We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Are you looking for a way to quickly organize your things? Perhaps you have some plastic totes, work files, or cabinetry that needs to be labeled. The best way to accomplish this task is with a label maker.
With properly printed labels, you can figure out what’s inside your totes, boxes, and files without having to open them. This not only saves you time, it minimizes any clutter-related stress you might be suffering.
You can use these quick-to-print and customizable labels in a variety of situations. The labels look professional and, with the right ribbon tape, they’ll stick to almost anything. Recent technological advances in the label maker space make now a great time to buy a label maker.
At BestReviews, our goal is to identify the best products on today’s market and share them with our readers. We never accept free manufacturer samples. Rather, we research items and compile product data in order to present you with a clear picture of what’s available to you.
Our product matrix, above, will point you in the direction of five exceptional label makers at a variety of price points. The information in the shopping guide, below, will help you pick the best label maker for your needs.
Some people prefer to make labels on their desktop computer. Computer label printing certainly has its advantages, but you may be surprised to learn of the numerous advantages modern label makers offer.
The handheld label makers in our matrix are easy to transport to any location. This means you can make labels inside your self-storage unit or in your garage. You don’t have to be next to a computer printer while you work.
Use in Harsh Conditions
Beyond portability, some label makers are designed for use in harsh environments in which you wouldn’t want to bring a computer and printer. For example, the Brady BM21-PLUS has molded rubber bumpers for use in tough situations.
Pay attention to the cost of refill cartridges when considering which product to buy. Sometimes the unit itself costs very little, but the refill costs add up quickly.
Easy to Use
With a label maker, you don’t have to worry about lining up the sheet of labels correctly as you would with a printer. The DYMO LabelManager 160 in our matrix is one of the easiest to use on the market.
Modern label makers offer lots of customization options. For example, you can add different fonts, graphics, and barcodes. These options are available with computer label printing, too, but it’s a bit more of a hassle with a computer.
Label makers work fast. You could probably create and affix a label from a label maker in the time it would take you to boot up your computer’s label-making software. If you’re seeking an especially fast label maker, our Best of the Best pick fits the bill. With its direct thermal printing design, the Zebra Monochrome label maker works with exceptional speed.
Lack of Waste
A dedicated label maker can print on nearly the entire ribbon, edge to edge. For example, there’s almost no waste of paper with the Epson LabelWorks LW-300 in our matrix. A sheet of labels that you would use with a computer printer will create more waste.
If you choose a label maker that runs on alkaline batteries, you’ll incur some replacement costs there, too.
If you’re sending out a series of letters, computer label printing is great. The computer can pull addresses from your contact list and print address labels in one step.
Adding colors to your labels is easier when printing labels on a computer. Most label makers are limited to black ink.
Faster Printing of Many Labels
You can print a large number of labels faster with a computer printer. Notably, however, the speed and efficiency of label makers has improved a lot in recent years.
Lots of Typing
If you must type a lot of information for your labels, a computer is faster. It’s just easier to type a lot of text on a large computer keyboard than it is a tiny label maker keyboard.
When preparing to purchase a modern label maker, you’ll have quite a few options to consider. Look through our list of key features to ensure you’re receiving a model that fits your needs.
Modern label makers use a thermal printing method. In other words, heat is used to create the text or graphic on the label. Some older models still use ink cartridges, but thermal label makers create labels that resist fading better.
If you need a versatile label maker, be sure to pick one that can accept multiple widths of ribbon paper.
Modern label makers offer a variety of fonts and text sizes. They can also print graphics or barcodes. Certain label makers may specialize in printing items like name tags, too.
Some label makers connect directly to a computer via a USB cable. This allows you to print specific types of labels easily, such as name tags from a registration desk. Some handheld label makers feature WiFi or bluetooth connectivity.
Some label makers are designed for specific jobs, such as creating name tags.
Some label makers require batteries; others use an AC adapter or USB cable for continuous power. Still others can switch between a wall outlet and a battery, depending on how you’re using the product. The latter is the best option in terms of versatility.
Label makers can use two types of batteries: rechargeable or alkaline. During periods of intense use, a label maker burns through throwaway alkaline batteries fast. If you’re heavy into label printing, a rechargeable battery would probably be the most cost effective option over the long run.
