This is a comprehensive guide on the different types of label makers and printers you can find on the market. Generally, label makers and printers are divided along the lines of operational mechanism and form factor.
Regular printers cannot meet every printing need satisfactorily. There are special printers for special printing purposes. Label printers are an example of special printers. They are formatted for printing labels, barcodes, and tags on card-stock, self-adhesive labels, tear sheet stock, and rolled stock. Some label printers can also print on foil and film substrates.
This article does not contain any product recommendations. If you are interested in purchasing label makers and printers, here’s our buying guide with products.
Working knowledge of the different types of label printing devices available would help you make an informed choice while shopping for a label printer or maker. You would be able to decipher which type best suits your need and specific application.
The Difference between Label Makers and Label
A label maker will have its built-in display, keyboard, and operating system. Unlike a label printer, it doesn’t have to interface with a computer to process printing jobs.
A label printer has to be connected to a computer to receive printing commands. However, some label printers have a built-in OS (operating system) and can, therefore, operate as stand-alone devices. These are called label makers.
The possibility of stand-alone use is not the only factor that distinguishes label printing devices. Other distinguishing factors include the printing mechanism the device uses and its form factor. This article will explain the different types of label makers and printers based on printing technologies and functional capabilities.
Different Types of Label Makers and Printers Based on Printing Mechanism
There are three distinct types of mechanisms used by label printing devices. They are as follows:
Thermal printing mechanism
Label printing devices that use this mechanism create permanent images with controlled heat application. There are two main types of thermal printing mechanism:
Direct thermal printing
Label printers and makers that use this mechanism work on a special printing material called thermal fax paper. This material is treated with chemicals that make it darker upon the application of heat from the printer’s thermal print head.
Direct thermal label printers and makers do not require ribbons, toner, or ink. This makes them quite inexpensive to maintain. However, they can only create black images; they can’t create colored images. More so, the labels often fade off over time, especially if it is exposed to UV light. That’s why this type of label makers and printers are mostly used to print barcodes.
Thermal transfer printing
This mechanism indirectly applies heat to the printing material through wax or resin-based ribbons. So the thermal print head emits heat to melt the printer ribbon’s surface so that the wax or resin on it would create the intended design on the label. Some ribbons include a mix of both wax and resin.
You can use colored ribbons on thermal transfer printers if you desire to have a colored design. More so, the labels are typically sturdier and more durable than that of direct thermal printing. They can withstand scratches and smudges. They are also resistant to chemicals, oil, extreme temperatures, and outdoor exposure.
✅ Video – Direct Thermal Vs. Thermal Transfer: What’s the Difference?
This video contains a detailed description of the two types of thermal printers. It explains the major differences between direct thermal and thermal transfer printers. You will learn how to identify each type with ease.
Inkjet printing mechanism
How do inject printers operate? Inkjet label printers use wet ink cartridges to create designs. They are ideal for standard sheet-fed office or home use because they are cost-effective and easy to use. They are also very versatile and can print on a wide range of label types.
Piezoelectric label printers use the inkjet printing mechanism, although they are quite more sophisticated. Their print heads have nozzles that push ink droplets out using electric current. The nozzles fire the ink droplets with great precision and speed. They can produce as much as 40,000 droplets per second.
Piezoelectric label printers are efficient and fast. They produce high quality, photo-grade images, including colored labels. And since they don’t use heat, you can use heat-sensitive inks with them.
Laser printing mechanism
Label printers and makers with the laser mechanism use dry toners and not wet ink. The toner could be full color or black only. This allows for the addition of color coding and graphics to your label. The labels usually last long and can withstand UV exposure. Laser label prints are, however, not resistant to chemical exposure.
Different Types of Label Makers and Printers by size and portability
There are 3 main types of label makers and printers based on size and portability. They are as follows:
Handheld label printers
What can you do with handheld label printers? These portable label makers will easily solve the labeling needs of most warehouses and offices. If you run a small business or home office, this should be ideal for you. Despite their portable size, handheld label printers can do heavy-duty printing too. Some models can even withstand elements from the environment, as well as occasional drops.
Handheld label printers and makers can handle medium-duty usage with smaller roles of 4 inches width and below. They do not make noise and are inexpensive. They are suitable for the following labeling needs:
- Office labels for filing and administration
- Printing security and product logging labels for managing IT assets.
- Creating long-lasting labels for communications, cabling, and audio/visual maintenance.
- Logistics and warehousing labeling, including those for shipping, postages, and shelves, as well as barcodes.
- Medical laboratory labeling, including sample labels, medication, scrubs, and wristbands.
- Diverse kinds of ticketing printing
Commercial label printers
What can you do with commercial label printers? Commercial label printers are capable of doing heavy-duty printing, for example on manufacturing plants and factory floors. The labels prints are often high quality and durable. Many companies use this form factor to make their in-house labels with great speed, quality, and efficiency.
Commercial label makers can hold larger rolls of 8-inch width. They are designed to meet the following labeling needs:
- Product and packaging labels, including distribution labels, food packaging, and health information, among others.
- Manufacturing labels, such as faceplates, warning stickers, and logos.
- Pharmaceutical labels for chemicals and medications.
Industrial label printers
These are designed to meet the labeling needs of businesses that handle large scale printing operations and label production. They can create standard labels or special printing formats, including billboards, wall posters, and car wraps. They generate fast and efficient labels for factories, warehouses, and distribution centers.
Desktop label printers
These are designed to print labels, tags, and tickets. They also print clear barcodes and are good for diverse applications, including low-volume economical printing needs and industrial-grade rugged applications. The printers work smartly and are flexible to operate.
