If you’ve printed more than a handful of shipping labels every month, you know it can be a hassle. I’ve talked about changing over to thermal printing and using AZLabels to get the job done for my Amazon business, but what if you don’t have a thermal printer yet?
December 16, 2020: I’ve updated this post to refresh a few screenshots.
Note: When I originally wrote this post, I did so with the idea of Amazon sellers in mind. In reality, this will apply to anyone looking to get their logistics tools taken care of on the cheap. You can be running any kind of business, and that'll work just as well for you.
UPS is coming to the rescue. We may not be huge fans of UPS for their higher shipping costs–RIP FedEx’s partnered carrier status–but the quantity of free or near-free resources to get started printing might make it all worth the upcharge.
How to get a free thermal printer
To get your hands on a free UPS-approved Zebra thermal printer (don’t worry, it’ll work with Inventory Lab, AZLabels, ShipStation, EasyShip, Shippo, etc.), you’ll need to give UPS a call at 1-800-742-5877 (or 1-800-833-0056 for TTY/TTD support). This process goes faster if you already have a UPS ID (sign up).
Once you get to the phone menu, press 0 (zero) to be transferred to a human. Ask to speak to an account manager. If you don’t already have a UPS shipping account, use this time to set one up with them.
Getting that out of the way, ask about renting a Zebra thermal printer. Yes, technically, acquiring this printer means you’re just renting it from UPS. The typical fee is $2/week, but if you have substantial existing shipping volume–or can sweet talk them–you can get the rental fee down to $0. Use something like the high volume of shipments you do using UPS as Amazon’s partnered carrier.
Even if you still have to pay, keep in mind the start-up cost here is super low. At $2/week, one year will have only set you back $104. That’s still less than the price of a Zebra ZT450, less than the Rollo ($169), and way less than the Dymo 4XL (~$210). Once your business is off the grown and turning a profit six months to a year down the road, return the printer and get your own.
As far as startup costs go, the cost of a thermal printer and labels doesn’t need to be one of them. Think of it this way: if you’re shipping 100 units of product a month to Amazon warehouses, customers, or wherever, the rental fee will set you back a mere $0.08-0.09/unit. Take the $100-$200 you would have spent and buy inventory. The return from buying inventory is way higher than buying a thermal printer right away, which won’t actually generate direct profit.
Do some back-of-the-napkin math. Taking that saved money and re-investing it into your business can multiply quickly.
If that math doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will.
(ed: ok, I’ve digressed enough, back to the topic at hand.)
Dealing with printer maintenance or it breaking
Since you didn’t purchase the printer outright, you’re not on the hook for it if it toasts itself. Remember, it’s a rental! Give UPS a call and let them know it’s not functioning, and they’ll swap it out for you.
How to get free thermal shipping labels
If you have a UPS account (which you should if you worked on acquiring the printer over the phone already), you can get a shipment of thermal shipping labels at no cost by placing an order online in just a few moments. UPS ships the labels to you, and you’re ready to go. UPS says their supplies should only use them for UPS shipments, but since this is an Amazon FBA blog and UPS is the only parcel partnered carrier left, worrying about that seems like a non-issue.
To get these free blank labels, head to this UPS.com page and log in. This requires you to have a UPS shipping account (you should already have one from talking to a UPS account manager). From your profile page, choose Order Supplies.
Choose the Labels and Stickers option from the Supplies page, then pick one of the Direct Thermal Label options. You’ll see a couple: fan-fold format in 4″ x 6″ and 4″ x 8″ and roll format in 4″ x 6″, 4″ x 6.25″, and 4″ x 8″ variants.
If you’re a super heavy printer, grab a case of the 4″ x 6″ fan-fold labels. A case will come with 6,000, whereas the largest roll you can acquire at once comes with 900.
Note: UPS informed me that it’d depend on your shipping volume, whether fan-fold labels are available. The account I used to generate these screenshots doesn’t do much volume, so that option wasn’t available.
I would also recommend the address pouches as backups or if you include packing lists. They fit labels in them well, so if you need to print using a regular printer, they’ll hold the sheets without issue.
Add the supplies to your cart and check out. They’ll arrive at your business or home in a few business days entirely free of charge.
Print thermal shipping labels easily
Now that you have your free (or close-to-free) hardware and labels use AZLabels to print shipping labels directly from Seller Central (if you’re an Amazon seller) or your shipping software of choice. For you Amazon folks, I go over how to do that in this post, along with how to get some extra free stuff every month just for being a Seller Journal reader. If you’re selling outside the platform and looking for the best shipping platform, check my list here.
That’s all there is to it! Once you have the printer and supplies in your possession, you’ll have no reason to do things the old-fashioned way with inkjet or laser printers and their expendable resources. No more paying for paper or ink. Take those printing costs and buy more inventory and make those profits.