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The Best Thermal Printer for Your Small Business

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In an increasingly digital world, thermal printers have become real game-changers for a whole host of businesses – from retail and shipping to healthcare and so much more. These hardworking little machines churn out labels, receipts, barcodes, and a bunch of other vital printouts with speed and efficiency. And, because they’re used in so many different types of businesses, picking out the right thermal printer can make a massive difference to your business operations – think improved efficiency, smoother processes, and even HUGE cost savings.

In this article, we’ll explore how thermal printers work, look at the range of benefits they offer, and review what I think are the top thermal printers for small businesses.

Understanding Thermal Printers

A thermal printer, as the name suggests, uses heat to produce images or text on paper. While the concept of thermal printing has been around for decades, significant advancements over time have made these printers more efficient, affordable, and versatile. Today, thermal printers are the go-to choice for many businesses that require high-speed, high-volume printing with minimal maintenance. These advancements have included improvements in print quality, speed, and the introduction of features such as wireless connectivity and compatibility with various operating systems.

What is a Thermal Printer?

A thermal printer is a type of printer that uses heat to transfer an impression onto paper. This process involves a thermal printhead that heats up and cools down to produce precise images or text on the thermal paper or thermal labels. Unlike traditional ink or toner-based printers, thermal printers do not require ink cartridges or ribbons, making them more economical and efficient for high-volume printing tasks.

How Does a Thermal Printer Work?

The working of a thermal printer involves two main types: direct thermal printing and thermal transfer printing. In direct thermal printing, the printer applies heat to the thermal paper, which has a special heat-sensitive coating. When this coating is heated, it turns black, creating the desired images or text. This method is commonly used for printing receipts or labels that do not need to last long.

In contrast, thermal transfer printing uses a thermal ribbon, which is heated by the printer’s printhead. The heated ribbon melts ink onto the label to form the print. This method is suitable for labels or printouts that require a longer lifespan, as they are more resistant to light, heat, and other environmental factors.

The Advantages of a Thermal Printer

Thermal printers offer a plethora of advantages over traditional printing methods. First and foremost, they offer high-speed printing, which is ideal for businesses that require a large volume of printouts in a short time. In addition, thermal printers are efficient, as they require no ink or toner, reducing overall operating costs.

Furthermore, thermal printers produce prints that are resistant to smudging, ensuring the readability and integrity of the printed information. Other benefits include their quiet operation, ease of maintenance, and increasing compatibility with various software systems and platforms.

small business desk with laptop

What to Look For In a Thermal Printer

Choosing the best thermal label printer for your needs can significantly improve your business’s efficiency and productivity. The following are the key characteristics we feel you should consider when choosing a thermal printer:

Ease of Installation

The best thermal printers should be easy to install and start using. Time is of the essence in most businesses, and you don’t want to spend a significant amount of it trying to figure out how to set up your printer. Look for printers that come with clear instructions and plug-and-play features, reducing the time and complexity of installation.

Connectivity

Connectivity options are crucial for modern businesses. Depending on your specific needs, you may need a printer with USB, Ethernet, or Wi-Fi connectivity. Some printers offer multiple connectivity options, allowing you to choose the one that best suits your business setup. For example, Wi-Fi connectivity can be beneficial for businesses with a need for mobility or where the printing station isn’t close to the computing device.

Label Type & Sizes

Depending on the nature of your business, you may need to print on different types and sizes of labels. The best thermal printers can handle a wide variety of label types and sizes, offering you the flexibility you need to cater to diverse printing requirements.

Durability and Proven Track Record

When it comes to business equipment, durability is key. Printers with a proven track record for reliability and durability are often a better investment. It can be helpful to read user reviews and consider the reputation of the manufacturer when making your decision.

Printing Speed

In businesses with high-volume printing needs, the speed at which a printer can produce labels can significantly impact productivity. Fast printing speeds can help streamline processes, reduce waiting times, and increase overall efficiency.

Available Support and Customer Service

Good customer service and accessible support are important factors to consider. If you encounter a problem with your printer, it’s reassuring to know that help is just a phone call or email away. In addition, manufacturers who offer comprehensive support often provide regular firmware and software updates, which can improve your printer’s performance and longevity.

Price

The cost of the printer is an essential consideration. However, it’s important to balance the upfront cost with the printer’s features, quality, and total cost of ownership (including factors like power consumption and maintenance costs). An initially cheap printer might turn out to be expensive in the long run if it has high running costs or requires frequent maintenance.

