The Best Thermal Printer For Home Shipping Needs
I have noticed a disturbing trend in review sites. Google up “Best Thermal Printer” and you’ll find a bunch of pages that say “The Ten Best Thermal Printers You Can Buy in 2023”. Those pages are full of only stock photos and cherry picked pros and cons from other review sites.
In other words, these people MAY NOT ACTUALLY OWN these printers. But they will provide you an affiliate link to buy one of “THE BEST THERMAL PRINTERS FOR 2023”. They get paid, you get bad advice.
You should ALWAYS strive to read reviews from people who actually own, and have used the thermal printers that they write about.
Shipping labels can also be printed from ANY printer on plain paper. You can put clear tape over your labels. The only problem here is the continual cost of ink cartridge refills. This is why thermal printing is so popular for shipping labels. There is no ink and thermal print heads last for decades most of the time.
The Best Thermal Printers (I Own)
Here are the printers we are going to talk about today. All links go straight to the manufacturer and are NOT affiliate links. They are not always the cheapest places to purchase from. Do your homework. Shop around.
- Dymo LabelWriter 5XL
- Brother QL1100NWB
- Beeprt BY 426BT Bluetooth 4×6 Wireless
- FreeX Wifi SuperRoll Thermal Printer
- Zebra LP 2844-Z
I don’t own the following one, but my daughter uses it to run her home business using Shopify.
These kind of run the gamut of connectivity, which is why I chose them. All are 4″x6″ label printers as well.
- The Dymo and Brother printers have ethernet capability.
- The Brother and the FreeX printers have Wifi capability.
- The Beeprt and Brother printers have Bluetooth capability.
- The iDRPT SP410 has only USB capability.
- All are Mac and Windows compatible.
- All have USB capability.
I always prefer ethernet to Wifi but sometimes there just isn’t an ethernet jack nearby. I personally don’t work from my phone but an awful lot of people do these days. Bluetooth capability would be huge if you operate from your IOS or Android device.
I own lots of Dymo label printers and I thought it was a no-brainer to buy the Dymo 5XL. If it were my only thermal printer I could make it work just fine for my needs. The real downside to the Dymo is the expensive, and proprietary label rolls they use which are chipped. I don’t print much so an expensive roll of labels every year or two doesn’t sting very much. If you are a big time reseller it will sting. While this is a little unrelated to printing out 4×6 shipping labels, the Dymo Connect Software is CRAP. And that is crap with all capital letters and bolded.
Anytime you can use wired networking over wireless networking, you should. And that is exactly how I connect this at home. Ethernet is EASY. No configuration issues.
- Ethernet connectivity
- Rolls fit inside machine and not behind
- Consumables can be bought locally
- Stylish (if that matters)
- Works natively with PirateShip (the shipping tool I use)
- Somewhat expensive at $199
- Horrific Label Software
- Some shipping services like USPS won’t support direct label printing in 4×6 format. You must save as a PDF, screen shot it, and then print from your PDF program.
- Proprietary, Expensive Labels
- Support is SLOW. I emailed support about Dymo Connect software with no reply in a couple of days.
Unless you interface specifically with a shipping service that requires a very specific printer, the Brother QL1100NWB is your huckleberry.
That is if you can find it. It is in and out of stock so much that it isn’t funny. It is a very popular printer. Retail price is $299.99 but you’ll frequently see it on Amazon for a whole lot more. And that is generally a supply and demand thing. Don’t overpay.
I did finally find one from Staples for $299 and received it in just a few days.
Using 3rd party labels is possible but a little tweaking was required. I found I had to create a custom size label, 4.01″x 5.98″ with a 0.3″ margin for the bottom setting.
When printing a 3rd party label the printer seems to not center in the space between the labels. This makes the print slightly off center lengthwise. You can mess with the bottom margin, however, when you get it close the print starts getting smaller. A roll of genuine DK-1241 labels is about $40 for 200 labels. I got 3 rolls of 4×6 labels (600 labels) for $26. I can live with it being a little off center for that price. It’s a shipping label, not a work of art.
- Limited availability is indicative of “that many people can’t be wrong”.
- Rolls fit inside of machine.
- Best range of connectivity with USB, Wifi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth.
- Works with 3rd party inexpensive labels.
- 300 dpi resolution.
- Works with IOS and Android.
- Compatible with most shipping services.
- Print quality is excellent.
- Expensive but with a caveat. If you factor in TOTAL cost being able to use 3rd party labels it’s not that bad.
- I had to set a custom sized label (4.01″x5.98″) and set the bottom margin to 0.3″ to fit label. If you use Brother labels it of course will be perfect but more expensive.
- Using the 3rd party labels I cannot get a label perfectly centered lengthwise. Using the margin setting above it gets sort of close, but still is closer to one end than the other. Good enough for a shipping label but if you want perfection (which you don’t need), you need the Brother labels.
Beeprt BY 426BT Bluetooth 4×6 Wireless
If you run your home business exclusively from an iPhone or Android device, this is probably the label printer that you want. I personally need a laptop to conduct business but more and more people can function perfectly using their phones.
This printer is a bit more economical than other offerings as well. The low cost combined with the ability to use 3rd party or generic labels keeps things inexpensive.
The Brother QL1100NWB also does Bluetooth but the Beeprt printer has a smaller footprint, that is, unless you factor in that the labels have to sit behind it as either flip fold, or on an external roller.
