A shipping label printer can be a serious time-saver for online sellers. It seems so simple - just a machine that can print some labels. But if you're used to cutting and taping, or even handwriting addresses, you're in for a treat. Buying shipping label printers can help you speed up packaging and sending orders out - but are they right for you? So if you're not sure whether it's worth buying one, read on! We're here to help!
We think if you're shipping at least 5-10 orders a week, a shipping label printer may be helpful for you. It's a high upfront cost, but you never need to buy ink, and it'll cut your processing time down so that you can focus more on making.
Shipping label printers are also known as thermal printers, and they work by taking heat-sensitive label paper and applying heat in patterns to make text appear. A thermal label printer is great because it doesn't use any ink. You may also see these labels called "thermal direct label (s)" - this is because again, they take no ink.
The limitation of these thermal printers is colors. The technology for thermal color printing is in its infancy. These labels also don't last forever. They're not made to be out in the sun every day. They'll just fade.
The largest benefit to buying a shipping label printer, in my opinion, is the amount of time you'll save during packaging and shipping. Shipping label printers print faster than standard printers and their quality is very consistent. You can print an entire batch of labels at once, and every order will be labeled the exact same for consistency. Your end products will look more professional, and the labels really do print in seconds.
I've found that my shipping label printer has been great for my efficiency. Now I'll print order receipts, lay out products near those receipts, then print all of my shipping labels at once, put them near the product/receipts, and then I can just package everything in one go. Before I even knew about shipping label printers, I would be constantly moving - I left my pen over here, or my label cutter was over there. It felt like it took minutes, not seconds, to process labels and get them attached to orders. Plus, to successfully print shipping labels on my laser printer at the right size was always a trial-and-error process.
Many online postage sites, including Etsy and PirateShip, will specifically format your label purchases for a label printer. This makes printing your labels very easy - easier than printing on 8.5x11 sheets, then cutting and taping pieces onto packages. This also means that the automated machines that handle your packages will have an easier time. Tape over labels can interfere with machine readers. And, printing out on paper can mean that water damage affects your label readability. That's simply not an issue on thermal label prints.
Finally, it just looks more consistent and professional. It's good to have a small business look, but handwriting addresses just gets old. There's something about a product packaged with nice, clean labels that really adds to the presentation of your product.
To sum up printing shipping labels with a specialized printer:
Buying a shipping label printer can also be a risky decision. The up-front price can be pretty expensive, and it's one more machine you'll buy that takes up space.
I did some research on buying a label printer before I bought my own, but I didn't buy the absolute best model available at the time. This is probably the biggest mistake new users make when they buy these machines. They invest hundreds of dollars, and get caught up in all of the bells and whistles of machines. Really, for a label printer, you just need something that can do 4x6 labels. Nothing else.
Next, they don't require a lot of maintenance, but they can be a bit intimidating to set up. Many of the cheaper models are imported, so instructions aren't always stellar. But, there are videos and guides online to help you do it, and if you're able to plug in some stuff and click a few buttons on the computer, you're probably fine.
Something else to think about is how the printer connects to your computer or device. Most of the imported, cheaper devices only connect via USB, and may only connect to a real computer - not a Chromebook or tablet. So be sure to read reviews and ensure device compatibility before ordering.
A year into purchasing, I wish that my shipping label printer had Bluetooth. My usual workstation is upstairs, and my processing/shipping area is downstairs. I have to physically bring my laptop downstairs to be able to print some labels. I'll have to buy a new printer to get Bluetooth capability - or, more realistically, just move the product upstairs.
To sum up the cons of printing shipping labels with a dedicated printer:
A label printer has value and purpose, but it's not for everyone. You may need to invest in other equipment first before focusing on this type of printer.
Then a shipping label printer may be for you. If you're not quite there yet - don't worry! Buy a package of shipping label paper, and by the time you're through - I bet you'll be ready for an upgrade. I certainly was!
Now that you know about the pros and cons, it's time to think about features.
Most label printers will attach to your computer via USB. You can buy Bluetooth models, but they're much more expensive. Given that you're just using it for shipping labels, the USB is probably fine for you. If you work exclusively off of mobile devices, you may need a Bluetooth option instead
You may also buy models that print on different sizes. I thought that I would use this feature, but it turns out that I don't. I only ever print on 4x6. So, I wouldn't worry too much about buying a shipping label printer model that prints on multiple sizes.
The best shipping label printers are ones that you can set up easily and use regularly. Wow, that was a mouthful. I've found that the best shipping label printers for ecommerce sellers like me are likely the Rollo or the Dymo. I use the Rollo (pictured below) but I've heard great things about the Dymo too! Just keep in mind that the Dymo requires special paper, but you can use any thermal paper with your Rollo printer.
I've used my Rollo to print labels for thousands of orders at this point, and it's rarely let me down. Occasionally I'll have to refeed the paper in, but I'd say it has 99% uptime. Much better than when I was using my laser printer to print labels.
I hope this article has given you some ideas about what to look for in a shipping label printer. Let me know what you chose - and why - in the comments below!