The Brother QL-1100 label printer ($179.99) is, at heart, a wide-format version of the Brother QL-800 we reviewed this time last year. Like its smaller sibling, the QL-1100 churns out labels in several sizes—in this case, up to 4 inches wide, both die-cut and continuous-length labels—snappily and in good quality. It uses rolls of direct-printed thermal paper, and like most such printers, the per-label cost varies a lot according to your source for the stock. That said, aside from its QL-1110NWB sibling (a network-connectable version with otherwise identical specs), this is the first wide-format label printer of its kind that we've seen at this low a price. It's a fine value for small-office and home-office shipping, barcoding, and other types of wide-format labeling.
With its black top and contrasting off-white chassis, the QL-1100 looks like a plumped-up version of the QL-800. It measures 6.7 by 5.9 by 8.7 inches (HWD) and weighs just under 4 pounds, which makes it a couple of inches narrower than the QL-800, and about 2 pounds lighter. The much pricier (more than double the cost) Zebra GC420d Direct Thermal Printer ($154.99 at Adorama) , also a wide-format professional-grade model, is a little bigger than our Brother review unit, but it's designed to carry much higher label-stock payloads than the Brother models discussed here so far.Our Experts Have Tested 53 Products in the Printers Category in the Past YearSince 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. (See how we test.)
Another somewhat wide-format (3.5-inch) labeler reviewed a few years back is the Leitz Icon Smart Labeling System ($154.99 at Adorama) , one of only a few low-cost direct competitors to the Brother QL-1100. As with so many of these thermal printing devices, the actual physical machines themselves don't really amount to much, in terms of onboard controls and features. On the face of the QL-1100, for example, you'll find only four buttons: Power, Feed, Cutter, and Editor Lite.4.0Excellent $288.53See Itat AmazonRead Our Brother QL-1110NWB Review 4.0Excellent $39.99See Itat AmazonRead Our Brother P-touch Cube Review 3.5Good $135.00Check Stockat AmazonRead Our Dymo LabelManager Wireless PnP Review 3.5Good $317.99See Itat AmazonRead Our Dymo LabelWriter Wireless Review 3.0Average $43.70Check Stockat WalmartRead Our Leitz Icon Smart Labeling System Review 4.0Excellent $524.99See Itat AmazonRead Our Zebra GC420d Direct Thermal Printer (GC42-202510-000) Review
Power and Cutter do exactly what you'd expect them to. Feed, as the name suggests, advances the label roll one at a time, or continuously if you hold it down. Editor Lite opens a stripped-down version of Brother's P-touch label-design, -editing, and -printing program on the Windows machine to which the printer is tethered, via USB. Brother provides no installation media for the software, though. You'll have to visit the company's support site to get what you need, including drivers for connecting to the printer, the P-touch Editor 5.2 software, and the P-touch Address Book (which you can use to store addresses and print mailing-list labels).
Also included are a few Microsoft Office add-ins for designing and printing labels from inside Microsoft Word, Outlook, and Excel. In addition, you can merge and print labels from Excel (and other) CSV files, or from the control panel. You can also designate that the QL-1100 cuts the label, say, after each copy has printed successfully.
As I discussed in my review of the QL-1110NWB, Brother's smaller QL-820NWB ($154.99 at Adorama) supports an optional battery that, when paired with Wi-Fi, lets you use the printer without an AC power source. You make a data connection to a PC or mobile device running Brother's P-touch Editor software (for Windows) or iPrint&Label apps (for iOS and Android). In addition, the QL-820NWB extends its wireless prowess with a small display and navigation buttons; you can use these to browse and print pre-defined labels without the help of a PC or a mobile device.
In other words, the QL-820NWB, with the optional battery installed, can act as a standalone label maker/printer. The QL-1100, due to its lack of a wireless radio, wouldn't really benefit from such a battery except for being able to plug into, say, a laptop for direct printing with no AC source nearby. The wireless-equipped QL-1110NWB would benefit more.
Within about 10 minutes of taking the QL-1100 out of the box, I printed my first label. Loading the label cartridges consists of unpackaging them, removing a piece of tape, dropping the cartridge into the compartment, and closing the lid. Everything else is done via software. (The QL-1100 detects the label-stock type when you drop it in.)
If you don't use an existing labeling application (something designed in-house, or sourced from a major online shipping or postage site, such as UPS or Stamps.com), Brother has you covered. The combination of the P-touch Editor and its database provides a robust place to start. In addition, the data stored in these applications is easy to migrate to other programs, if and when the time comes.
