Thermal Printer Selection And Shipping

Selecting A Thermal Printer For Home Shipping

i decided to add shipping from home to my bag of tricks.  That requires having a Thermal Printer.  There are several excellent ones to choose from and lots of comparison and review sites out there.  But all they seem to cover is the printer specs.  That’s good from some aspects but then you get that printer home and realize it doesn’t do all the things you thought it might do.

Thermal Printer

Dymo 5XL

For example, I have a Dymo 5XL.  If I go to the USPS site and create a label the only way to print it on a 4″x6″ label is to download the label as a PDF file, Then take a screenshot of it, and then print from Mac Preview.   It makes no sense to me why I can’t print directly from the USPS website but I can’t.

Then if you go to UPS they have a list of recommended printers that work with their system.  Ditto for FedEx.  There simply isn’t a printer where you can log into any shipping service, make your label and simply hit print.  What works seamlessly at one site will not work at the other without workarounds.

Actually that is kind of inaccurate as you can print with any printer to 8.5″x11″ paper.  But ultimately I want to print on a 4″x6″ adhesive backed label.  This seems to be the standard for shipping boxes.

Shipping Services

As per my example above with the USPS, different services treat the printer differently.  Today I signed up for and created a UPS label for a box.  Their label was pre-formatted for a 4″x6″ printer.  Click, download, print.  BAM.  It worked perfect on my Dymo 5XL.

Even though everything seemingly is wonderful Pirateship has their preferred printers that they recommend on this page.  They recommend the Brother Q1100 and the Brother QL1100NWB.  They also DO NOT recommend Dymo printers and Zebra printers.

UPS recommends several Zebra printers.  FedEx recommends the Zebra ZP printers mostly.  Nobody seems to recommend the Dymo Printers which of course is what I own.

Which Printer To Choose

It really depends on what service you settle on.   And how often you will need to print.  Does it really matter if you have to do a screenshot and to resize if you only make a label infrequently?

If I decide that I will continue to use Pirateship, then I think my Dymo 5XL will work for my needs.  Consumables are expensive and it is slow and noisy but I won’t even use it once every day mostly.  If I were to print directly from the USPS site, or UPS, or Fedex, or DHL specifically………I would probably need to settle on another printer, most likely a Zebra.

A happy medium might be achieved by considering these items:

  • Cost of Consumables
  • Are Consumables Proprietary to Machine
  • Availability of Consumables
  • How You Wish To Connect Machine – I prefer ethernet
  • What Shipping Service Will You Use

Things I Find Odd

I’m curious why the USPS makes their label available as 8.5″x11″ and don’t offer a 4″x6″ pre-formatted label for printing.  I also wonder why more and more label printers require proprietary labels.  My Dymo LabelWriter will only accept labels that contain an RFID chip from Dymo.  Remember when Inkjet printers were cheap but replacement ink cost more than the machine?  Seems to be the same business strategy at play here.

The last thing I think is odd here is that you would think shipping companies would standardize a bit more. How hard is it to offer your shipping label in a couple of different size formats?  Or how hard is it to optimize for thermal printers or various printer languages?

Fill The Void

I’m no design engineer but I see a gigantic void where someone could design a more seamless and cross platform thermal printer and printer driver.  Toss in the ability to use generic labels, then make it wifi, bluetooth, and ethernet.  BAM! Near perfection achieved.

My Strategy (For Now)

I’m locked into this stupid Dymo 5XL printer, and as much as I’d like to upgrade to a high end Zebra Printer or Brother QL1100NWB it probably can’t happen.  I can’t justify the cost.

My strategy for now is simply to keep the Dymo 5XL.  Its main strength for me is that it is networkable via ethernet.  I have a couple of out of the way corners in my house that have CAT 5 drops near and I can easily keep it out of my way.   As horrific as Dymo Connect software is, the printer works really good with PirateShip.  I don’t have any reason to offer shipping outside of USPS or UPS and both places have drop offs near my house and both places will pick up as well.

If I find I’m selling a few things and can justify upgrade costs, then by golly, I will do it.

Shipping from home is simply not as cut and dried and simplified as I thought it was, or should be.

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