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Choosing a handheld label maker from the hundreds of options on the market can be confusing and time-consuming.
In the past 5 years, I have used more than a dozen different portable label printers at 2 different jobs, at home, and then in my own business. With that experience (and a good deal of research) I have narrowed the market down to the 3 best handheld label makers that will help you organize your life or business and preserve your sanity.
All of us have probably worked with a person who goes nuts with the label maker. In high school, I worked in a warehouse when a guy brought in his own label maker to label things with. He even had labeled his label maker as “Label Maker.”
While I’m not quite that into it, I do enjoy using labels at home for the panty, bins, cords, etc.
So many times I’ve organized things in our pantry and then forgot when I should be putting the groceries because my groupings no longer make sense. A handheld label maker fixes that type of situation.
What’s more, using a portable labeler in a business situation can be a total game-changer.
We use a handheld label printer in our eBay business to organize inventory, shipping supplies, and just about everything else we can think of. It’s helpful for us and super helpful for employees.
But how do you go about choosing the best one? Well, I’m super particular about how I spend money in my business so I went all out and found the 3 best handheld label makers that will work in a variety of situations.
The 3 Best Handheld Label Printers
1. Dymo Letratag – Best Overall Portable Label Printer
Dymo’s LetraTag is one of the best-selling handheld label printers of all time. If you have used a portable label printer at home or work, I’d be willing to be it was this one.
Not only do they make the most popular shipping label printer ever, but they dominate the handheld market as well.
It’s not just because it’s inexpensive and available at just about any big box store either. The LetraTag has several attributes which make it the best basic option for home use:
- Totally custom labels that can be printed with 5 font sizes, 8 box styles, 7 print styles and in either 1 or 2 lines
- ABC keyboard makes for easy and quick typing
- Auto-off function saves power when you’re not using it
- Date stamp and a massive 195 symbols mean you can print just about anything you want
- Uses 4 AA batteries for complete portability
While the LetraTag doesn’t have quite as many bells and whistles as other options it’s hard to deny that it’s the best value in handheld label makers. Unless you have very specific needs that it doesn’t meet, pick it up and get labeling!
2. Brother PTD600VP – Best For Small Businesses
If you have a flair for design then you’ll need a printer with a bit more capacity than the LetraTag.
We’ve used a wireless brother shipping label printer for a couple of years but the versatility of the PTD600VP blows it out of the water. In portable label printers, it’s the top of the heap.
Full PC-Connectivity: Whether you’re a Windows or Mac user you’ll just need to plug this labeler into your computer to get access to a design suite which allows a much more expansive design experience.
Prints Up To 7 Lines: While many printers are limited to around 2 lines, the PTD600VP allows up to 7 lines to be printed! (depending on label width, font size, etc). If you plan on writing a novel on a label machine, this is the one to choose.
Handles Wide Labels (up to 1″): When choosing labels to print on, it’s nice to have as many options as possible. Even if you’re never going to go up to 1″ in width, it’s better than never being able to if it was needed.
Saved Labels: Working on a scrapbook or photo album? With the ability to save up to 99 labels for quick printer you’ll be able to get everything done much faster. Especially if the labels you’re printing are design-intensive.
Text Options: I did the math, with 14 fonts, 11 styles, 99 frames, and over 600 symbols you have literally tens of millions of design options on the go (even before you connect to your PC).
Full Color Graphical Display: The display is literally the best you could possibly expect from a portable handheld label printer. It is back-lit, shows the label color, shows graphics and symbols, and is easy on the eyes. With non of this is strictly necessary and neither is a Rolls-Royce, it all just makes the experience that much better and smoother.
All-in-all this is the best label printer you can get for everything and everywhere…unless you’re taking it to a dirty/dangerous construction site. For home use, office use, and everything in between Brother has created a label printer with unbeatable frills.
3. Dymo Rhino 5200 – Best Heavy Duty Option
Dymo’s Rhino line of label printers has been on job sites for at least a decade. The top choice of electricians, plumbers, and all sorts of trade workers, it is both versatile and highly durable.
If you need something rugged that will stand the test of time, this should be your top choice.