Different Types of Label Makers and Printers Based on Paper Feed Mechanism
Label printers and makers also differ in the type of paper feed mechanism. These differences are very important. Here are the different types of paper feed mechanisms available for label makers and printers:
Sheet-fed printers use individual sheets for label printing. Older models of sheet-fed printers require you to feed the sheets into the machine one by one. But newer models allow you to load paper rolls into the machine instead of individual sheets. These newer models include a feature that can cut paper rolls into single sheets before feeding them into the machine for printing.
It could be very stressful to use the older models if you are printing on hundreds of sheets. Loading all of them one by one would be labor-intensive. But with the new models, the machine does the cutting and feeds the sheets in by itself.
It seems like an irony that new models of sheet-fed printers use rolls. But since the machine cuts the paper rolls into sheets before printing on them, they are still called sheet-fed printers.
These are also called web printers. They print on large rolls of paper instead of individual sheets. The rolls of stock form a web that feeds continuously into the printer. While sheet-fed printers cut the rolls before printing begins, roll-fed printers cut the rolls after the labels are printed.
If you are making bulk labels, you should use roll-fed printers. But for small orders, sheet-fed printers are more ideal.
How many labels would be ideal for roll-fed printers? Any printing order that is above 6,000 items required roll-fed printers. While you can use sheet-fed printers for such orders, roll-fed printing would be cheaper and less stressful. But if you are printing less than 6000 labels, sheet-fed printing might be a better choice.
✅ Video – Differences between web and sheet-fed printing
Andy Yorks is the Senior Sales and Marketing Manager of Warners Printers. In this video, he gives an expert view on the differences between sheet-fed and roll-fed printers. The video contains illustrations, as well as print samples to demonstrate all the major differences, as he explains them.
Different Types of Label Makers and Printers Based on Hardware Features
Label printers and makers also have various hardware features that distinguish them from one another. Let’s see a few of these hardware features:
Media Bypass Tray
Some printers have a bypass tray, while others don’t. This secondary tray is usually found just below or above the printer’s paper tray. The bypass tray is a special feature for thicker media like envelopes. When you feed paper into the bypass tray, the label bypasses one or more rollers in the printer. This creates a straight path for the label and helps prevents the label sheets from rotating. This, in turn, improved the print alignment.
Wide/Long Edge Feed vs. Narrow/Short Edge Feed Printers
Most printers have trays with the short-edge feed feature. This means the sheets would feed into the printer in the portrait position. This is the ideal position for label printing. Even if your label printer offers both short and long edge feed, you should only make use of the short edge option.
Label papers have a rectangular shape with a short and a long edge. Make sure to always feed labels papers in through the short edge. If you feed in the long edge, the backing sheet might peel off the label sheets and cause a printer jam.
Some people call these “borderless” printers because they allow you to make a full print on the A4 size sheet. They can print from edge to edge without leaving a border on the label paper. These printers allow you to print easily without having to adjust your template.
Printers that create a border cannot make an imprint on the “border” area of the label paper. This means that if a part of your design template falls in this “border” area, you would either lose it or have to adjust your design.
✅ Video – Borderless Printing
This video contains a step by step guide on how to set up borderless printing. If you desire to print your labels and documents from edge to edge, this short tutorial will teach you how.
Rare Types of Label Printing Devices
Aside from the major types of label printers and makers above, there are a few rare types. They include the following:
RFID (Radio-frequency identification) readers
These special label printing devices encode and print simultaneously on tags, which are typically enclosed in printable materials like paper. They transfer data wirelessly from the reader to the label with the use of radio-frequency.
Label printer applicators
These are automated labeling devices, much like robots, that help create pressure-sensitive labels on various products. They are common in warehouses and manufacturing plants that require the labeling of pallets and cases for shipping.
Embossing label makers
These are often handheld machines that use embossing tapes. The embossing tapes are usually made of tough plastic, which could be of varying colors. Some simple embossing label makers use a “turn and click” system and require no batteries.
What types of media can label printers produce?
Label printers can produce three types of media formats: labels, tags, and wristbands. They make use of a broad range of materials, including regular paper, plastic materials, and other special form materials.
Labels are of varying shape corners, height (up to 11 inches), and width (up to 8 inches). More so, labels use different paper types, such as standard paper, sticker type, and adhesive-backed. Tags differ from labels in that they don’t have the adhesive-backed type.
Wristbands, on the other hand, can be for aesthetic use or function with higher technology as a tracking, crowd management, or access control device. They are often scratch-free and waterproofed.
Can a regular printer print shipping labels?
Regular desktop printers can print about two labels at most on the standard letter-size paper (8.5 by 11 inches). You will, however, need to cut out the label and find a way to tape it to your package. Some regular printers, however, accept half-sheet sticker papers.
Half-sheet sticker papers can make the process of printing shipping labels simpler. But the best option is to use dedicated label printers. Their labels are already in the appropriate size and they have adhesives on them already. So you wouldn’t need to manually tape the label to your package.
How good is the resolution and print speed of label printers?
The average print resolution of label printers is between 203dpi and 300dpi, but some have a print resolution as high as 1200dpi. And on average, a label printer can print between 3 and 12 inches output per second.
Some label printers allow you to select your preferred print resolution before printing. A higher print resolution always delivers finer and more specialized prints than lower resolutions. Besides, the print speed of label printers is measured differently from regular printers. While regular printers measure print speed with PPM (page output per minute), label printers use output length per second.
Seeing that there are different types of label makers and printers suitable for various label printing solutions, you must first understand your printing needs before shopping for a label printer. Are you going to use it at home, in your office, for your small business, or industrial purposes? Will your printing operations be low, medium, or heavy-duty? These are some of the questions you must ask yourself. If you underestimate your labeling needs, you will end up buying a device that will not satisfy your needs. And if you overestimate your labeling needs, you will drain your resources unnecessarily.