An organized closet can be the key to a stress-free day. Grabbing a box and knowing exactly what's inside makes finding what you need super easy. But who can always remember the exact contents of every single box? That's where a simple chunk of plastic comes in handy. I'm talking about the joys of labels—particularly, clearly printed labels on easy-to-read tape.
Label makers—like our favorite, the Dymo LabelManager 160 Portable(available at Amazon)— are the best tools to keep your belongings well organized. Any container that's labeled means you'll always know what's inside.
But not all label makers are easy to use. Some now have extra features, like letting you print barcodes or symbols. Others will connect to computers or smartphones to add images or barcodes. So we put seven of the most popular devices to the test to find our top recommendations.
Here are the best label makers we tested ranked, in order:
Dymo LabelManager 160 Portable
Brother P-touch, PTD210
Brother P-touch, PTD450
Dymo Label Maker with Adapter 420P
Brother P-touch CUBE Plus PT-P710BT
Brother P-touch, PTP750W
Dymo LabelManager 160
Our favorite label maker may not include a few features that we'd appreciate—like a backlit display, a larger clip art selection, and it doesn't connect to a computer—but its keyboard and thermal printer do a great job at popping out legible laminated strips of paper that you can slap on all your stuff.
It includes six font sizes, eight text styles and 228 symbols and clip art.
The value is excellent, too. It's a sturdy product at less than a third the price of most of the closest competitors.
The DYMO 160 is easy to hold in one hand while you type with the other. A QWERTY-style keyboard makes typing a breeze. The limited menus on the device are intuitive, with the font being adjustable after typing the label in.
While it’s true that without a backlight you can't make labels in a dark place and you'll have to purchase your own batteries, the limited complexity feels worth the trade-off in price.
My name is Rebecca Boniface. While my storage space is limited since I live full-time in an RV, having a place for everything clearly indicated becomes much more important when storage is spread around a motorhome.
There’s a special misery in digging around a motorhome basement, looking at unlabeled plastic bins.
Just like in many homes, finding storage solutions that work in challenging environments is important in an RV. I want to help you find the tools you’ll need to feel the satisfaction of a job well done, as well as save yourself time and money. Oh, and be able to keep track of your belongings, too!
All the label makers we tested were unpacked and evaluated for printing right out of the box. While many required batteries to be purchased separately, most included a cartridge of label tape. Since these printers use thermal printing, there’s no need to purchase ink. Once we assessed this experience, we put the label makers through additional tests.
During testing, we split testing into two groups: testing labels and testing printers.
Our label tests focused on the adverse conditions labels are often found in: freezers, underwater, under heat.
First, a label from each label maker was printed off and applied to a new plastic cutting board.
The board was placed in a household freezer for 24 hours. After sitting at room temperature for a day, the cutting board was placed in a sink of cool water and submerged for another full day.
New labels were used for the heat test: since we know the printing is thermal, there was a concern that heat could change the color of the tape. The heat from a hairdryer was not enough to change the color of the labels on any of the label makers.
Finally, the labels were applied and removed from both plastic and wooden cutting boards to see if any residue remained.
The printer tests are subjectively evaluated for ergonomics and ease of installing tape, as well as the user interface software and emoji/icon availability. The printer tests also noted if there was an excessive waste of tape or any other noteworthy differences between the machines.
What You Should Know When Buying a Label Maker
These mini-printers are relatively simple products, but the single job they need to do, they need to do really well. Here are a few features to look for when shopping for the perfect label maker.
Batteries—Very few label makers are ready to use, right out of the box. Some do not include an AC adapter to plug in, or AA or AAA batteries will need to be purchased separately.
Label Tape—The cartridges for label makers are very specific to each brand and, in some cases, to each model. Most models will allow for a range of tape widths, going up to ¾ inches wide. For some brands, like Brother, there is also a range of different tape colors. Often there is a discount if you purchase through a company's website after signing up for their email list, so keep an eye out for savings.
Labels Stored—If there are certain labels that you expect to make frequently, like name labels, being able to store those labels in the label maker is a helpful feature. This way, anytime you need to print that label, it’s already set up and ready to select. Some label makers have this feature built-in. If the label maker connects to a computer or phone, it will have the ability to save labels as well.
Printing Barcodes—Not all label makers are able to print barcodes. Generally, if the label maker connects to a computer or a phone, you can put any image you like onto the label including a barcode. For the label makers that do not attach to a computer or phone, barcodes are not an option.
Other Label Makers We Tested
Brother P-Touch PTD210
Brother makes some of the most popular label printers on the market, so much so that we tested four for this guide, and the Brother P-touch PTD210 is our favorite of the bunch because of all the label-making features it includes. There is a selection of 14 fonts, 600 symbols, 98 frames, and even some templates to choose from.
