Issue: 14.3 (May/June 2016)
Author: Marc Zeedar
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Article Length (in bytes): 5,799
Starting Page Number: 12
Article Number: 14302
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In the 1990s I remember seeing label printers—special printers exclusively for printing mailing labels—but they were expensive and seemed more of a hassle than a benefit. I've always printed labels using a laser printer and a program I wrote in Xojo that lets me specify which label on a whole sheet to print and it worked fine.
But last Black Friday I picked up a Brother QL-700 on sale at Amazon. It was so cheap ($40) I figured it was worth a try. It turned out to be a terrific purchase. I should have done it years ago.
The QL-700 connects via USB and turns off automatically after not being used for a while. It turns on instantly, with no warmup, so this isn't a liability. Even if you only print labels occasionally, it's ready when you need it.
It uses rolls of special thermal paper, so there are no inks to buy—the paper is the only consumable. You can buy rolls of different sizes of labels, but that really only changes the width—the labels are continuous so you can cut them to whatever size you want. The QL-700 has a maximum width of 2.4" and I have found it easiest to always use that size and then I don't have to mess with changing papers all the time (and I can buy paper in bulk).
Tip: I found clone paper on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00ICBANMY) which is much cheaper than the Brother brand, and it works just fine.
The really nice thing is that the printer has a built-in cutter that automatically cuts the label off the roll after it prints. If you queue up multiple labels or print several of the same one, they're each cut off to the right size.
The included software is a bit of a drawback, at least on the Mac (I didn't test the Windows version, but supposedly it's better). It lets you create labels of various sizes, dragging on text or graphic elements, and you can even import records from databases or CSV files. But the program is kludgy and doesn't follow Mac standards. For instance, holding down the shift key while pressing arrow keys should select text as the cursor moves, but it does not.
Connecting to an external file of records is a tedious process as you have to select each field manually and connect it to a corresponding field in the program. Worse, since the data is imported, updating the external file means you have to do the import process all over again. (This is with a CSV file; I didn't test it with a database file, which might work differently.) For me, I'm mostly doing one-off labels (i.e. mailing a book to a subscriber) so this isn't a big deal, but if you frequently print from mailing lists it would be more of a factor.
The software can do fancy things like printing barcodes (both postal and other kinds), but I haven't tested that. It lets you import and place graphics, but because the printer isn't that high a resolution and doesn't support shades of gray, they don't necessarily print that well (though it's plenty good enough for the intended purpose).
Tip: it's best to manually convert your graphics to a high-contrast black-and-white version yourself rather than let the software do that, as you'll get much better results.
The bottom line is the software works, but isn't elegant. I am investigating writing my own tool in Xojo that will fit my needs better. (The QL-700 shows up a standard Mac printer; I just need to figure out the paper size setup so that I can control where on the label text prints. It'll just take some trial and error.)
Despite these drawbacks, the printer is incredibly convenient. It's
muchfaster than loading a sheet of label paper into a normal printer and printing out a label. That process used to take me about a minute, and that was highly optimized. With the QL-700 I can do the same thing in 15 seconds (including launching the app, pasting in the mailing address, and turning the printer on). The actual printing is amazingly fast, spitting out a finished 3" x 2.4" label in two seconds.
Having a dedicated label printer used to be a luxury, but the small size and low cost of the Brother QL-700 makes it worth it even if you're not in the process of mailing things that often. Remember, you can also use it for other kinds of labels—file folders, stickers, barcode inventory systems, etc.
End of article.