Platform Compatibility

Your chosen printer should be compatible with your operating system and software platforms. In an increasingly connected world, it’s beneficial to choose a printer that can integrate seamlessly with your existing systems. This will allow you to manage your printing tasks more effectively and could open up possibilities for automating certain processes.

packaging supplies

Top 10 Best Thermal Printers in 2023

In my quest for the best thermal printer, I encountered a multitude of choices. I believe that any small business would find everything they need in one of these ten exceptional options.

Overview of Our Top Picks

Printer ModelEase of InstallationConnectivityPrint WidthDurabilityPrinting SpeedPrice
Dymo LabelWriter 4XLEasyUSB, Ethernet4″ (10cm)High29 labels/min$$
Rollo Wireless Printer X1040EasyWi-Fi, USB1.57 – 4.1”(4 – 10cm)High150 mm/s$$$
MUNBYN Thermal Shipping Label PrinterModerateUSB1.57 – 4.3″ (4 – 10.9cm)High72 labels/min$$
Brother QL-1100Easy (Plug & Play)USB4″ (10cm)High69 labels/min$$
Zebra 4DifficultWi-Fi4.09″ (10.4cm)High5 in (127mm)/sec$$$
Brother VC-500WModerateUSB, Wi-Fi1.96” (5cm)High8mm/s$$$
Arkscan 2054AEasyUSB4″ (10cm)High5 in/sec$$
Brother PT-P710BTEasyBluetooth, USB 2.01” (24mm)High20mm (0.78 in)/ sec$$
Phomemo PM-201EasyUSB4″ (10cm)High150 mm/sec$
Epson TM-T20IIEasyUSB*Standard Recipt Paper (80mm)High200 mm/sec$$
Please note that the price range is relative and symbolized by ‘$’ signs for the sake of comparison.

Dymo LabelWriter 4XL Label Maker

Our Pick for Best Overall

Specifications
Size: 5.5 x 7.8 x 7.3in
Connectivity: USB
Resolution: 300dpi
Print speed: 127mm/s
Max Label Width: 4.16in
Compatibility: Windows and Mac

Reasons to Buy
+ High-resolution printing
+ Great printing program

Reasons to Avoid
– Restricted to use of specific label rolls

The Dymo LabelWriter 4XL stands out as our top thermal label printer choice for e-commerce vendors, ranging from Etsy entrepreneurs to small shop owners and web-based businesses. The setup process is straightforward, and despite its compact design, the printer delivers sharp and high-quality labels with a resolution of 300 dpi.

With its stylish black cover and silver trim, this printer is not only functional but also adds a sleek touch to your workspace. Its compact size allows it to easily fit on a desk, saving valuable space. While the Dymo 4XL is versatile enough to print labels of various sizes, it excels at printing larger shipping labels of up to 4 inches wide.

An added advantage is its compatibility with major online marketplaces and shipping platforms, allowing users to print shipping labels directly from platforms like Amazon and eBay. The Dymo 4XL offers more than 60 label styles and formats, accompanied by a broad selection of fonts and styles.

The printer’s speed is impressive as well, clocking in at about 29 labels per minute. This speed makes it a handy choice for those who often find themselves tackling large-scale printing tasks.

Rollo Wireless Printer X1040

Best Wireless

Image from Rollo.com

Specifications
Size: 8 × 4 × 4in
Connectivity: WiFi and USB
Resolution: 203dpi
Print speed: 150mm/s
Max Label Width: 4.1in
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebook and Linux

Reasons to Buy
+ Fast wireless printing
+ Easy to setup
+ Shipping discounts

Reasons to Avoid
– Expensive to buy
– US only

With its contemporary white exterior, the Rollo Wireless Printer X1040 is tailored to suit those who regularly print 4×6” shipping labels. Its standout features include both wireless Wi-Fi and USB connectivity, enabling effortless printing directly from your mobile device.

What sets the Rollo X1040 apart is its integration with the Rollo Ship Manager. This cloud-based application can be connected to numerous online platforms, allowing you to manage and monitor all your shipping requirements conveniently on your phone or tablet.

A significant advantage offered by the Rollo Ship Manager is the availability of shipping discounts, a boon for businesses. However, both the device and this feature are currently limited to users in the US.
Setting up the Rollo X1040 is a breeze, thanks to the instructional video provided within the app. Plus, the printer’s plug-and-play design means there’s no need to worry about installing drivers.

MUNBYN Thermal Label Printer P130

Most Cost-Effective

Image from Munbyn.com

Specifications
Size: 7.7 x 3 x 3 in
Connectivity: USB
Resolution: 203dpi
Print speed: 150 mm/sec
Max Label Width: 4.3in
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, and Linux

Reasons to Buy
+ Easy setup
+ High-Speed Printing
+ Compact and lightweight

Reasons to Avoid
– Only 203dpi resolution

Although the MUNBYN Thermal Shipping Label Printer lacks wireless capability, its compact design, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness make it an ideal choice for small businesses.

