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 take a look at a handful of shipping label printers and identify which you should look at and which are work skipping over.
Why Use a Dedicated Thermal Shipping Label Printer
There’s an easy and understandable argument for using the printer you have already 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 sheet of paper 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 kind of real volume and I’ll bet dollars to barcodes 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. This list is broken down into three major groups: what works for most people, recommendations for high volume users, and alternatives I can’t really recommend but are good to point out, nevertheless.
Best for Low-Volume, New Shippers
One of the stalwarts in the industry, Dymo is known as the go-to for many users. Unless 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. 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 (there are many who are not authorized sellers of Dymo products), it rivals the price of others on this list.
Additionally, the Dymo 4XL doesn’t support feeding labels from outside the printer. 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, as well.
For small or medium-volume shippers that would benefit from support for high volume label printing.
When I originally came up with this list, I had left the GK420D off in favor of the GC420D because, for the most part, it performs similarly to the GC420D and costs about the same. In the end, I decided to bring it into the list anyway in the GC420D’s place because it does have small changes that make it a nice “higher volume-equivalent.”
The price range for the GK420D is roughly the same as the GC420D, but what makes it stand out as a next-notch option is its faster print speed. At 5″ per second, it’s not multiples faster, but printing 17% faster adds up when printing in volume. Whereas the GC420D can turn out 100 labels in 2 minutes 30 seconds, the GK420D can turn them out 30 seconds quicker at a flat 2 minutes.
The look of the GK420D is also marginally more appealing, with the dark plastic look, compared to the white-that-will-probably-turn-beige-over-time color scheme from the GC420D.
For high-volume shippers that need to print hundreds of labels per day, minimum.
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.
Decent, but carries the “typical Chinese brand” mindset with subpar support and sometimes flaky performance.
I put the Rollo on the list not because it’s an underdog that’ll blow all these other printers away, but because it’s fine, and for the price, it’s hard to beat.
At roughly 1/2 the price of the Dymo 4XL and equivalent Zebra printer, it’ll be an attractive entry-level printer. 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 for those with rolls, you’ll be finding yourself getting a holder of some kind, which adds 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 doesn’t come without its caveats. I found support to be lacking, but software-wise and actual customer service. Getting the Rollo to print on my existing systems properly took more work than it was worth. Knowing what I know and have experienced, now, I’d skip over the Rollo and go for a higher-priced alternative that took much less time to set up and get working.
The Seller Journal Recommendations
Each of these printer options has a lot of overlap with the others so the boundaries are blurry, to say the least. With that said, there are a couple of clear choices for most folks, and here they are:
For Most People: Zebra GK420D
The GK420D will be the printer that lasts you years. It has the capability to crank out hundreds per day and with the most minor maintenance, will keep serving for years. Its downside of not being able to hold large label rolls (like from UPS) is a minor one and can be offset by an external label roll holder and feeding from the back of the printer.
For High Volumes: Zebra ZT230
If you find yourself printing high volumes of labels per day, say more than 100, I’d spring for the ZT230. With support for larger 8″ rolls, it’ll hold upwards of 1,000 labels at a time, and the faster print speed will get those labels out faster. Like the GK420D, this printer will faithfully churn out labels for years.