Label makers have greatly improved in this area in recent years. The more data you can see on the screen, the fewer typing errors you’ll make. Some display screens also can show graphics clearly.
Before you choose a product, examine the keyboard to make sure it’s right for you. Some label makers use a QWERTY layout design, but others have keys organized alphabetically, which can be tricky to use.
Some label makers are limited in the widths of ribbon paper they can use. Our advice: determine what types of labels you want to make, then choose a product that accommodates that label width.
Labels for spines on DVD or CD cases should be about 3.5 mm (or 0.14 inches) in width.
Name tags can be two or three inches in width, allowing for multiple lines of text.
There are also plenty of label ribbon widths in between those two.
Label makers that use wide ribbon paper (1.5 inches or more) allow for multiple lines of text.
As mentioned above, modern label makers employ thermal heat to transfer their ink. Most label makers include a cartridge with thermal label ribbon paper. The cartridge contains all of the components needed to make the system work.
The thermal ink comes in solid form as wax, resin, or a wax/resin combination. The ink is coated onto the back of a film.
The printing tape is also in the cartridge. The ink-coated film and printing tape are pulled out of the cartridge and fed through the label maker together.
A label maker that has its own keyboard but can also attach to a computer provides versatility.
You’ll need to decide which type of thermal ink is best for you: wax, resin, or a wax/resin combination. To determine this, ask yourself how you plan to use your labels. In what type of environment will the labels exist after they’re made?
Wax thermal ink is the most common type. Wax-based labels can last for several years, provided that they stay dry. Notably, the text on wax labels will bleed if exposed to elements like rain. Oil from your skin also can rub away the text on wax labels if they’re handled often.
If your labels will be exposed to harsh environmental conditions, resin ink is the way to go. The text on resin labels resists oils and chemicals. This type of ink is suitable for harsh industrial environments.
Some inks combine the properties of wax and resin. These types of labels are the most versatile, since they combine the best features of the two. You can expect this type of ink to be more durable than wax alone but less durable than resin.
Wax/resin ink offers a pleasing sharpness of text, too.
Resin ink cartridges in a thermal transfer label maker offer the best longevity because of their tough materials.
Label makers vary quite a bit in price. If you’re looking for more features and more versatility, you’re going to pay more.
In addition to your initial investment, you’ll incur ongoing costs with any label maker. For example, you’ll need to buy replacement label tape once your initial supply runs out.
The cheapest label makers are extremely basic. They typically use a small width of printer ribbon paper and don’t offer the versatility of pricier options. You can only use these inexpensive models indoors or in “normal” outdoor temperatures.
These mid-range label makers have larger display screens and more options for printing barcodes or graphics. The keyboard may be larger, and it may be possible to connect it to a computer. You’ll also find task-specific units like name tag label makers in this price range.
At the upper end of the label maker price range, you’ll find rugged units. If you work in harsh conditions where temperatures or humidity levels fluctuate, you would probably appreciate a higher-end label maker of this caliber. These sturdy machines are designed to withstand extreme bumps and potential drops.
Q. What are the differences between thermal types of label printers?
A. A direct thermal label maker uses heat-sensitive paper. The label maker heats the paper to create the text. A thermal transfer label maker actually transfers solid ink to the paper via a heating element.
Thermal transfer using solid ink is the most common type of label maker available now.
Q. What is the longevity of labels made with a label maker?
A. Labels that are kept in indoors will easily last several years without fading. Label that are exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity fluctuations are bound to fade sooner.
You can use higher-quality thermal ink to increase longevity. In fact, one of the reasons label makers switched to thermal ink printing is because the labels last longer than those made with thermal paper.
Q. How can I save money on a label maker?
A. Your cost depends on how you plan to use the machine. If you will only use it at home for basic tasks, you don’t need a rugged machine. And if you don’t need a wide variety of label widths, you can save money there, too.
Our Best Bang for the Buck selection, the Brother PC Connectible, is a simple machine that sells for $59. It would serve most basic needs quite well.
Q. What kind of ongoing costs does a label maker require over time?
A. Thermal transfer label makers require specific types of refill ribbon paper. These refills vary significantly in price.
Ink-based label makers require ink cartridge replacements similar to what’s found with an inkjet printer.