Best Label Makers: A Comprehensive Buyer’s Guide

Best label makers lie somewhere in between personal and professional when it comes to regular office work. While it’s relatively common to find them in use when labeling file folders and mail slots, label makers are just as useful for marking kids’ toys and even in the bathroom to mark out different medicines. This list tries to balance the two out as much as possible.

A labeling system is especially important if you love being orderly, since it’s the ultimate way to keep things at the tips of your fingers, in the process saving you a great amount of time by handing you an easy way for easy identification.

What to Look at When Choosing a Label Maker

When you’re out looking for a label maker, the key things to consider are the keyboard, display, power sources and portability. The keyboard should preferably be a full QWERTY layout and large enough to allow you to type quickly and easily.  The display should be clear and easy to read, preferably with a high contrast between text and screen background. Lastly, text and numbers on the screen should be large enough to make reading them easy, while not so large as they are no longer pragmatic to use.

Most times, you’re also going to have to choose from battery-operated or plug-in models. Battery models may come with rechargeable battery packs or power cords. These will be really helpful if you intend to use the unit a lot. There are also desktop and handheld models, depending on your specific needs.

Other Things to Consider

Variety

This dictates how many different kinds of text you’re going to want to be able to print. If your intended purpose requires you to have different fonts, look for models with as many as a hundred fonts. Some models also allow you to optionally customize the look of your labels with a sort of frame around the text.

Clip-art

This is an additional feature usually present on some models that allow you to print simple pictures or similarly small drawings in addition to text.

Memory

The amount of internal memory (if any) varies from unit to unit. Some will store the last text printed while others up to 99 of the most frequently printed labels. Others still, allow children to keep track of homework and binders, which, overall creates a great addition to any school supplies list.

Types of Refill Cartridges

Just like memory, ink cartridge styles and brands will differ depending on the label maker manufacturer. Thermal printers, for instance, need special thermal paper on one hand, but don’t require ink. Magnetic ink also allows for scanners and equipment to read number and text. There are also some printers that can print out barcodes if it’s a requirement.

Type of Paper

The type of paper required by different kinds of label makers also varies from model to model, most models requiring something in the range of 0.3 to 2.4 inches in width. There are also standard, cable and wide, extra-strength adhesive, decorative tape styles and tamper-evident styles. Check the item description and the manual to find out the size of paper and what type of paper is compatible with your desired model.

Our Top Picks for Best Label Makers

As of now, the only reputable companies that produce label makers for widespread consumer use are Brother, Epson, Casio and Dymo. We included products from each of the companies, with an exception towards Casio because reviews for their units on Amazon were less than stellar and the tape they use isn’t readily available in the market.

The units on this list were filtered out regarding a few relatively simple criteria: ease of use; this includes how easy it is to install batteries and the tape cartridge into the compartment where each is located; the clarity of the screen; how clear the screen was to reflect what was being printed out; how easy it was to slice the labels; and in general, how comfortable the label maker was to handle.

The final criteria used for the units on this list was the relative legibility of the text printed. However, this won’t be so useful if the label itself degrades too quickly, or is too difficult to apply, and possibly re-apply,

The winner: Brother P-Touch PT-D210

The winner of our selection was the Brother P-Touch PT-D210, the company’s entry-level label maker that’s sturdy enough to stand the test of time and balances well enough to be comfortable to the touch while in use. This was all managed without blowing prices right out of the roofs.

For the most part, using the Brother P-Touch PT-D210 is only a matter of intuition. First of all, it features a fully standard QWERTY keyboard (including separate Caps and Shift keys). The keys are quite comfortable to use and are all clearly labelled, in addition to allowing you to choose from between 14 fonts, add a single frame from a choice of 97, insert one of over six hundred symbols, tweak margins and saves you the hassle of having to scroll endless menus just to find a template library. Additionally, it allows you to print labels vertically, if you’d like.

The Brother P-Touch PT-D210 also produces labels that are sure to stand the test of time. They are simple enough to lift at the corner and remove, while still remaining sticky enough to reattach.

The PT-D210 uses the company’s signature Brother TZe labeling tape, which is pretty easy to find and cheap to buy. It comes with the advantage of coming in a wide variety of styles, colors, and sizes, so your needs can easily be catered for, regardless of what they are. Accessing the tape and battery compartment is a simple matter of pushing a clearly marked button on the top edge of the unit to release the latch, and the back panel opens easily, allowing for even easier access for maintenance.

Drawbacks of Brother P-Touch PT-D210

Despite all the great features the Brother offers, it does have some flaws that are worth pointing out. For instance, it prints a little more margin on either side of each label you print than is really necessary. This means you’re going to consume tape at a slightly faster than you really have to. Of course, it’s possible to adjust the size of the margins to narrow. But because of the way the interior of the machine was engineered, this only shortens the right-side margin of the label, instead of printing a cutting guide on the left side, so that you can later snip off a bit of the label to make it even on either side.

