If you are a small business looking to streamline your workflow, a thermal printer is a must. Printing your shipping labels with a thermal printer makes the shipping process a lot easier and saves time. We have done many reviews on different thermal printers from lower price points to more premium. The most common questions we get are which thermal label printer is best for my business? Or which thermal printer should I buy?
The simple answer is there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the best thermal print. Which thermal label printer is best will depend on what type of device you will be printing from, what you are printing, and what your budget is.
In this post, we will focus on shipping labels and help you choose the best thermal printer for your home business needs, based on your device compatibility. We will go over different thermal printer model’s design, features and capabilities. Price is an important factor so we will also go over different price points. Lastly, we will provide you with additional resources for technical support relating to the thermal printer that you choose so keep reading!
How Do Thermal Printers Work?
To go over the basics, a thermal printer uses heat to transfer images to heat-sensitive labels. You do not need ink, toner or paper like a traditional printer. Instead, it uses the 4×6 labels that are the only extra and recurring cost for the life of the thermal printer. If you choose a thermal printer that is compatible with any thermal labels, you can even get thermal labels for FREE. We will go over this point so read on!
What Are the Different Thermal Printer Designs?
Current thermal printers have two types of design. One type is a shell-like design that opens up to contain the thermal labels inside. Examples of these are the Brother QL-1100NWB, the Dymo 4XL, and the Zebra thermal printers.
The other type of thermal printer design is a simple rectangular shape. The labels are not contained inside, with the labels having to sit behind the body of the thermal printer. You can use fanfold labels or roll labels but you may require a label holder to hold the labels. Example of a thermal printer with this design is the Rollo thermal printer. There are also many newer models such as MFLABEL, MUNBYN, and Beeprt.
The aesthetic of your thermal printer’s design may be less significant when it comes to overall performance and whether it is good value for money. What may be more important is the ease of trouble-shooting the thermal printer. If a thermal label gets jammed or stuck, thermal printers with the rectangular design are easier to troubleshoot.
This is because the printhead location is easily seen and accessible once you open the top. You may need to clean the printhead from time to time because dust or other sticky particles from labels may stick to it. Cleaning is very easy to do with a cotton swab. Please refer to the cleaning instruction for your specific model.
Can I Use A Thermal Printer With My Computer or Phone?
When you are looking for a thermal printer for printing shipping labels, the first thing you should be looking for is device compatibility. You want to look for a thermal printer that will work with the device that you will be using, whether that is your computer, phone or tablet.
Some thermal printers can only be connected with a usb to your computer while some can print via wifi or bluetooth. Some are only compatible with apple mobile devices but not android devices. There are also different compatibilities to understand when selecting a thermal printer. Then you can narrow down by price.
Operating System Compatibilities
Most thermal printers, if not all thermal will be compatible with Mac and Windows. We have not found any thermal printer that officially supports Google Chromebook. However, we have been successful installing them with certain models. You can find the instructions here, here, and here. Only a few models will be compatible with Linux. We personally have not tested any thermal printer with Linux so we currently do not have a recommendation for use with one.
Another common question is will this thermal printer work with eBay, Poshmark, Shopify, and other e-commerce platforms. Some thermal printers even use the mentioning of each platform as a marketing tool for their advertising. The simple answer is that your thermal printer will work with any platform that supports 4×6 printing format.
The brand or model will not matter. As long as your device or computer is compatible with your chosen thermal printer AND the platform you are using allows 4×6 printing, your thermal printer will work.
Computer or Mobile Device Compatibilities
Next, we will go over different device compatibilities. When it comes to selecting a thermal printer is best for you, think about your work flow. Are you currently printing your shipping labels with your computer or mobile device? Do you need a thermal printer that can print from your mobile devices? Are you ok with only being able to print from your computer with a usb? These criteria will help determine which thermal printer to select.
What Thermal Printer Is Best For Printing With A Windows or A Mac Computer?
If you have either a PC or a Mac computer, almost all thermal printers available will be compatible. If you want a thermal printer that you will exclusive print from your computer through a USB, there are many options. All these thermal printers mentioned below will work for you. Our reviews are available for some of these models. We use and test every single thermal printer that we write reviews about. You can often find coupons and promotions on certain models so check for those to bring your cost down.
