Choosing the best printer for shipping labels
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 each, and how to select one that’s right for your business. We’ll also cover scanners, which can help optimize order processing, especially for higher-volume sellers.
There are three categories of printer: inkjet, laser and thermal. We discuss each in detail in the sections that follow.
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 printers are the most common printers used in offices.
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.
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.