A big question that comes up with online sellers is if they should invest in a thermal label printer to end constant purchases of printer ink or just stick with a versatile laser printer that can handle multiple tasks.
To help you decide, I’ve taken two solid performing printers: One thermal, the Zebra GC420d, and one Laser, the HP LaserJet Pro 400 M401n. I chose these two printers because they are both business focused, have a good price to performance ratio, and have consistent highly rated reviews online across the board.
I’m going to compare a few areas of interest and then come up with a winner when it comes to printing shipping labels cheaply and quickly.
1 – Printer Purchase Price
This is a onetime cost to factor into your printer purchase. For my two comparison printers, I went to each printer’s respective Amazon page. Both printers are eligible for Amazon Prime if you want to take advantage of the free shipping. If you can find it cheaper somewhere else on the web, go for it!
HP LaserJetPro 400 M401n on Amazon – $189.99
Zebra GC420d on Amazon – $282.15
So, from a onetime pricing perspective, the Zebra is clearly the more expensive option.
Winner on purchase price: Laser Printer
2 – Toner / Ink
This is a recurring fee that gives business owners and even consumers nightmares. Ink toner, by weight, costs more than fine wine and the world’s most expensive perfumes.
The HP LaserJet Pro 400 is sold with a high-yield business grade toner cartridge (Amazon link here) that costs $142.95. While that is a high price, it averages 6,900 pages of toner, and at 2 shipping labels per page, that’s an estimated 13,800 shipping labels you can churn out before your toner runs out. While this may seem like a lot of labels, there are shippers that can push out 3,000 labels in a day that will dread dropping over a hundred dollars on toner every week.
Thermal printers don’t require toner. In fact, that’s their entire appeal.
Winner on toner: Thermal Printer (obviously)
3 – Blank Shipping Labels
For blank shipping labels, I’m going to compare prices through product pages on OnlineLabels.com for consistency on pricing. Also for comparison, we’ll be assuming both printers will put out 4”x6” standard adhesive shipping labels.
On the laser printer, I’m going with 500 sheets of standard shipping labels, two labels per page. This comes out to 1,000 total shipping labels.
On the thermal printer, I’m going with 4 rolls of 250 labels that are compatible with Zebra thermal printers, totaling 1,000 shipping labels.
Winner on blank shipping labels – Thermal Printer
4 – Print Speed
Speed matters when processing orders. A lot of sellers quickly realize just how much time it takes to process each order when they start coming in by the dozen and you can’t spend the same amount of time on each order like you used to.
From each product’s description pages, the HP LaserJet prints out 35 pages per minute, while the Zebra Thermal Printer prints 4” per second. Taking those speeds and calculating how long it would take to print 1,000 shipping labels, we get:
Print 1,000 shipping labels – HP LaserJetPro 400 M401n: 15 minutes
Print 1,000 shipping labels – Zebra GC420d: 25 minutes
Quite surprising when you consider that a thermal printer’s one job is to print shipping labels and a generic laser printer does it faster. This is based purely on print speed, however, and does not account for swapping out rolls every 250 labels, and refilling your paper trays (the HP has a paper tray limit of 250 sheets, so 500 labels). Also, 10 minutes really won’t be something noticeable if you are printing labels all throughout the day, so that benefit doesn’t hold much weight when it comes to actual daily use.
Winner on print speed – Laser Printer (but only on paper)
If we take the 4 metrics we compared these printers on, they both come out 2 wins a piece, however the thermal printer wins on recurring costs, so over time the thermal printer will be worth the investment and those 2 recurring savings carry more importance than the onetime cost of purchasing your printer and the slower print speed that doesn’t actually make a big difference when it comes to actual daily use.
In the end, having a dedicated thermal makes a lot of sense if your shipping volume starts to increase, or already is very high. If you’re not quite there, having a laser printer handle labels and packing slips would suffice for some time, but splitting the work between a thermal printer for labels and a laser printer for packing slips and pick lists makes a lot of sense in terms of organization, recurring costs, shipment processing speed, and long-term savings when your shipping volume starts to pick up (or is already up there).
Winner overall: Direct Thermal Printer
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