The Best Label Makers for 2023
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The Best Label Makers for 2023

Nov 24, 2023

When most people think of label makers—or label printers, labeling systems, barcode printers, or whatever each manufacturer calls its wares—they may think of two kinds. The first is the type of small desktop printer that prints paper labels for addresses and file folders. The second is a handheld printer, with a small, built-in keyboard and a monochrome LCD, that prints on plastic labels rather than paper. But these two distinct types of printers both come under the umbrella of label printers, and not all printers for plastic (and other non-paper) labels are handheld models.

These days, you can find many types and levels of label printers (in terms of price, label variety, and volume). They range from inexpensive models for labeling photos or containers and other articles around the house, to the mission-critical office and industrial printers used for shipping labels, warnings ("Stop!" and "Caution!" stickers), barcodes, product labels, and more. Here's a rundown of how to navigate the label-printer market, along with our top tested picks.

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For strictly standalone printing of labels up to 0.71 inch wide, the LW-PX300 is our top pick. It weighs just 1.8 pounds with batteries and its QWERTY keyboard is comfortable to use whether the printer is sitting on a desk or held in both hands for thumb typing. Even better, its LCD is backlit for easy readability, and its firmware offers lots of features, including barcode support, options to adjust font size and style, and the ability to store 50 labels to print as needed.

Epson offers 81 continuous tapes for the printer in seven different types, including standard plastic (polyester), vinyl, fluorescent, and magnetic (think: refrigerator magnets). Options for widths and colors vary from one type to another, but widths overall range from 6 millimeters (mm) to 18mm (0.24 to 0.71 inch). Also important if you don't print a lot of labels is that the printer doesn't cost much. It lists for $59 for the printer itself, and is an even better buy as part of Epson's $80 LW-PX300VP kit. The kit version adds a rubber cover that can help protect the case, an AC adapter as an alternative to using six AA batteries, and a hard-shell case to carry or store it all. Both versions come with a lifetime warranty.

The LW-PX300 will be most appealing to small businesses, hobbyists, and home users. As a standalone printer for a maximum 0.71-inch-wide tape, it's light duty by definition, while offering an unusually long list of tapes and a wide choice of types for a light-duty printer. Along with the affordable price and lifetime warranty, that's enough to make it a standout pick.

The LabelWorks LW-PX400 is equally ready to work at your home, work desk, or work site. For desktop use, it comes with an AC adapter, doesn't take up much room (it's 5.6 by 2 by 5.6 inches, HWD), and offers a USB port for connecting to a Windows PC or macOS system (with the right adapter). For printing on the job, it weighs only 1.3 pounds, can use six AA batteries instead of AC power, and can print from Android or iOS devices via Bluetooth.

Epson offers a staggering 113 tape cartridges in nine different types at this writing: standard plastic (polyester), strong adhesive, fluorescent, silver and translucent matte, vinyl, removable adhesive, magnetic, and two choices for cables. The tapes range in width from 4mm to 24mm (0.16 to 0.94 inch), and most types are available in an assortment of widths and colors.

The LW-PX400 is a strong contender for small businesses that need to print labels up to nearly an inch wide, or that need one of the less-common varieties of label types Epson offers for it. Just know: Its speed is on the slow side. In our tests, a single 4.4-inch label took 16.6 seconds (0.27 inch per second, or ips), while a strip of four took 42 seconds (0.41ips) with automatic cutting on. That adds up to the LW-PX400 being strong on value and flexibility, especially considering its lifetime warranty, and best suited for businesses that need up to medium-duty label printing.

The Brother P-touch Cube Plus is misnamed—it's more of a cube minus, shaped like half a cube at 5 by 2.6 by 5 inches (HWD). But that doesn't stop it from being a solid choice. A head-to-head competitor to Epson's LW-PX400, it offers many of the same key features, including an automatic cutter; a similar range of tape widths, from 3.5mm to 24mm (0.14 to 0.94 inch); and the ability to connect to Windows and macOS systems for printing on your desktop, or to Android and iOS devices for printing on the go. Extras for the Cube Plus include a rechargeable battery and faster speed than the LW-PX400. It's rated at 130% faster, and indeed came in faster on our testing, although the results were recorded using different generations of our test protocol, and so aren't fully comparable.