The Brother PTD210 even saves 30 labels for you to reprint whenever you need them again. The menus are intuitive and easy to navigate.
However, the size of the keyboard is too small to touch-type, so it’s really best to hold it in two hands and use your thumbs to type.
Generally, the Brother tape tested very well in both the water and freeze tests. The tape is available in a wide range of sizes and colors. If barcodes are part of your label-printing needs, this model is not able to accommodate that.
It also didn't include any source of power in the box, so make sure to pick up some batteries or purchase the optional AC adapter.
The Brother PTD450 has plenty of features to recommend it: a QWERTY keyboard, an included A/C adapter as well as the option to use batteries, computer connectivity through a USB cable. It includes 4 fonts, with 10 font styles and more than 600 symbols. It will also print barcodes.
If you spend a considerable portion of your time creating labels, this label maker would be great for you. With the large keyboard, you can touch-type all those labels much more quickly than a hunt-and-peck style of typing used on the smaller models.
However, if you don't see yourself using it very often, and don't need the additional features, this label maker may not be worth the extra cost.
We really wanted to like the Brady BMP21-Plus. It’s so rugged, you might even be able to label a polar bear in its Arctic home. With the sharp black rubberized and bright yellow accents, you’d be able to find it in that snowbank.
During the labels section of testing, the Brady BMP21-PLUS struggled to match the quality offered by the other label makers we tested. The white nylon cloth label had poor water resistance, peeling up at one corner and it left a residue on the wooden cutting board. While Brady does offer other label types, this roll of included label tape was disappointing.
The Brady BMP21-PLUS does not come with a power source in the box, so you'll need to purchase six AA batteries.
With an alphabetic order and 100 built-in symbols on the one-handed keyboard, the Brady was a bit of a struggle to use.
However, the menus were intuitive and easy to navigate. With two buttons to control the cutter, this label maker can be used by either right or left-handed folks, a thoughtful design approach.
For the price of this label maker, the full roll of labels was a nice bonus but it’s reasonable that a tool in this price range should have a power adapter included.
If our best overall choice has an evil twin brother, it just might be this label maker. The DYMO 420P looks very similar to other DYMO products with a sleek, one-handed design.
A larger, backlit display offers an expansive five-line space to create your labels in. Even if you forget to purchase batteries, the DYMO 420P has got you by including a dedicated rechargeable lithium ion battery and charger. However, the charger will not work without the battery pack installed—you get a very cheerful "BATTERY FAILED!” message if you try to run off the charger.
As for its evil side, the DYMO 420P is also demanding. When the charge was dropping down, it insisted on being plugged in for 10 minutes and then counted down the time, like a Sesame Street teachable moment.
Aside from being a bit power hungry, the DYMO 420P was clear about its ability to fit text onto the size of label tape. When I pushed to get a third line of text, it stopped me and showed “TOO MANY LINES!” The clarity of that message is appreciated.
This model features eight fonts, seven font sizes, 10 text styles and more than 200 symbols and clip-art images.
Part of the appeal of the Brother P-touch CUBE is that its advertising promises instant designed and printed customized labels, but it wasn't so instant, or very easy to use.
While the device does come with a USB cable (no AC adapter is included) and a sample roll of tape, the software needs to be downloaded, so make sure your computer or phone has web access. Once the software is downloaded and drivers installed, the pain really begins.
The Apple software is clunky. We didn’t try anything too fancy so as to keep testing consistent across all the models in this roundup, but even those basic labels were a bit challenging. While the printer offered a nice feature with chain printing (where it keeps spitting out labels until done, then you cut them after), the printer feeds out about an inch of tape every time it starts. So each label, unless you do chain printing, wastes an inch of tape.
Our final complaint is regarding the label maker’s size. Considering there is no keyboard or screen, I had expected a much smaller cube. The PT-P710BT is about the size of four fists, more than half the size of other handheld label makers. Unless you have significant desk real estate, leaving this on your desktop for occasional use is going to be irritating.
If you take all the negative aspects of the Brother PT-P710BT and make the printer a third bigger, that would be this model: the PTP750W.
The software, after downloading and installing drivers, is difficult to use. Creating basic labels is challenging. With the wi-fi options in the PTP750W, we assumed connecting would be straightforward: Either use the NFC Connectivity, the wi-fi or plug in with the USB cable. However, as an iPhone user, the only connection that worked was the USB-option.
The printer labels themselves tested fine, scoring well in all categories. The printer included both an AC adapter, a USB cable and starter tape roll. We really liked the wider tape options in this line, allowing for five lines of text in a compressed space. The printer interface, on the other hand, was more clunky and difficult to figure out.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.