Until some wonderful scientist invents a machine to instantly teleport packages around the world, we’re stuck in the era of shipping labels. Whether you’re running a high-volume online store or just trying to keep track of where all your stuff is, the best label printer can make the process much simpler.
Label printers are typically much more efficient than trying to wrestle with an unreliable all-in-one inkjet printer that tries to do everything and succeeds at almost nothing. These purpose-built printers can make the shipping process a lot easier and a whole lot cheaper. Just be sure you know what you’re looking for before taking the printer plunge.
Here at PopSci HQ, we have gadgets and other products coming in and out all the time. Combined with some years of online selling experience, it has made some of the writers and editors on-staff into certified shipping label experts. I can look at a shipping box and tell you the correct dimensions at this point. Our regular delivery service workers gave us a holiday gift last year. We do a lot of shipping. At the same time, we also do a lot of organizing. Keeping track of everything can be a grind if we’re constantly sorting through identical boxes. Labels can make a huge difference.
For this guide, we surveyed dozens of models, but focused on the most reliable and revered brands with the best reputation. We considered ease of use and even design, which is important when you have to stare at these things all day.
Why it made the cut: This versatile printer automatically recognizes the type of label inserted and pumps out completed jobs at a rate of one per second.
Put a stack or roll of labels behind the Rollo label printer and it can start pumping out ready-to-roll labels at a rate of one per second. It uses thermal-printing tech, which means it prints with heat onto thermal-compatible labels, which means there’s no ink or toner to buy like there would be with your inkjet.
The Rollo has built-in sensors that can automatically detect what type of label it’s printing on so it can keep everything in the correct spot without a user having to dig into its settings.
In many cases, you can get the Thermal Direct labels from the shippers for free, which means the cost of the printer and the small amount of electricity it takes to run it is all you’re spending on labels.
As the best label printer overall it works with USPS, UPS, and FedEx, and the whole thing is rugged and portable, so you can take it with you if you want to get some work done at a separate location.
Why it made the cut: Despite its low price, this printer is still fast and versatile for printing just about any type of shipping label.
If you’re not trying to start an eBay or Etsy empire, then you probably don’t need the top-of-the-line label printer that can churn hundreds of labels in a hurry. This solid option costs about half as much as its competition, but it offers many of the same features. At 150mm-per-second print speed, it’s on par with more expensive units. It’s also directly compatible with labels from popular shippers like USP, FedEx, and USPS.
The software that comes with the Leoity label printer can be a little quirky and require some configuring, but it’s a small hurdle. It’s also a little big for its functionality. If space is an issue, you’re better off with something more compact.
Overall, however, this is the best cheap shipping label printer that’s reliable and can handle pretty much any shipping label need you have.
Why it made the cut: This capable label printer can handle the normal organization and labeling jobs, but its full-color tech also allows it to handle stickers and photos.
This printer can churn out full-color print jobs, but doesn’t require ink. Instead, it relies on Zero Ink technology (sometimes called ZINK). The required colors exist inside the special paper or sticker refills before they go into the printer. Heat activates them to create the images.
These labels aren’t as big as typical shipping labels— they max out at two inches wide. It can print images up to 17 inches long, however.
Built-in wireless connectivity makes it easy to connect to via WiFi or even a smartphone’s wireless connection. While this isn’t ideal for people in most business settings, it can be the best color label printer for a teacher or other professional that can benefit from the occasional splash of color.
Why it made the cut: This super-efficient printer can print all kinds of barcodes and labels for various professional jobs.
Small business label printing goes beyond shipping. This 300-dpi printer can churn out super-crisp barcodes, QR codes, and other business-specific labels that are easy to read with a machine or your eyeballs. If you’re mostly shipping, this printer works with labels from the major shippers like FedEx, USPS, and UPS. With 60 built-in printing templates, the Dymo can automatically print labels from popular services like eBay and Etsy to streamline the shipping process.
Like other label printers, it maxes out at four inches by six inches, which should be plenty big for the most common tasks. Dymo offers a litany of different first-party papers and substrates to match your exact printing requirements.
Like other thermal printers, it doesn’t require ink or toner cartridge replacements, which keeps costs way down over inkjets making this the best label printer for small businesses.
Why it made the cut: This highly portable label printer allows you to type your words directly into it with a QWERTY keyboard, then spit out half-inch adhesive strips to quickly label belongings.
If you don’t need to print barcodes or shipping labels and just need the best label printer for organizing, this portable unit can come in very handy. Load a roll of half-inch tape inside and choose one of three fonts. Then type into the onboard QWERTY keyboard and the machine spits out your label in just a few seconds. It allows for borders and special characters like fire if you want to point out that something is flammable.
This model can save 15 labels to its built-in memory, so if you’re constantly making the same one, you don’t have to create it every time you turn the machine on. Brother sells a whole line of compatible tape for printing, which includes a variety of colors and types. The printing process is quick and quiet, so you can make fast work of an entire room or space.
The major shipping companies have standardized their label sizes so it’s fairly easy to know if the labels you need to use will fit or not. Anything capable of pumping out 4-inch by 6-inch labels is enough to cover USP, USPS, FedEx, and any of the other big names.
Smaller label makers and quirky label printers often use much smaller material, which won’t work for shipping purposes.
Most shipping label printers use True Thermal technology. There’s no ink involved. Instead, the printer uses heat to reveal black substrate from behind a top white layer. This process requires special paper or labels to work, but it doesn’t require ink cartridges or toner, which is typically much more expensive.
If you want color, you’re better off with something like inkjet or Zero Ink (ZINK), which uses the same thermal printing tech but includes color in the paper.
You’ll sometimes see this expressed differently depending on the model. Some thermal printers will describe their speed by the number of mm per second it can churn out. For instance, you might see 150mm/s listed on a product description. Higher numbers mean faster printing. Other printers will tell you exactly how many labels you can print out per second or per minute. Expect 0.5 to 2 labels per second depending on the content and the printer.
Thermal printers like the Dymo don’t rely on ink to make prints. Instead, they utilize special paper or labels that react with heat to reveal black material that makes up the print itself. So, there are no ink cartridges or toner cartridges to replace.If you’re using a more traditional printer to print labels, however, you will need to replace those cartridges.
As with any electronic, I suggest figuring out what the most important aspect of the device is to you and focusing on that. In the case of label printers, speed is likely a concern if you’re dealing with high volume. You want something that can churn out a lot of labels in a little bit of time. Size is also a consideration. If you only need labels to mark bins, boxes, binders, or other things that need organizing, pick something that gives you more text options and a portable form factor.
Heat and gadgets do not typically get along. Most label makers use heat for their thermal printing process. Good models have robust cooling solutions that blow hot air out to keep delicate electronics from overheating. Still, you’ll know your label printer is starting to go when prings get inconsistent and spotty.
Shipping is a huge part of starting many small businesses and the best label printe can make short work of it. Of course, they also have utility beyond shipping. They can print barcodes, stickers, and other things that can make your life easier and more organized. Just make sure you get the right model for you.