If you need only plastic labels, the speed of the Cube Plus gives it a potential edge over the LW-PX400, which you'll need to balance against Epson's lifetime warranty, versus just one year for the Cube Plus. But what will likely determine which is the right printer for you are the tapes each works with. The types for the Cube Plus include standard plastic (laminated, in this case), flexible ID (for wrapping around cables), strong adhesive, fabric, ribbon, acid-free (for photos), and security tape (can't be removed and replaced without showing evidence of that). Compare this to the list for the LW-PX400, and you'll see that each printer offers some that the other lacks. So if you need, say, acid-free tape for labeling photos for home use, or security tape to spot tampering for business use, the Cube Plus is the only one of the two that offers them.

The Epson LabelWorks LW-PX800 delivers solid performance as a heavy-duty standalone label printer. It's a desktop model meant for the office, with the ability to share the printer over a network and connect to mobile devices. Plus, it's covered by a lifetime warranty, and it comes with both Mac and PC label-printing apps.

At this writing, Epson offers more than 200 choices in tape cartridges for the LW-PX800 in an assortment of sizes, colors, and types. About 140 are industrial tapes; the rest are home and hobby supplies, recently introduced for Epson's home label printers, but compatible with the LW-PX800, too. The printer can perform both label cutting and corner rounding, too.

Epson's LW-Z5010PX is a pricier pick that offers a wealth of features for extreme heavy-duty desktop printing, including the ability to print on labels up to 50mm (1.97 inches) wide. It also supports bulk rolls that are so big they have to sit behind the printer, with far longer tapes than you'd get in standard cartridges (and thus a lower cost per inch).

If your label-printing needs aren't quite that robust, the LW-PX800 could be your Goldilocks model, especially if you need to share the printer among multiple users on your office network, and you don't need especially wide labels, but you do need a vast variety of colors and types at your disposal.

The Epson LabelWorks LW-Z5010PX can't print from macOS systems, but that's just about the only feature this compact (6 by 7.6 by 7.8 inches) printer is missing. It can print from Windows PCs; from iOS and Android devices; or as standalone printer, using an unusually large QWERTY keyboard for a label printer and a 4.25-inch touch-screen display. It also prints on any of roughly 150 tape cartridges that mount inside the printer, plus 35 bulk rolls that mount externally. Most of the bulk rolls are 147.6-feet long continuous tapes. According to Epson, they save about 30% in running cost compared with its internal tape cartridges.

One notable convenience is automatic half-cutting. This model cuts the labels while leaving them on the carrier strip, making them easy to handle, and letting you remove individual labels as you use them. The printer also works with an optional automatic rewinder that rewinds the finished labels as you print, which is a major improvement over rewinding a long strip by hand. Most important, the LW-Z5010PX can print on tapes ranging from 4mm (0.16 inch) to 50mm (which rounds to 2 inches wide, although it's actually 1.97 inches).The tapes at each size come in assorted colors and types, including standard plastic (polyester), strong adhesive, removable adhesive, fluorescent, reflective, vinyl, magnetic, and two choices for cables: heat-shrink tubes and self-laminating overwrap tape.

The LW-Z5010PX is obviously meant for extreme heavy-duty printing for a desktop label printer, and it's aimed at laboratories, data centers, and similar applications. However, it's a good fit for any business that needs to print 2-inch-wide labels, or print enough labels for the savings on bulk rolls to make up for its high initial cost versus a lighter-duty model. It also helps that with the LW-Z5010PX, the savings on running costs will continue to accumulate over the entire life of its lifetime warranty.

