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Most people who start a small business do so on a shoestring budget.
For the longest time after I started my eBay business, I didn’t care what the best thermal printer was or the best shipping scale. I just wanted the cheapest possible item that would do its job without breaking or causing issues.
Which left me in a bit of a jam when I was trying to find a label printer as most of them were well out of my price range. I was about to give up a week’s worth of profits just to make my shipping experience slightly more efficient.
It turns out I didn’t have to.
With the increase of printing technology, the price of thermal printers is now incredibly affordable for home-based or other small businesses. Add in the fact that there is a huge market for used and repaired printers and it is now possible to get a thermal printer that will last for years without breaking the bank.
Common Problems With Cheap Thermal Label Printers
I sincerely hope you’re not after already ordering a knock-off brand label printer. If you did, I’m sorry. There are tons of “cheap” thermal printers out there that will do an adequate job for a very short amount of time.
All of these low-level printers have similar problems:
- Difficult To Connect. I’ve heard horror stories from people who buy a label printer on a budget and are totally unable to get it to connect. If you can’t connect to it you can never print a label. A decent printer will be able to connect as soon as its plugged in and should have you printing labels within minutes.
- Poor Label Recognition. Many cheap printers are outfitted with low quality sensors that make it impossible for them to be aligned properly. This means that they’ll cut off the top/bottom and might even result in a missent package (meaning that its undeliverable).
- Low Quality Printer Head. The longevity of a thermal printer is entirely dependant on the printer head which provides the heat necessary to write labels. A high quality mid-range printer such as the Rollo has a life expectancy of around 650,000 labels. The cheapest label printers include a head which is capable of far fewer than 100,000 label (because they know the printer won’t last that long anyway).
- No Wireless/Bluetooth Connection. If you’re looking for the cheapest shipping label printer possible it probably shouldn’t surprise you that it will only have a single connection option. However, it does mean that you won’t be shipping from your phone, moving your printer around, etc.
- Another thing…
The Best Option – Remanufactured Rollo Printer
The best option for a cheap thermal label printer is to just find a nice printer for cheap. Don’t worry, I’m not being glib.
It turns out that you can get one of the best mid-range thermal printers straight from the company in a remanufactured state. Rollo takes back all of the printers returned to them and, after returning them to 100% working order, offers them on eBay for a great price (with a six-month warranty).
The Rollo offers everything you would expect from a printer in its regular price range:
- Super easy setup
- Fast printing
- High quality labels
- Community & customer support
- Support for most major platforms
- Automatic label sensing
- Works with multiple styles and brands of labels
If you can find a good deal, I firmly believe that a Rollo printer is the cheapest way to get into thermal printing without a bunch of frustration.
Alternative Option – Less Value For The Money
There are quite a few printers out there that are less expensive than even a remanufactured Rollo printer. Some even have excellent specs and promise a good deal for the money.
However, my problem with most of these printers is two-fold: most of their reviews come from people who got the product for free, and they are not established companies that won’t be around a year from now.
In other words, each one of these budget-priced printers is a gamble because you have no way of actually knowing which one is decent.
However, I have several friend who run small businesses that have had luck with a printer iDRPT.
Although it comes from a lesser-known company that hasn’t quite proven itself in the printer world, the SP410 from iDPRT has a lot in common with the Rollo.
If you are set on doing this as cheaply as possible, I wouldn’t be scared to give the SP410 a try. However, my personal preference would be to try and find a good deal on a used or remanufactured printer from a brand with more support and a proven track record.
Bonus Tip – You Might Quality For A Free Thermal Printer
If you ship a lot through UPS, there is a chance you could qualify to get a cheap or very cheap printer (a Zebra LP2844) through them.
The catch, is that you have to ship a significant volume of orders through UPS to qualify. The majority of small businesses rely on USPS which makes it more convenient to simply buy a printer than to adjust your shipping practices.
For those who qualify, though, $2/month (or nothing) is not much to pay for a label printer!
Is A Cheap Printer Still Worth It?
So is it worth it to buy a cheap thermal label printer or should you just make-do until you can afford something more expensive?
If you are planning to scale up your business and will be making significantly more money at some point in the not-so-distant future, I think buying a cheap printer with the intent to upgrade later is a fine option.
With that being said, if you are planning to use the same printer for years to come you’ll have much less frustration and better service from spending a little bit more on a printer.
One of the most important arguments for buying an established model of printer is that you’ll be able to ask other owners questions and solve commonly arising problems. For example, I can find a solution to anything that could ever go on with my Rollo because someone else will have had the same problem and gotten an answer.
The same cannot be said for most cheaper label printers.
In the past couple of years the price of thermal printers has come down and the second-hand market has really taken off. Most major brands (Zebra, Brother, Dymo, etc.) can now be found used on eBay or other marketplaces. If you’re set on saving money, that’s a great place to start!
I will also say that if you run a business that requires shipping and you don’t have a thermal printer you are pretty much shooting yourself in the foot. There is no cheaper or more efficient way to print labels. So pony up and invest in yourself to grow your business!