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Barcode Label Printers Buying Guide

What is a barcode/label printer?

A label printer, also called a barcode printer, is designed to print text or barcodes onto adhesive labels or card-stock tags. Label printers have internal sensors designed to find the gaps or black marks between labels, allowing the printer to feed a single label at a time.

List of images:

  • Cognitive DLX
  • Dymo 450 Turbo
  • Zebra LP2824

Common Label Printer Features

  • Printing Technology – Label printers are usually available in two types of printing technology:
  • Direct Thermal – printing uses a chemically-treated label that turns black when exposed to heat, similar to a receipt printer.
  • Thermal Transfer – printing uses a wax or resin ink ribbon, physically transferring the ink to the label. The labels created with a wax ribbon are more likely to fade out over time or take damage due to the soft wax-based ink. Hybrid ribbons use a combination of wax and resin to increase the durability of the print on the labels, while resin ribbons provide the longest-lasting print. Wax and hybrid ribbons are best used with paper labels, while resin ribbons are required for vinyl or plastic labels.
  • Label Sizes – Printer manufacturers tend to make recommended supplies for their printers. Consumer-level printers usually have a finite list of sizes and materials to choose from while heavier-duty, professional printers often have a wide variety of materials and sizes. For example, Dymo has a set list of 40-50 paper labels to use in their printers, while Cognitive has a wide variety of sizes and materials such as vinyl vs. normal paper labels. We always recommend getting manufacturer-brand labels and not labels made by a third-party supplier.
  • Emulations – Printer manufacturers occasionally build in support for additional printer languages called emulations. For example, Zebra printers can use two different emulations – Zebra Printer Language (ZPL) or Eltron Printer Language (EPL). Some of Zebra's printers are single-emulation, while others can automatically detect the language being used and adjust accordingly.

Common Label Printers

  • Zebra
  • LP2824 and TLP2824 – Zebra's 2.4-inch desktop label printers. These are small form-factor printers mainly designed for paper labels. The LP version is direct-thermal printing only, meaning it cannot use an ink ribbon and must use direct-thermal labels. The TLP version can use thermal-transfer labels and ribbons in addition to normal direct-thermal labels. Comes in EPL (Eltron Printer Language) or ZPL (Zebra Printer Language) versions. Designed for POS use with a wide variety of labels available.
  • LP2844 and TLP2844 – Zebra's 4.2-inch desktop label printers. These are nearly double the size of the smaller version, allowing the use of UPS-standard shipping labels (4” x 6”) and other larger labels. The LP version is direct-thermal printing only, meaning it cannot use an ink ribbon and must use direct-thermal labels. The TLP version can use thermal-transfer labels and ribbons in addition to normal direct-thermal labels. Designed for POS use with a wide variety of labels available.
  • LP2824 Plus and TLP2824 Plus – Zebra's intended replacement to the original 2824 printers. The “Plus” designation indicates an updated firmware and capability to switch automatically between EPL and ZPL printer languages. 2.4-inch desktop labels printers available in direct-thermal-only (LP) and combination direct-thermal and thermal-transfer (TLP) versions. Designed for POS use with a wide variety of labels available.
  • Cognitive
  • Advantage LX – Cognitive's basic desktop label printers. Available in 2.4-inch and 4.2-inch versions, direct-thermal printing technology. Designed for POS use with a wide variety of labels available.
  • Advantage DLX – Cognitive's mid-range desktop label printers. Available in 2.4-inch and 4.2-inch versions, direct-thermal and thermal-transfer compatible. Designed for POS use with a wide variety of labels available
  • Avantage DLXi – Cognitive's newest desktop label printers. Available in 2.4-inch and 4.2-inch versions, direct-thermal and thermal-transfer compatible. This version improves upon the original DLX by providing more and updated interfaces as well as a new firmware revision. Designed for POS use with a wide variety of labels available.
  • Dymo – LabelWriter series – Consumer-level label printers are designed for very light desktop use. Dymo uses a one-size-fits-all approach, where all printers are the same size and use the same list of consumables. Direct-thermal only.