The Rollo Wireless Printer X1040 can use label rolls from 1.57 to 4.1 inches wide, but its focus is on 4-by-6-inch shipping labels, and that focus is enhanced by the Rollo Ship Manager on Rollo's website. The Ship Manager charges 5 cents per printed label. In return, it gives you a single shipping interface for UPS and USPS (with FedEx still in the works, according to Rollo), as well as for online shopping platforms, including Amazon and Shopify. Even better, it offers shipping discounts that Rollo says can be as high as 90% for USPS or 75% for UPS. When we tested it, we saw a range of savings from 25% to 67%.

The printer itself is a stylized box measuring 3 by 7.7 by 3.3 inches (HWD) and designed to look good sitting on a desk. It can connect by either USB or Wi-Fi, which lets you print from a PC, a phone, or a tablet. Labels feed (through a slot in the back) at suitably fast speed, even when using Wi-Fi. We measured the X1040 at 7.1 seconds for a single 4-by-6-inch label and 91 seconds for 50 labels (3.4ips). A nice touch is that it will work with labels from most manufacturers, not just Rollo's labels.

The emphasis on shipping labels makes the Rollo X1040 well suited to small businesses that need to print 4-by-6-inch shipping labels, particularly if they sell products through one or more of the platforms that Ship Manager supports. However, note that Rollo also offers an online label app for creating any label you need, so anyone who needs to print paper labels at sizes up to 4 inches wide should find the X1040 worth a look.

The Brother QL-800, selling at this writing for $109.99 on Brother's website, is a solid value for a printer that can spit out address labels, folder labels, barcode labels and the like at a speed we clocked at 95.2 address labels per minute. Factor in its ability to print both red and black on the same label, and it's a standout bargain.

The two-color option works with only two of the 14 label rolls on Brother's website at this writing, but we haven't seen any other manufacturers offer it at all. Brother says the thermal printhead uses one level of heat to print red and another to print black. That lets it print either color anywhere on the label, so you can add a solid red background, for example, or a big "Fragile" or "Warning" in eye-catching red. More important, even if you never need the two-color printing, the QL-800 is a capable printer, and a good value, for office and warehouse labeling. It connects by USB, has an automatic cutter, accepts label rolls up to 2.4 inches wide, and works with both Windows and macOS computers.

The maximum 2.4-inch-wide roll size means you can't use the QL-800 for 4-by-6-inch shipping labels. However, you can use it for just about any other common need for paper labels in an office or shipping department: small barcode labels, visitor badges, even banners up to 3 feet long. If you need a printer for paper label rolls up to 2.4 inches wide and want to connect to a single PC, it will do the job. And if you also want to print in red and black, it's the only low-cost label printer that will.

If you want to print full-color labels with an affordable label printer, the Brother VC-500W Compact Color Printer is the only model we've seen at anywhere near its price (currently $179.99 on Brother's website). It's based on the same Zink technology (short for "zero ink") as some small photo printers, using paper stock infused with dye crystals that change color when heated. That translates to being able to print labels with color text, graphics, and photos, or even a strip of photos similar to what you'd get from a photo booth.

The VC-500W can print from Windows PCs and both Android and iOS phones and tablets. Image quality for graphics and text was excellent in our tests, offering vibrant color, minimal graininess, and respectable detail, the last thanks to the 313dpi resolution. Photos were also acceptable, though not a match for the best Zink photo printers. The label tapes come in four widths from 9mm to 50mm (0.37 to 1.97 inches) wide, at continuous lengths of 16.4 feet.

If you need a desktop printer for full-color labels and don't print enough of them to justify spending four figures for the printer, you need the VC-500W. It's that simple, for now at least, since it's the only affordable label printer for the desktop that offers full color. However, keep in mind that if you also need to print labels that aren't in full color, you'll want another label printer, too. That's because Zink rolls are a lot more expensive per inch than either paper or plastic tapes. At current prices, a 1-by-2.4-inch label for the VC-500W costs about 33 cents, compared with 2.1 cents for the same size die-cut address label for the Brother QL-800.

