colors of text on various colored backgrounds.
  • Easy, intuitive operation. A QWERTY keyboard and one-touch shortcuts (to fonts, frames, symbols, etc.) make the best label printers a breeze to use.
  • Plenty of fonts and text styles. If you enjoy decorative labels, look for a model with lots of fonts and styles. Some label makers can print symbols, icons, emojis and decorative borders, along with specialty labels for industry, such as wire wraps and bar codes. The best label makers make it equally easy to access these advanced features, or just print a basic label.
  • An AC adapter or rechargeable batteries. These add convenience and save money. If you don't use a label maker often, the batteries can deteriorate.
  • Memory. Many label makers build in memory, saving frequently used labels or phrases so you don't have to keep retyping them.
  • Warranty. Cheap label makers (in the $20 range) usually carry a one-year warranty. The best label makers ($40 and up) carry a two-year warranty.

Know before you go

What label materials do you need? Some labels are extra durable for resisting grease, water, sun fading and variations in temperature (for example, you can label your freezer containers, microwave them, and then send them through a hot dishwasher cycle without losing your label). Non-glossy paper labels are fine for file folders, and you may want to print special labels such as magnetic labels for use on whiteboards, file cabinets and refrigerators; iron-on fabric for clothing labels; or ribbon labels for crafting or gifting. Some owners love metallic labels. It's best to decide this before narrowing your choice of label maker.

Consider the label widths you'll need. Very narrow 3.5 mm labels can be used on CD case spines. At the other extreme, some users like labels as wide as 1 inch for large-print labels or for several lines of text.

Decide which keyboard style you want. For kids and non-typists, a keyboard arranged in ABC order is easier to use, but good typists will find a standard QWERTY keyboard more intuitive.

What bells and whistles do you really need? For example, an automatic label cutter is a nice convenience if you print loads of labels at one time -- but manual cutters just require pressing a button. A full-color LCD screen can show you a vivid preview of your label -- but if you're not creating fancy labels, you may not care. These extras can double or even triple the cost of a label maker.

Do you want access to online fonts and label designs? In the $60-and-up price range, label makers can connect to your computer, allowing you to tap into basically unlimited fonts and design options. If you never plan to use this feature, there's probably no need to spend this much.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

Buy a label maker, and you'll probably own it for years to come: Owners say these are sturdy little machines that last and last. Label makers do create one or two recurring costs, though:

Label tape. Expect to pay between 20 and 60 cents per foot for basic label tape (black text on white or clear tape), depending on which brand of label maker you own. Epson labels tend to cost the most, and Dymo labels the least, although the prices vary widely from day to day on Amazon.com.

Only power labelers (professional organizers, for example) will print enough labels to care about the cost of the tape, though. Tape comes in 13- to 30-foot cartridges, and label makers include one or two starter cartridges.

"When I purchased my label maker, I also purchased the clear [tape] cartridge," says Jennifer Jones at IHeartOrganizing.com. "Over a year later and I still have plenty of clear tape from my original cartridge.  So, although the price is a little expensive for a single roll of label tape, a little goes a loooong way."

Batteries. You'll need four to six AA or AAA batteries to run a small, handheld label maker -- and those batteries aren't usually included. Some owners use rechargeable batteries to cut costs. Consider getting a label maker with an AC adapter if you plan to use it heavily (or if you just don't want to futz with batteries).

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