Also the Beeprt IOS or Android app keeps changing and some reviewers rage about the old app not working anymore. The new app that does work is called Shipping Printer Pro. I took this out of the box, plugged it in, and dropped a shipping label in my photos app and sent it to Shipping Printer Pro. Printed out my first label without even reading any of the directions or watching any Youtube videos. Print quality was dark and crisp.
It also comes with a roller stand. Bonus!
- Low Cost
- Can use 3rd party labels
- Small footprint
- Can print from IOS or Android via Bluetooth
- Uses flip fold labels
- Comes with roller stand
- Excellent print quality
- The app keeps changing which confounds a bunch of users.
FreeX Wifi SuperRoll
The FreeX Wifi SuperRoll is another great printer. It is relatively low cost and of course the claim to fame is that it is a Wifi printer. A quick perusal of reviews online though shows a lot of “I’m an IT specialist and I couldn’t set up the Wifi” posts. They have pretty explicit instructions on their webpage and reference a Wifi setup video. By the way, the creator, “thecollegepicker” seems to be one of the internets foremost label printer experts. His analysis of the current crop of label makers is spot on as well. Watching his videos before you buy one is highly recommended.
The Wifi is 2.4 GHz only and that may also be the cause of some confusion with the self proclaimed “I’m an IT Specialist” crowd who can’t set up this Wifi. Also the instructions tell you to set to DHCP and enable it ON THE ETHERNET TAB of the setup program. Granted, that’s not real intuitive but, hey, it’s in the directions. RTFM.
- Relatively inexpensive
- Takes 3rd party labels
- Functional Wifi
- Rolls can be stored inside printer
- Print quality is excellent
- Footprint is fairly large
- WiFi Setup is not that intuitive but if you follow the directions it works perfectly
- WiFi Setup software doesn’t detect nearby SSID’s. You must manually input in your info.
- WiFi printing is slow. My first print took about 20 seconds.
- Labels tear poorly if you tear down. Need to tear them upwards and away.
Zebra LP 2844-Z
The Zebra LP 2844 was a circa 2000’s era printer that was the cream of the crop back in the day. Lots of warehouses and supermarkets had these.
The real joy of these things is that they are GREAT. They are also readily available on the used market and you can find one for $30 or so if you are patient.
The one I have cost $35 plus shipping and included the power brick. Mine is connected via ethernet or USB. This makes them by far the cheapest of the printers on my list.
The default address of the printer was 192.168.0.xxx. If your network is anything but 192.168.0.x you’ll have to manually set a computer to that network and manually reset the the printer IP address. It’s a little goofy but not hard to figure out.
- Inexpensive. Can find them on eBay for a song if you are patient.
- Print quality is better than all the other printers I own. Not bad for a 20 year old printer.
- Zebra still supports these printers on Windows and Mac.
- Spare parts still available in droves.
- Accepts 3rd party labels.
- It is a tank. These worked in the most challenging environments for a couple of decades and are still going strong.
- Networking isn’t totally intuitive. If connecting via USB it is essentially plug and play.
- Slow printing over the network.
- Discontinued so no warranty.
I can’t really speak to this printer as my daughter uses it for her business.
She prints 4×6 labels for her mailings and she said she has no issues. She prints via USB on a MacBook.
This printer is used daily by her and has been for a year or two reliably.
What Printer To Avoid
Avoid the Dymo LabelWriter 5XL though. It works but is just too proprietary. If it were proprietary with GREAT software it would be okay. As it is the software, Dymo Connect is GARBAGE. If you tuck the Dymo in the corner and connect it to ethernet and ONLY print 4×6 labels it will do the job though.
What Printer To Get
Bang for the buck though I like the Brother QL1100NWB and declare it “The Best Thermal Printer of 2023”. Being able to use 3rd party labels is a big deal for savings. I did have to monkey with the margin settings on 3rd party labels to get proper alignment for printing. That can’t be considered a ding against Brother though since the 4×6 labels from a 3rd party are actually a slightly different size than the Brother proprietary labels. The fact that I had to play around a little to get it to work is okay.
It has the best range of connectivity and uses Apple AirPrint which none of the others offer. Brother has been in the printer business for a long time and to be honest I haven’t heard of most of the other companies except for Dymo.
I set mine up with an ethernet connection and that is without a doubt the easiest configuration that there is. WiFi devices with different OS’s (firmware) are always a weak point from a network security standpoint. Hard wire whenever you can.
The Brother support pages have a lot more information and better manuals. They are also more likely to support a printer this popular into the future on new Operating Systems.
Inexpensive Alternatives To These Printers
Thermal printers last for years and years and eBay is full of circa early 2000’s Zebra printers that are dirt cheap. Look for the LP 2844 or the GC420d. The LP 2844 was a legend and used in a lot of supermarkets. As old as the LP 2844 is, it is still supported by Zebra.
If you look around you can find them in thrift stores and warehouse sales. I would only recommend getting one if you can get it really cheap and it works.
Parts are readily available for broken ones. If you find an untested one for $25 just know that if you have to buy a motor, a thermal head, a mainboard, or a power brick that it can drive your total cost near $100. For that price you could have just bought one that was tested and confirmed to be working.
If you use a printing service that formats their labels for 4×6 such as PirateShip, Shopify, UPS, etc. any one of these printers will work fine for you.
When choosing a label maker it is important to choose your preferred connection method, and also factor in the cost of labels that can be used in the printer. It might also be worth looking into local availability of consumables. When you are out of labels and can get them the same day, that can be huge.
Here is my actual parting thought……..If you are a reseller and you ship from your home business you should own TWO machines. If one breaks, then you are dead in the water. If you are an occasional shipper you can of course have USPS or UPS print your labels for you until you get back on your feet.