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Printer Guide for eCommerce Businesses

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Picking the best printer for your business

There are two peripherals that no eCommerce seller can do without: printers and scales. In this section we’ll look at the different options available for printers in terms of initial pricing, long-term costs, and how effective they are in terms of a business impact.

There are three popular categories of printer for eCommerce businesses: inkjet, laser and thermal.

Inkjet Printer

inkjet printer

Inkjet printers are the most common consumer-level printers. You probably already own one right now. They use the little inkjet cartridges that are notorious for being highly priced. While good for simple print jobs, using it as the main driver of eCommerce printing tasks gives light to some advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of using an inkjet printer:

  • Inkjets usually support full-color printing (whereas full-color printing is usually a high-cost premium feature for laser printers).
  • Inkjets are very cheap. Entry level printers easily purchased for under $100
  • Inkjet print quality is usually high.
  • Inkjets are multi-use. They can print packing slips and shipping labels.
  • You probably already own one.

Disadvantages of using an inkjet printer:

  • Slow print speed: The pages per minute (PPM) print capabilities of inkjet printers is typically low, especially compared to laser printers and thermal printers if you’re trying to solely print labels.
  • Starts cheap, gets expensive fast: Because inkjets work using proprietary inkjet cartridges, you’re limited to your specific printer model’s when it’s time to refill or replace ink cartridges. Also, the page limit for ink cartridges is much smaller than a laser printer, which can usually go through thousands of pages before it needs to be replaced. Ink cartridges are the least cost-effective way to purchase ink.

Shipping label stock for ink jet and laser printers can be expensive when compared to thermal label rolls. Inkjet is great for businesses just starting out. Lower shipping volume means you can print black-ink shipping labels and colored-ink packing slips from one source.


Laser Printer

laser printer

Laser printers are the most common printers used in offices. They’re usually big and have large toner cartridges that don’t need to be replaced as often as inkjet.

Advantages of using a laser printer:

  • Fast print speed: PPM (pages per minute) are typically high on laser printers, especially if it is a black-ink-only printer.
  • Ink toner holds significant ink, and can print thousands of pages before it is depleted and requires a toner refill. While individual toner is more expensive than an ink cartridge on inkjet printers, laser printers yield more pages on a single replacement and are less expensive in terms of price-to-pages printed.
  • Multi-use: Can print pick lists, packing slips and shipping labels from a single printer

Disadvantages of using a laser printer:

  • Color is typically a premium feature for laser printers and, if you want color for packing slips, can increase initial printer cost.
  • Toner, while cheaper than ink jet cartridges, is still very expensive and will affect shipping costs if shipping volume is high.

Laser printers print faster and are a better investment than inkjet if your volume starts increasing; however, laser printers share many of the weaknesses that Inkjets do. As a long term solution, laser printers are superior to inkjet models, despite higher initial costs.


Thermal Printer

dymo labelwriter 4xl

Thermal printers do not require ink, instead they use heat and a special kind of paper to “print” words and images. Thermal printers are very common, and the vast majority of receipts you receive when you purchase something at a store are printed on thermal paper.

Advantages of using a thermal printer:

  • No ink: this is thermal printers’ most obvious and biggest selling point. The more you ship and produce, the more money you stand to save with a thermal printer.
  • Typically built to last: because they have one function and are focused on business use, thermal printers have proven longevity.
  • Fast: single function and print on rolls as opposed to paper stock yielding faster printed output
  • Cheapest long term solution: rolls of labels are less expensive than paper stock, and the absence of ink toner can turn into thousands of dollars of savings.

Disadvantages of using a thermal printer:

  • Thermal printers can’t print general-purpose documents.
  • Thermal printers have a high upfront cost, especially if you buy a quality printer.
  • Thermal printers have some compatibility issues with specific operating systems (for example, they’re not always OSX-supported)

The main benefit of a thermal printer is that it doesn’t require ink to produce printed labels; instead, a thermal print-head applies heat to a ribbon, which melts ink onto the heat-sensitive label surface. Many shippers combine a thermal printer (labels) with a laser printer (packing slips) for the fastest, least expensive printing.


Choosing the best printer for your business depends on your business size, how long you’ve been running your business, and if the long term benefits of each specific printer starts to make more sense to your bottom line. Compare each printer with where your business is at and you’ll be able to make an easy decision on which type is worth the investment.

Related Articles & Resources:

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This article is from The Definitive Guide to eCommerce Shipping


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