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February 16, 2016

The best label maker

by John_A

By Marisa McClellan

This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a buyer’s guide to the best things for your home. Read the full article here.

After 25 hours of research (including talking to small-business owners, kitchen managers, professional organizers, and home users) and 15 hours spent testing eight popular models, we’ve determined that the Brother PT-D210 is the best label maker for most people. The easiest model to use, it printed consistently high-quality labels despite being one of the cheapest label makers we tested. Plus, its replacement cartridges are more affordable than those of the competition.

How we tested

Labels from the Epson models we tested weren’t as durable after repeated removals and applications. Note how the corners curl up. Photo: Marisa McClellan

I took a systematic approach to evaluating each label maker. One at a time, I unpacked each label maker and loaded it with batteries and the enclosed label tape. I took note of how easy the battery and tape-cartridge installation was, where the compartments for each were located, and whether any special tools were required. Then, I started using the label maker, noting the ease of typing, the clarity of the screen, the ease of moving from lowercase to uppercase, how smoothly the tape cutter sliced the labels, and generally how the label maker felt in the hand.

Finally, I looked at the labels themselves. While they were all easy to read, legibility isn’t useful if the label itself degrades too easily or proves to be too difficult to apply—and reapply. I covered a glass jar with labels and peeled them off to see how well the adhesive removed. Then I put them back on. After torturing the labels like this for a while, I ran the jar through the dishwasher to see how the labels would stand up to water, heat, and detergent.

Our pick

The Brother keyboard layout is straightforward for anyone who has used a computer or smartphone. Photo: Marisa McClellan

We chose the Brother PT-D210. It’s comfortable in the hands, and it works nicely when positioned on a desk, table, or countertop as well. Among our test group, it has the most intuitive interface, which makes it immediately accessible to someone who has never used a label maker before. It also produces durable, reusable labels with up to two lines of text that can survive a trip through a dishwasher. Our only gripe is that it uses six AAA batteries instead of a rechargeable battery pack and doesn’t come with an AC adapter (though you can purchase one separately). Replacement tape is affordable, especially compared with Epson’s, and widely available in stores and online.

A runner-up that’s better for business

The PT-D400 (right) is significantly larger than the PT-D210 (left), so it’s more at home on a desk than in your hands. But the two have similarly intuitive keyboard layouts. Photo: Marisa McClellan

If you’re planning on giving your label maker heavy use, or if you want one for a busy office environment, consider upgrading to the Brother PT-D400AD instead. It does everything the PT-D210 does and has the same easy-to-use keyboard layout, but it adds the ability to print barcodes. It accepts tape up to ¾ inch and can print up to seven lines of text per label instead of the PT-D210’s two lines. It also comes with an AC adapter, which helps to offset its higher price.

For crafters

The slimmer Epson LW-400 (left) is more comfortable to hold than the older LW-300 (right). Photo: Marisa McClellan

Overall, Brother label makers are better for most people because the replacement cartridges are more affordable and the keyboard layouts are more intuitive. But if crafting is your primary goal, Epson’s label options come in a wider variety of media, including iron-on fabric versions that have fewer complaints of washing off than Brother’s, as well as ribbons for customized gift wrapping or other projects. However, Epson labels are a bit more expensive per foot. We considered Epson’s LW-400 and LW-300 label makers, but we prefer the LW-400 because of its slimmer, more ergonomic body and its ability to print barcodes.

Wrapping it up

After 40 hours of research and testing, we think the Brother PT-D210 is the best label maker for most people. Despite being one of the cheapest models we tested, it printed consistently high-quality labels and was the easiest to use. It also has more-affordable replacement cartridges than the competition.

This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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