Check out some of the most notable features:
- Prints Code 128 and Code 39 bar codes on 3/4″ labels
- Meets applicable industry labeling standards of both ANSI and TIA/EIA-606-A
- Layout and printing speed means that this printer is up to 77% faster than the competition
- Built-in lithium battery for long life
- Over 100 industry symbols as well as fractions, punctuation, etc. can be accessed with just a couple of keystrokes
- Label memory means that you can use the “Hot Keys” to repeatedly print labels that you commonly use. The Rhino 5200 automatically changes the size, space, format, and label text for electrical panels, patch panels, terminals, 110 blocks, cable flags, and much more
The 5200 is an improvement on the Rhino 4200 which I used in setting up warehouse for more than 2 years (and the labeler was years old before I got it). I was barely out of high school at the time and, as you can imagine, we didn’t take care of it very well.
Despite our lack of expertise and care it kept spitting out the labels that we wanted time after time! If you need durability and longevity, the 5200 is a further step up!
At the end of the day, choosing the best handheld label printer will require you to do a bit of research and think about how you’re actually going to be using it.
For my wife and me in our reselling business, we have and use the Rhino 5200 as its durability allows it to be used and abused by us and our employees. We also own the Dymo LetraTag as it is small, cheap, and perfect for what we need at home.
7 Characteristics of the Best Handheld Label Printer:
1. Connectivity: Standalone vs PC Connectable
The connectivity of a handheld label maker will dictate how versatile it is but also how cumbersome it can be to use for normal tasks.
If you are looking for a portable label maker for home use or for printing basic one-line labels then get a stand-alone label maker. It will be smaller, simpler, and cheaper. In other words, don’t pay for functionality that you don’t need.
If, however, you are looking for a label maker that is capable of printing complex designs (such as labels with your logo), barcodes, and other non-text items then you’ll want PC compatibility.
In general, PC connectable label makers come with a basic design suite that will allow you to create and load different labels to your printer. Irreplaceable if you need it, not worth worrying about it if you don’t.
If you are looking to make labels for your scrapbooking hobby or in a highly visible place you might want the option to print in several different fonts or symbols. For technical or industrial applications, however, this can add a level of unnecessary complexity to your label maker.
3. Barcode Support
If you intend to utilize your label maker for barcodes (such as inventory or shipping) then you need to make sure it lists it as a capability.
You can almost always use a PC connectable printer to create barcodes but the simplest solution is to buy a label maker that has barcodes built into it (even though you will have limited options).
4. Label Compatability/Widths
At the most basic end of the spectrum, label printers will only support one type of label. Typically this means an adhesive label of a single width.
If you are interested in conquering more complex situations (such as wiring applications) then you’ll want a label maker with more diverse abilities.
Portable label makers have a max width of tape that they are capable of handling so, if you plan on printing multiple lines of text, be sure to get a label maker that can handle tape that is 3/4-1″ wide.
There are also label makers that are capable of printing on unique items such as heat-shrink tubing giving you the ability to organize and label in even more situations.
For single-line labels (such as labeling your pantry) 1/2″ tape will suffice.
5. Automatic vs Manual Cutter
Whether a label maker has an automatic or manual cutter is typically based on price. More expensive printers will cut your printed label automatically.
However, it’s not always desirable. I have dropped and lots many labels that were automatically cut because I wasn’t ready to play catch when it came out. The labels are not supposed to fall after they’re cut but it seems to happen more often than not.
I prefer to be able to simply press the cut button down and take my label out when I’m ready.
6. Label Memory
If you have a series of labels that you use, again and again, having a label maker with label memory will make everything much, much, faster.
For example, if you need to label a certain type of connection, wire, or joint again and again, you can save the 10 most common labels in the memory and print them with a hot-key. Just think of it as a speed-dial for your label printer.
7. Additional Features
In addition to the above, you’ll also want to pay attention to items of person preference with your label maker.
- Power source (batteries vs AC or both)
- Keyboard type (ABC vs QWERTY)
- Button size (especially if you wear gloves)
- Readout (color or black and white)
- Durability (rubber bumpers or all plastic)
Once you find a label maker that is a quality item from a reputable brand, the matter of “best” mostly comes down to application and personal preference.
With that being said, here are the three that I think will perform the best across the board. No matter what you need a handheld label printer for, one of these will do the trick.
So which one is best for you?