This article is part of a series on how to ship a package (part 1: shipping labels explained), designed for entrepreneurs wanting to improve their shipping process.
To print shipping labels you need… a printer. Crazy huh?
What seems like a no-brainer can quickly become a nightmare. A poorly printed shipping label is your shortcut to logistics hell. And not all printers are compatible with all labeling software.
This article is entirely dedicated to shipping label printers so you don’t have to spend more time figuring out the subtle mysteries of label printing.
Choose the Right Type of Printer
There are 3 types of printers available on the market: inkjet, laser and thermal. Direct thermal printers are specially designed to handle label printing.
Don’t use inkjet printers to print labels. Ink will smear and images will blurry, which is the last thing you want for a shipping label.
Amazon has a rule that says that the print quality on your shipment should be good enough to be read and scanned for 2 years. Inkjet printers won’t give you that.
Laser printers are ok but costly. You could use a desktop laser printer but you’ll have to buy expensive sheets of labels.
You’ll also have to replace toner cartridges when they are done. Toner is expensive and if you print multiple shipping labels every week, you’ll have to buy new consumable over and over again.
Labels for laser printers come in sheets. Avery is the leading brand for this kind of paper. A classic pack of 50 shipping labels like this one costs less than $8 (about 15 cents per label). They are compatible with USPS, UPS, FedEx, Stamps.com, eBay and PayPal templates. Avery label software is included.
For a cheaper option, get this popular pack of 200 shipping labels for less than $12 (5 cents per label). They are compatible with USPS, UPS, FedEx. But careful with the increased risk of jamming your printer.
Thermal Label Printers
Thermal printers are designed for label printing. This type of printer doesn’t require any extra supplies. They don’t use ink or toner but heat. Direct thermal printing deposits and solidifies shapes on paper using heat. This technique also allows for long-lasting labels.
Besides the printer itself the only thing you’ll have to buy is rolls of labels.
Thermal label printers are used by major logistics professionals such as UPS, DHL, FedEx, USPS or Amazon.
Choose the Right Thermal Label Printer
In the world of thermal label printers, 3 brands clearly dominate the market: Zebra, DYMO and Brother.
To make it short:
- Zebra is used by professionals
- DYMO is used by small online sellers
- Brother is the most affordable
Let’s look at your options a bit closer.
Zebra thermal printers are ideal if you ship very often (more than 10 items a day) and have a dedicated shipping station in your home or office.
They are sturdy, fast and reliable. Once installed and up and running, they are excellent at getting the job done.
The downside of Zebra printers is: mobility. They are not very good in a plug-n-play environment. You don’t want to have to plug and unplug them to your laptop every day as it takes time to reboot, configure and get them ready.
A few models of Zebra are very popular among shipping professionals:
- LP/TLP 2844. It’s a highly popular model, and also the one used and recommended by UPS. It costs about $400.
- GX430T. This model is used in most Amazon facilities.
- ZP450: It’s one of the most affordable professional Zebra printers
Zebra company has been around since 1969. They have a huge catalog of products.
To give you some understanding of the desktop printer category, the G-Series GX is the fastest, GK is the most user-friendly and GC the most affordable. LP/TLP is the most compact, along with the ZP Series.
Let’s see how some of the most popular Zebra printers compare:
|Zebra ZP450 UPS||Affordable/Reliable/Zebra quality/Compatible UPS||Not very easy to set up/Not mobile||$248|
|Zebra LP/TLP 2844||Compatible with all major carriers / Very popular model / Recommended by professionals||Not very easy to install and configure at first/not mobile||$450 (new) or less than $200 (eBay)|
|Zebra GX430T||High performance / high resolution text and graphic / outstanding printing||Expensive||$477|
|Zebra ZT230||Sturdy/High Speed/Reliable||Not mobile/Not easy to set up||$792|
In the opposite of DYMO or Brother, Zebra printers don’t lock the market for consumables. Generic brands of labels will work fine. As a result, labels for Zebra printers are specially low-cost.
A roll of 450 labels like this one will cost you less than $13… about 2 cents per label.
DYMO thermal printers are great for occasional sellers. Many online sellers love them. They are cheaper than Zebras. They cost between $150 and $200, but rolls of labels are usually more costly than Zebra ones.
They are easy to set up and can be easily plugged and unplugged. They are great to use with a laptop for example.
The downside of DYMO printers is: sturdyness. In the long run, paper tend to get stuck and jam the machine.
A good way to avoid jamming is to remove the 3 first labels on the roll before to print anything. The start of the roll is often slightly covered with glue, which tends to deposit inside the printer.
Another potential downside is that some models are not compatible with eBay and FedEx. OS Mac users also have install troubles. Make sure you pay attention to compatibility when choosing your DYMO.
The number one most popular model of DYMO printers by far is the DYMO LabelWriter 4XL. It costs about $160 and is easy to set up.
Let’s look at how DYMO label printers compare:
|DYMO LabelWriter 450||Affordable / Compatible PC and Mac||Small labels (2.2")||$67|
|DYMO LabelWriter 450 Turbo||High speed / Affordable||Small labels (2.3")||$70|
|DYMO LabelWriter 4XL||Heavy duty high speed label printer / Standard label size (4")||Occasional jamming problems / Not easy to set up with Mac / Less sturdy device than Zebra or Brother||$160|
If you’re looking for an affordable printer that is good in mobility and print standard labels, go for the DYMO LabelWriter 4XL.
Regarding rolls of labels, you’ll have to go with the ones officially compatible with DYMO. A classic pack of 220 labels costs about $14, which is 6 cents per label. If you print occasionally (less than 10 labels per week), it’s still a good deal compare to the starting cost of a Zebra.
Brother thermal printers are a favorite among Etsy and small online sellers. They are your cheapest option. Great for fast printing of small labels. If you need to print only 1 or less label a day, Brother is a good choice.
Let’s see how the most popular models compare:
|Brother QL500||50 labels per minute||max width 2.3" manual cut||$55|
|Brother QL700||93 labels per minute||max width 2.3"||$63|
|Brother QL1050||69 labels per minute||max width 4"||$160|
|Brother QL1060N||69 labels per minute||max width 4"||$225|
If you go Brother, your best option is the Brother QL1050. It respects shipping label size standards, print at the very good speed of 69 labels per minute and is half the price of a Zebra.
The winners are…
Best label printer for heavy users : Zebra LP/TLP 2844
Best label printer for occasional sellers: DYMO LabelWriter 4XL
Best label printer on a budget: Brother QL1050
- UPS instructions to install any compatible label printers are here
- eBay Paypal install instructions for a Zebra printer here, for a Brother here, and hack for DYMO here
- List of Zebra printers compatible with Stamps.com here
Happy label printing everyone!