The Colop e-mark and other "rubber stamp"-style printers are digital substitutes for rubber stamps. But they're also a specialized handheld class of label printer. To use one, you drag it over the material you want to "stamp" (print on, actually). But whatever material or object you print on, the output is still an appropriate size and shape for a label, which means you could have just slapped on a label instead. Colop even offers label sheets for the e-mark, as well as continuous tapes that Colop calls "endless labels," and several accessories—the e-mark ruler, e-mark Ribbon Guide Set, and e-mark Multiline Printing Tool—to make it easy to move the e-mark in a straight line when printing labels.

The e-mark is basically an inkjet printhead you control by hand. You can store three imprint designs up to 5.9 inches long in its memory, switch among them, and create new designs on your Android or iOS device or PC to send to the printer. Two key advantages it has over most paper label printers for home and small offices are that it can print in color, using a tricolor cartridge, and print on anything that can accept ink. Its onboard battery is good for hundreds of prints per charge.

If you need to print color labels, whether with small graphics, photos, color frames, or just color text, the e-mark is one of the few label printers that can do that. And since it can print directly on any surface that can accept ink, it also lets you print the equivalent of a label directly on many objects, so you don't have to stick a label on them. Whether you need full four-color labels, or clean-looking imprints without label edges showing, the e-mark may well be the specialty printer you need.

Most consumer-grade—and lower-end small-business—labelers print only one color, usually black on white, although many models offer other color combinations such as white on black or yellow on black. Some even offer a wide range of monochrome-color choices, including, say, white on dark green, or yellow on pink.

You can find commercial-grade label printers that print labels in all shapes and sizes in full color, but they are expensive, making them well beyond the scope of this roundup. For the vast majority of label printers included here, the paper, plastic, or other stock determines the background color, while the printed color, which is added in an assortment of ways, depending on the technology, is limited to a single color as well. However, a few printers from Brother offer cartridges that can print in both black and red, and one Brother model is based on the same Zink technology as some photo printers—with dye crystals embedded in the paper—that lets it print labels in full color. There are also a few handheld "digital rubber stamp" printers that are basically handheld inkjets that print using a tricolor cartridge.

We primarily review consumer-grade and professional-grade small-business label printers that range in price from less than $100 to just more than $700. Believe it or not, compared with the number of commercial- and enterprise-grade labelers out there, there just aren't that many lower-end consumer and small-business models available, and the models stay on the market a long time. (Some of our favorites have been available for years.) The good news? For the most part, what's available is a collection of proven, solid performers. And many printers that use plastic and other non-paper stock are particularly versatile, capable of printing many different types of labels in a wide range of sizes.

Perhaps all you need to tag are some file folders, or you need to print mailing labels from a database, or print one at a time as needed. It's easy to find printers for paper labels that specialize in these tasks. Similarly, if you need to print what you can think of as plastic labels or industrial-style labels—though either term is a bit of an oversimplification—there are plenty of options to chose from.

Most industrial-style printers support a diverse set of blank label tapes, or rolls, often with a choice of materials besides standard plastic. These typically come in the form of continuous-length rolls that you can cut to whatever size label you need, though some printers also support rolls of fixed-length die-cut labels that peel off the roll one at a time. Both types of label printers—whether you think of them paper vs. plastic or office vs. industrial—can print on rolls with different widths, too, so make sure any printer you pick offers all the label widths you need.

In addition, all labelers have cutters of one type or another, ranging from simple serrated-edge blades where you tear your labels from the roll manually, as you would tinfoil or Scotch tape, to manual guillotine-like blades that you deploy with a lever, to automatic blades that cut each label as it comes out of the printer. Some also come with built-in batteries that allow you to use the printer on the go. A few support optional attachable batteries.

Nearly all label printers designed for consumers and small businesses are thermal printers. This means that, with the notable exception of the digital rubber stamp printers mentioned earlier, there is no ink in the printer. In some cases, the blank label material itself contains the color, and the heat of the printhead activates a color change in the label. In others, there's a ribbon in the cartridge along with the label material, and the printhead heats the ribbon to transfer the color to the label.

