January 2022 Update: Rollo's new Wireless Thermal Label Printer takes the crown for the best printer for most people. Read the full review here.
Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes trying to ship something to their customers knows that a good label printer makes or breaks the process. With the number of shipping label printers on the market, it can be daunting to figure out which suits your business’ needs the most. In this article, we’ll look at a handful of shipping label printers and identify which you should look at and which you should skip over.
Why Use a Dedicated Thermal Shipping Label Printer
There’s an easy and understandable argument for using the printer you already have to print your shipping labels. For most, that’s their existing inkjet or laser printer, printing onto 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets of paper and folding them in half.
The downside with this is mostly waste. Typically, this includes half of the paper sheet going to waste, and ink or toner is consumed more frequently. With a thermal shipping label printer, no ink is used, and in some cases, you can acquire entirely free shipping labels on which to print.
Pair that with any real volume, and I’ll bet dollars to barcodes that the math would make a thermal printer real attractive real quick.
The Best Thermal Shipping Label Printers
There are literally dozens of options on the market to choose from, depending on the budget and the volume of labels you’ll need to print. I've broken down the list into the best printer for most folks, a WiFi alternative, the best roll-friendly printer, and the best non-WiFi and high-volume printers.
Best Thermal Label Printer for Most People
Rollo X1040 Wireless Thermal Label Printer
The Rollo X1040 belongs in this top spot because it's not just a great printer–it's the successor to the X1038 featured below, it does a great job carving out a spot in the WiFi-enabled thermal printer market, too. I've long argued that the Rollo X1038 is the best bang for your buck.
Adding WiFi to an already great printer means you're putting it places where it really should be, even if there's no computer nearby. Skip the USB cables, the workstations, and everything else that was getting in the way. The Rollo X1040 nails wireless thermal printing, and for the price, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything better.
Honorable Wi-Fi Mention: FreeX Wireless Thermal Label Printer
FreeX Wireless Thermal Label Printer
Before the Rollo X1040 was released, the FreeX was in a class of its own (check out my review here). After raising the price by a substantial amount (before any promotions or discounts), the FreeX started to look a bit less attractive unless you're really into or need wireless printing. It's still a good unit, albeit not as quick over WiFi as the Rollo. Its defining capability is that it holds roll labels inside itself, rather than out the back, creating a smaller footprint on your desk or work surface.
Best for Low-Medium Volume Shippers with Roll Labels And Limited Desk Space
One of the stalwarts in the industry, Dymo is known as the go-to for many users. Unlike the rest of the printers on this list, it’s easy to find Dymo printers, with the Dymo 4XL existing in most retail office supply stores across the United States and Canada. I’m a Dymo user myself (I have the 450 Turbo for addresses and SKU labels) and greatly enjoy the quality. The quality carries over into the larger 4″ x 6″ label size, too.
The Dymo software is decent. It’s nothing I would write home about, so to speak, but I also believe that for most of us, we wouldn’t be using the Dymo software most of the time, if at all, anyway.
My biggest qualm with the Dymo 4XL is the price. If you can find one new in the box from an authorized reseller, it's hard to beat the value you get from this internal-roll-fed thermal printer.
A potential downside for some: the Dymo 4XL doesn’t support feeding labels from outside the printer like more commercial-oriented units like the Zebra ZP-450. Only label rolls that can fit inside the printer are supported, which takes larger, bulk-quantity label rolls off the supplies list, adding to cost. If you often rock 1000-sheet rolls, grab yourself a holder and either of the Rollos on this list, instead.
Best Low-Medium Volume Shippers with Roll or Fan-Fold Labels
Rollo X1038 Thermal Label Printer
I put the Rollo X1038 on the list not because it’s an underdog that’ll blow all these other printers away–it is, frankly–but because it’s just straight good, and a just straight good printer is often enough for a lot of folks. Its price is hyper-competitive compared to the Dymo, too, so it’s hard not to look at it as a viable alternative.
At roughly 75% of the price of the Dymo 4XL and even less compared to some others, it’s an attractive entry point into the thermal-printing space. It’s also an interesting format in its rectangular shape and convenient feed mechanism (in the back, out the front). However, this also means that you’ll be finding yourself getting a holder of some kind for those with rolls, which adds about 30$ to the cost. The Rollo is really designed for fan-fold labels since they can sit nicely behind the printer without any additional support or hardware.
The Rollo X1038 is compatible with every shipping solution that would work with anything else on this list, making it a great option for those that see the higher-priced printers on this list and have a hard time finding extra value in the higher price tags.
Best for High-Volume Shippers
The ZT series is a big boy, a chunk of a printer, but its heft and bulk translate into a real thermal printing machine. While it’s twice the price (most of the time) of the GC/GK-series Zebra printers, it’s also by far the most capable.
Side-loading of label rolls is standard, as well as a blistering 6″/second print speed. For those doing the math at home, that’s one label per second. It also boasts a higher DPI print quality at 300dpi, meaning labels come with better detail, and those barcodes will be even more crisp, giving beaten-up barcode scanners less of an excuse to work right.
If you order your supplies by the 1000s, you’ll be pleased to see that 8″ rolls are supported. Specifically, for those that get their labels from UPS, the massive label roll they send you will fit snugly inside without issue. The ZT230 supports all the label feed formats: continuous, die-cut, hole, and black-mark.
I really wasn’t joking when I said it’s a big one, though. At 20 lbs, it’ll need a nice, sturdy place to sit.Last Updated: May, 5th, 2022 at 10:33 pm UTC