Another area you might find potentially frustrating is the fact that the built-in LCD screen offers no illumination; as such, you might find it a bit hard using it in areas with limited light. There’s also the issue of power consumption, however, since it will require either six AAA batteries or an AC adapter to function effectively, neither of which comes in the purchase, so you’ll have to cough out an extra $10 – $25 to begin your labelling work.

Finally the Brother uses tapes that are very thin, no wider than half an inch. This won’t be much of a problem if your applications are limited to home use, but if you anticipate needing more space, you’re going to need a different pick, perhaps one specifically meant for business applications, like the Brother PT-D400AD outlined below.

Runner-up: Brother PT-D400AD

Just like its, well, brother, the PT-D400AD features a similar intuitive interface, including the same flexible keyboard layout but comes with a few extra features that you might find handy, depending on what you want to do: these include the ability to print wider labels and hence more text and adds on the ability to print barcodes. What’s more, every purchase comes with its very own AC adapter.

The PT-D400AD is just as good as its counterpart, but one of the reasons it came second was that the PT-D210 is more dynamic and more applicable in home environments. The PT-D400 is, however, bigger and heavier and just wouldn’t fit right for use in home applications.

However, if you have some heavy-use applications in the store, in a mailroom or labelling folders at an admin desk, PT-D400AD would be a necessary upgrade. Alternatively, since it comes with a startup guide that you can laminate, you can turn it into a labeling station for the whole office to use easily.

If you need even more flexibility, you can opt for the PT-D600 instead. It’s not very different from the PT-D400AD, the only difference, in fact, being that it adds the ability to connect to a computer and for label layout and design. If you want to be semantic about it, though, it also accepts tape up to an inch wide and includes the coveted easy-to-read backlit color display that’s lacking in the first model. They are both pretty heavy machines, and getting familiar to them might take up a bit of time. This is, however, because they are mostly ideal for professional settings rather than home use.

Second runner-up: Epson LW-400

Despite the fact that the Brother PT-D210 was our top pick for the variety of reasons outlined above, the Epson LW-400 is still a great label maker, especially if you’re involved in the crafting or sewing industries. The Epson’s user interface isn’t as friendly as the Brother’s, but the company does make an array of labels from fabric and ribbon – a plus because it allows you to print iron-on name tapes on clothes and even design custom ribbons for something like gift wraps or scrapbooks.

If you’re one for comfort over application, it may please you to know that the Epson features a much slimmer body. Giving it an upper hand in terms of ergonomics when it comes down to handheld use as compared to its competitors. They aren’t completely different, though, since it uses half-inch tape, just like the Brother PT-D210. However, unlike the PT-D210, it can also print barcodes a feature you’ll only find in higher-end Brother label makers.

The Epson falls flat on its face when it comes to the learning curve. However, since getting used to the interface is one of the most troublesome things you’ll ever attempt in any label maker out there.  Lastly, it’s worth the mention that Epson retails its tape at slightly higher prices per foot as compared to the price other brands sell their tape sells for.

Best Label Makers: The competition

Epson LW-300

The Epson LW-300 is a pretty good label maker despite being a label maker that feels like it was made before the internet-era, but the main problem you might encounter using it is the fact that it feels pretty clunky and outdated. There are simply better units than what Epson have to offer with the LW-300, which includes cheaper, higher quality cartridges and a more modern intuitive interface. You’d be better off even opting for the newer LW-400 since it costs about the same and is more comfortable, in addition to being able to print barcodes.

Dymo Letratag, LM-160, LM-280

DYMO LetraTag

You might have seen the dire lack of Dymo’s machines on this list, because while they sure do the job they were designed to do, some crucial features are absent, making them subpar in the modern-day market, especially for the price they retail at.

LM-160

For instance, the Letratag feels cheap and below basic, since it doesn’t come with something as simple as dedicated number keys. With the LM-160 and LM-280 models, the most frustrating thing you’re going to encounter is getting the tape to feed from the cartridge area and into the printing area. This is a point of concern since, if you’re relatively new to Dymo’s products, you will end up wasting some crucial inches of tape trying to get the label to feed and print correctly.

LM-280

All three models feature a unique physical aesthetic that makes them seem designed for handheld use rather than on a tabletop. But despite the purported ‘perfect balance,’ they are actually quite difficult to handle. The keys are pretty unresponsive, and require a lot of physical force in order to register. Plus, the pictograph selection process is quite infuriating if you wish to include multiple images. The one thing that somewhat appeases the frustration of using a Dymo product is the fact that it comes with an integrated rechargeable battery, and, unlike our top pick, a backlit screen.

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