Because today's labelers support more than just one width or length of roll, it increases the diversity of label types you can create. If you plan to use your label printer for a wide range of projects—mailing labels, file folders, product barcodes, banners, and more—you should find a machine that supports several widths and other varying configurations of label rolls.

An important factor in choosing a labeler is deciding how and where you're going to use it. Some label printers today work strictly as standalone devices, requiring that you enter label text and commands on a tiny attached keyboard. But most recent models either add the option to print from some type of computing device (whether a PC or a mobile device), or are limited to only printing that way. Adding a PC to the mix provides the easiest and most versatile platform for creating labels, thanks in part to label-printing apps and in part to being able to use a full-size keyboard.

Mobile devices can offer equally good versatility for print features, but without the keyboard. That said, printing using a mobile device or standalone printer can be more convenient for printing labels as you need them, whether labeling cables, say, in a data communications center or just in your family room. So be sure to pick a printer that offers the combination of standalone printing and printing from a PC or mobile device that best fits your needs.

In most instances when using a label printer app, the printer tells the software what type of label roll is loaded in the printer. In turn, the software displays predesigned templates for several different label types. You can then fill in the blanks as-is, redesign the template, or start fresh and create your own custom labels.

In many cases, in addition to using the symbols, borders, and other design options built into the software, you can also import clip art and sometimes even photos (which print in monochrome on monochrome printers, of course) into your label layouts. Look at authoritative reviews of label printers for more details on the efficacy of their bundled software, if any. (Hint: We have lots of them.)

Another important factor in choosing a labeler is deciding how and where you're going to use it, which helps determine what type of connection(s) you need. Many label printers support more than one connection type, but some support only one, with USB being the most common. Not only is it used for connecting to your computer, but for the many labelers that come with internal batteries, it's one of the more common ways to recharge them.

The problem with USB is that the labeler must always be tethered to another device, making it more difficult to move the printer around. In addition, printing devices that connect solely via USB generally limit you to printing from only the one PC they're connected to, unless you take the time to set up something to act as a print server. (You can set Windows, for example, to share any USB-connected printer, so other PCs on the network can use it.)

Bluetooth is also supported by many label printers, as is Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi Direct. Ethernet and Wi-Fi, of course, make the printer available on your network, so any computer or mobile devices on the network can send it a print job—assuming the proper software is installed. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct create peer-to-peer connections between the printer and a mobile device or PC.

If you plan to print a large number of labels, another critical factor is the total cost of ownership, which is the initial cost of the printer plus the running cost, or the cost of all the labels you'll use over the printer's lifetime. This is hard to calculate with plastic-label printers, because many of them support multiple dozens of label types, encompassing different widths, roll lengths, colors, and material types. And the pricing of this stock can range just as wildly.

The key to comparing running cost between different printers is to pick out the label types you want to use, and compare prices for just those rolls. For die-cut labels (like address labels), you can calculate the cost per label by dividing the cost of the roll by the number of labels in the roll. For continuous rolls, you can calculate a price per inch by dividing the cost by the number of inches. If you have a sense of how long your labels will be on average, you can also divide the result in inches by the average inches per label, to convert the number of inches into the number of labels.

In either case, once you've calculated the cost per label or per inch for each of two printers, you can immediately see which has the lower running cost. If that model also has the lower initial price, it will obviously have the lower total cost of ownership. If the lower running cost is for the more expensive printer, you can subtract its cost per inch or label from the other printer's cost per inch or label, then divide that savings (per inch or label) into the difference in price between the two printers. The result will tell you how many inches or labels you'll need to print before the more expensive printer will give you the lower total cost of ownership.

If you need more than one type of label, you'll need to also guess how much of each type you'll use. But the basic approach remains the same.

The guide below outlines the best label printers that we've tested in recent years that remain on the market and available new. Bear in mind that general-use printers can also print sheets of labels, and are a viable alternative for printing paper labels, particularly if you need to print a stack of address labels for a mass mailing. For a look at our top printer picks overall, check out our overall best printer roundup, as well as the best inkjet and laser printers you can buy right now.

$68.99 $53.86 $17.18 $40.48 $23.99