Thermal Printer Under $100
- Zebra LP 2844 (older model, can be found secondhand from eBay)
Thermal Printer Under $150
Thermal Printer Under $200
Cheapest Thermal Printer With Mobile Capabilities
If you want a thermal printer that you will be able to print from your devices, there are several options.
The cheapest option is this model but it has some quirks. It is only compatible with an iPhone, not android devices. This design and model is not as intuitive to use and it is not as streamlined as other superior models. It does not work with certain platforms like Poshmark even with the compatible devices. Check out our video here to see it for yourself.
Mid-Range Thermal Printer With Mobile Capabilities
The next price up is the Brother QL-1100NWB thermal printer. It is a wildly popular label printer for a lot of individual sellers and small home businesses. It has a lot of connective features that are very convenient to use. You can print with an ethernet cable, wifi or via bluetooth. If you are using a computer, the bluetooth feature is limited to Windows. We have not been able to connect with a Mac. The Brother QL-1100NWB is a great thermal printer with many features but there are two things to keep in mind.
The first is that because of its popularity, it tends to sell out on Amazon. When it sells out from Brother, other sellers from Amazon tend to sell them for way above the retail price. Secondly, the Brother QL-1100NWB uses proprietary labels. That means you will need to purchase specific thermal labels that have a specific design on the foot. The thermal labels also have a black mark at the back that the printer’s sensor uses.
You can purchase proprietary labels from third party sellers for cheaper than from Brother. However, Brother will not honor their two year warranty if you are not buying their own brand of thermal labels.
We are personally not fans of any proprietary labels, especially when there are alternatives. You can get free labels from UPS and FedEx with a thermal printer that uses any type of thermal labels. If you have apple devices and want the connectivity of the Brother QL-1100NWB but the price is above retail price of $279 on amazon, we recommend you check the next model.
Premium Thermal Printer For Apple Products
The most expensive thermal printer that we will mention here is for good reasons and that is the Brother 4550DNWB or Brother TD-4D for short. While the price point is much higher than the Brother QL-1100NWB, the Brother TD-4D is a workhorse if you are an apple user. That includes whether you are using a Mac computer, iPhone or iPad. It has all the connective features of the Brother QL-1100NWB with the ethernet cable, wifi or via bluetooth options. There are also additional customizations and a user-friendly display.
To make up for the higher initial cost, you will be able to save on recurring cost of labels because the Brother TD-4D can be used with any thermal labels. You can use any labels you have, including the free thermal labels from UPS and FedEx that we mentioned earlier. Read here for how you can get the free labels from UPS and FedEx. There are additional free resources for your business as well.
The Brother TD-4D will work with both PC and Mac wirelessly on a network but it unfortunately is not compatible with android devices. Furthermore, like the Brother QL-1100NWB, we have not been able to use the bluetooth feature with a Mac computer. These are important things to note when you are considering which thermal printer to go for.
Premium Thermal Printer for Android Products
If you are an exclusively Windows or android mobile device user, the Zebra ZD420d is a good premium option. It is at such a high price point though so if you are able to get one for the retail price of $279 or lower, the Brother QL-1100NWB will be a better value for money.
What Thermal Printer Is Best For My Small Business?
Now that we have gone over the models, pricing and compatibilities, you can draw some conclusions. If you are using your computer exclusively to print your shipping labels, you are able to choose from a range of brands and models.
You can then select a thermal printer by going through which thermal printer is the most affordable option. You can also look for other factors such as which thermal printer company has the best customer support or length of warranty.
If you are using either a Mac or Windows computer or apple mobile devices, the best model thermal printer currently on the market from our experience is the Brother TD4550DNWB. However, keep in mind that the initial price is a higher investment. If you have android products and would like to print from your mobile devices, the best option is the Brother QL-1100NWB.
We have linked all our current reviews of the thermal printer models mentioned that we have used and tested at the end of the post. We recommend that you check them out for thorough details of each thermal printer.