A Guide to Buying Label Printers

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A Guide to Buying Label Printers

Whether in the office, the shipping room, or on a factory floor, good labels are literally part of the public face of a business. A well-ordered office is easier and more efficient to work in, and clear, easy-to-read labels are a big part of good organisation, besides simply looking more professional. Shipping labels, product labels, and barcodes of all types must be printed neatly, correctly, and often quickly. Obviously, having a good label printer is simply part of doing business in many fields.

Some businesses may even need several different types of label printers to meet different needs of the business. But just as the right label printer is an important addition to a business, the wrong one is, at best, a waste of money. Label printers are very specific as to the type and size of stock they can work on, their operating conditions, and other factors. A top of the line label printer can also be quite expensive, and could simply be too much for a business whose needs are modest. Clearly, it is important for the buyers to understand how to match their particular needs to the right label printer.

Introduction to Label Printers

Before setting out to shop for a label printer it is important to find out the basics about these machines. For example, what makes a label printer different from other printing machines? How many different types of label printer are there, and how do they differ? What, exactly, are label printers used for?

What Is a Label Printer?

Label printers are distinct among printers because they need to be able to print on specialised surfaces, such as plastic or thermosensitive paper. Some types of labels can be printed in a standard printer, but most cannot. Usually, the stock is narrow, comes in a roll, and may have periodic gaps in the material that the label printer can use to keep its printing properly centred on the label itself. Some label printers can even print directly on the surface of CDs and do not require a paper CD label at all.

What Are Label Printers Used For?

Label printers can print shipping labels, mailing labels, bar codes, CD labels, and even Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. Not every label printer can print every kind of label, however. Many are actually very specific as to what kind of printing surface they can work with. Specialty printing also requires specialised printing machines. RFID printing, for example, requires the ability to code the tracking chip itself as well as simultaneously printing the label on the tag.

Types of Label Printers

Label printers vary according to their size and capacity, the type and size of material they print on, and how they print. The two main printing types are called direct thermal printing, which uses heat sensitive paper that changes colour when heated, and thermal transfer printing, which uses heat to transfer ink to the paper from a ribbon. Labels printed by the direct thermal method tend to fade over time, especially with exposure to sunlight, so this method is best used for temporary labels, such as those used in shipping. The chart lists several common printer types, along with a brief note describing each type.

Printer Type

Explanatory Notes

Desktop Label Printers

Uses up to 10 cm stock; designed for occasional use

Commercial Label Printer

Uses up to 20 cm stock; designed for frequent use

Industrial Label Printers

Designed for continuous, high-volume operation; come in both portable and non-portable versions

RFID Printers

Can encode RFID tags and print identifying labels on the tag at the same time

Personal Label Printers or Label Makers

Handheld or portable desktop machines that include a keyboard and display; do not require connection to a separate computer

Each of these types can also be subdivided according to how the printer connects with other machines, what programming language it uses most efficiently, what type of stock the printer processes, and other variables. It should be noted that the label printer types listed in the chart are not brands; each manufacturer makes several types of printers, and some manufacturers produce printers of each type. This list is also not exhaustive.

Choosing a Label Printer

To choose a particular label printer to buy, it is important to first get a good sense of what features to look for. It is easier to start by knowing the company's needs and then looking for a printer that meets those needs than to try sorting through the vast variety of options and attempting to spot a machine that looks good. So, to begin with, consider what kind of work the printer must be able to do, what features it should have, and how it should connect with and communicate with other machines.

What Is the Printer For?

First, get a good idea of exactly what the printer needs to be able to do. Make a list of required features and then use this list later when considering different printers. One useful way to get started is to ask a series of basic questions about what kind of printer is needed.

Label Material and Printing Type

Are the labels going to be paper or synthetic? How large must they be? How do they feed through the machine? Does direct thermal printing make sense, or is the more permanent thermal transfer method better for this particular application?

Label Printer Capacity

How often is the printer going to be used and how fast does it need to be able to run? Label printers vary dramatically in their capacity because a machine that prints a couple of mailing labels a day needs to have a very different design than one that must constantly produce product labels for boxes coming off a factory line.

Label Printer Resolution

Label printers vary in their dot density, a measure that is roughly equivalent to the number of pixels in a display screen of a given size. Like pixels, the more dots, the more detail the printer can handle. Since increased resolution is costly, it makes sense to go with the lowest resolution possible, as long as the resulting labels are legible. A very small barcode, for example, might need very high printer resolution or it cannot be read by a laser.

Space and Portability

If a printer has plenty of space to operate and does not have to be moved, then it does not matter how big it is. But if a printer has to fit inside a restricted area, or has to be moved regularly, then size and weight become considerations. Heavy-duty printers often come in portable and non-portable versions. A printer that must function in a dirty, dusty area, such as a factory floor, may need additional features to keep the dust out so the printer stays in good working order.

How Should the Label Printer Receive Data?

How the printer should receive data is really two questions. One question relates to how the printer connects to computers and the other relates to the programming language the printer uses. Obviously, neither question applies to label makers that include their own keypad and screen.


Traditionally, printers have connected to computers using either serial or parallel cables, and some printers may still be available that work this way. The problem is that it is getting increasingly difficult to find computers that can accommodate these cables. USB, Ethernet, and wireless connectivity are the current standard, but printers vary in the number of options they can use. The main thing is to make sure to get a printer that can communicate with the other equipment in the system, both now and as equipment is updated into the future.

Programming Language

Not all printers use the same programming language equally well. While most printers can work with most computer systems, they will be less error-prone working in the language they were designed to use. Especially for companies that already have established computer networks, it is important to choose a printer that uses the same language that the rest of the system uses.

How to Buy a Label Printer on eBay

Buying a label printer through eBay has several advantages. These include the convenience of finding a wide selection of many models and brands of label printers in one place. Some very good deals are available as well.

How to Find a Label Printer on eBay

To browse through the available options, type a term, such as 'direct thermal label printer', into the search box and then use the menu options to narrow down the results. The results can also be narrowed according to model, condition, and other characteristics of the label printer. Alternatively, use the Advanced Search option to find a specific model of label printer without browsing.

How to Buy a Label Printer on eBay with Confidence

There is a contact link on the seller's profile page for questions and any other communication. The profile page also includes the seller's feedback score and return policy. For major purchases, ask the seller to insure shipping.


Labels are one of those many aspects of society that nobody really notices, yet they are everywhere, and if something went wrong with them, people would notice. Labels are used for organising offices, mailing letters, shipping parcels, and, of course, there are labels on products. Almost any business needs to make some form of label, and that means buying a label printer.

Before investing in a label printer, it is important to find out exactly what kind of printer is needed, since label printers are fairly specific in the kind of work they can do. Decide what kinds of labels, what kind of stock, and what kind of ink are needed. Other issues to look at include the work environment, whether it is clean or dirty, the printer's programming language, and its speed and capacity. Be sure to note, too, whether the printer needs to be portable or not, as some industrial printers especially are large and difficult to move. From there, finding a printer through eBay that has all the required features is relatively simple and straightforward.

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