Once I got the QL-1100 up and running, I started clocking the label print speed. Brother rates the QL-1100 at 69 labels per minute (lpm)—that is, for standard-size 1.1-by-3.5-inch mailing labels at 300dpi. That's close indeed to the 65lpm I averaged during my tests. That's considerably slower, though, than the Brother QL-800's 93lpm and the QL-820NWB's 102lpm. The more data you import into your layouts, or the more you increase the size of your label (or both), the longer each label will take. If you employ the built-in cutter feature, that will slow down matters considerably. (Brother says the cutter should be good for about 300,000 snips with die-cut labels, or 150,000 cutting through continuous ones.)
The small banners and the 4-by-6-inch shipping labels I printed, for example, took considerably longer. (If you have a use for long, thin prints, the QL-1100 can print banners of up to 4 inches wide by just over 9 feet long.) The banners' print times varied, of course, with their length.
The "direct thermal" print technology in these little label printers is the same as what's used by most standalone fax machines (if you've been around long enough to see old-school fax-machine output, the kind on big sheets of thermal paper). Granted, the technology has been tweaked down through the years, but it has its inherent monochrome limitations.
That said, we are talking labels here, which in most cases are designed to relay basic information (addresses, warnings like "FRAGILE," notations like "2-Day Air") and to help keep track of things (what's inside labeled containers, object weights, barcodes). While for some, designing, printing, and labeling objects can be gratifying, how good they look is seldom the point. And labeling lots of things (say, a few hundred envelopes or small packages) can get downright tedious before long. Beauty doesn't come into it; you just want the job done.
So that's how I'd quantify not only the QL-1100's print quality, but that of most other label printers, too. The print quality from this machine easily surpasses what most of this little machine's intended applications demand. Granted Brother's QL-800 series machines do have the ability to print two-color (black and red, while also factoring in the color of the paper), but that is more of a practical design enhancement than an aesthetic one.
Like most its competitors, the Brother QL-1100 supports a wide range of continuous and die-cut labels (I counted about 40 varieties on the company site) ranging from 0.66 inch wide up to 4 inches wide. Many of the continuous-roll label stocks are up to 100 feet long, and I saw some die-cut shipping- and mailing-label rolls ostensibly good for 1,200 labels. Unfortunately, all you get in the box are two starter rolls: a roll for 41 large (4-by-6-inch) die-cut shipping labels, and 26.2 feet of 2.4-inch-wide continuous-length stock for black-on-white mailing labels.
A modest-size roll of 200 4-by-6-inch labels will cost $51.49, which comes out roughly to 28 cents per label, and a roll of 300 2.4-by-3.9-inch die-cut mailing labels will run about 9 cents per label. The former seems a tad pricey, along the lines of your ink cost for printing a color snapshot from a photo printer. That said, these numbers vary by the number of labels or the length of the continuous rolls, where you buy them, and if you can buy in bundles containing multiple rolls. I found one bundle, for example, that contained three rolls of die-cut standard address labels that worked out to less than 5 cents for each label.
Because the Brother QL-800 (and some of the other QL-branded models in the Brother family) all use primarily the same Brother DK label rolls as the QL-1100 (except where the roll size is too big; you can't use a 4-inch-wide roll in the smaller model, for instance), printing should cost about the same across the series. The Leitz Icon Smart Labeling System has been around a while longer than these other machines (since 2015), and its cartridges, like the device itself, have fallen significantly in cost. I did find Leitz-compatible labels at several outlets at a price per label comparable to that of standard mailing labels.
Zebra's GC420d entry-level enterprise labeler, in contrast, is designed with much higher label volumes in mind, with the idea of servicing multiple networked users and printing wide-format labels. It's rated at a high suggested ceiling of up to 500 label prints per day. Plus, for the Zebra, you can buy much higher-volume consumables that cost less per label and require roll reloads less often.
While the Brother QL-1100's elder siblings in the QL-800 series are terrific little label printers, they fall short in many business-centric applications—such as for making 4-by-6-inch shipping labels for your company or home-bound eBay shop. If, however, you need to print more than about 100 to 200 labels per day, you might want to consider Zebra's GC420d ($154.99 at Adorama) for its higher capacity and lower print costs.
Also, you can get a more connection-savvy wide-format label printer on your network in the form of the Brother QL-1110NWB. It's $100 pricier in MSRP, but if you're considering the QL-1100, check out that more-connected model before diving in. If all you need from your label maker, though, is direct connectivity and bulk label output, with no wireless frills, the QL-1100 will serve you well for less money.4.0See It$194.99 at AmazonMSRP $179.99
A winning wide-body label maker, the Brother QL-1100 prints to a variety of label stock from your PC, Mac, or mobile device, and it comes with nifty label-design software and mobile apps.
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