With dimensions of 7.6 x 4.1 x 3.9 inches, it’s smaller than many traditional desktop printers. Its compatibility with widespread software and platforms, such as Adobe, Microsoft, Etsy, eBay, and more, adds to its versatility. The P130 Label Printer is compatible with all thermal shipping labels, popular e-commerce sites, and any courier such as UPS, USPS, FedEx, DHL, and many more. It is compatible with all versions of Windows, Mac, and Linux systems via USB cable.

The MUNBYN label printer is no slouch when it comes to speed, producing up to 150 labels per minute while maintaining high print quality. The MUNBYN shipping label printer also has automatic size detection and label adjustment functions. It is compatible with labels in 1.57″ to 4.3″ width sizes, ensuring enough diversity to cover your needs for multiple E-commerce businesses.

Brother QL-1100 Wide Format

Most User-Friendly

Specifications
Size: ‎6.7 x 8.7 x 5.9in
Connectivity: USB
Resolution: 300 dpi
Print speed: 69 labels per min
Max Label Width: 4in
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, and Linux

Reasons to Buy
+ Can print from your phone or tablet

Reasons to Avoid
– Can be difficult to set up
– Only uses Brothers paper

Are you seeking a user-friendly printer? Look no further than the Brother QL-1100. This thermal printer is compatible with both Windows and Mac systems and integrates seamlessly with Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook, making it a versatile tool for your workspace.

One of the standout features of the QL-1100 is its Plug & Play functionality. This feature eliminates the need to install software, making label creation and printing a hassle-free task. Further enhancing its user-friendly aspect is the device’s automatic detection system that identifies the tape size in the machine and consequently adjusts the onscreen template.

With a high resolution of 300 dpi and a speed that allows it to churn out up to 69 labels per minute, the QL-1100 delivers impressive performance. When you consider these features alongside its price point, the QL-1100 emerges as a thermal printer that offers excellent value for money. This printer could be an invaluable addition to any business looking for an efficient, cost-effective, and user-friendly solution to their label printing needs.

Zebra GK420d Direct Thermal Desktop Printer

Best for Larger Labels

Specifications
Size: 7 x 7 x 5in
Connectivity: USB
Resolution: 300dpi
Print speed: 4.25 in/sec
Max Label Width: 4in
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, and Android

Reasons to Buy
+ Fast printing speed
+ Larger 4-inch labels
+ WiFi and Bluetooth support

Reasons to Avoid
– Frustrating to set up

The Zebra 4 stands out as a contemporary thermal printer capable of supporting larger four-inch labels. Its impressive printing speed of 4.25 inches per second makes it a reliable ally when facing tight deadlines. If consistent, fast, and high-quality label making is your priority, the Zebra 4 ranks among the best thermal printers in the market.
With a compact and stylish design, it not only functions well but also adds an aesthetic appeal to your workspace. Replacing cartridges is a breeze, further enhancing its user-friendliness.

Once set up and paired with its app, the Zebra 4 is straightforward to operate. However, the setup process can be somewhat tricky. This printer requires the app to function, which means a steady WiFi connection and a secondary device such as a laptop, tablet, or phone are necessary for the initial setup. Despite this minor hurdle, the Zebra 4 is a worthy contender in the realm of modern thermal printers, especially for its speed and quality of output.

Brother VC-500W Label Maker

Best for Printing in Color

Specifications
Size: 4.5 x 4.6 x 3.8in
Connectivity: Wireless and USB
Resolution: 313dpi
Print speed: 8mm/s
Max Label Width: 1.96in
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, iOS and Android

Reasons to Buy
+Wireless printing
+High-quality color printing
+Supports most devices

Reasons to Avoid
-Expensive to run

We regard the Brother VC-500W as the premier thermal color printer available. This versatile machine stands out in label printing, offering a broad spectrum of sizes from 0.35 – 1.96 in (9-50mm) in width and up to 19.7 in (50cm) in length. Despite this versatility, the print quality remains excellent at 313DPI.

We discovered that printing directly from most devices and operating systems is a breeze, and the printer even supports direct printing from social media platforms. The complementary Color Label Editor app enhances the user experience by allowing you to customize your photos with a plethora of features such as text, borders, filters, and emojis.

While the printer has many positive aspects, it’s worth noting that the printing rolls can be quite expensive, which may drive up operational costs over time. However, provided that your labeling tasks aren’t excessively voluminous, the Brother VC-500W remains a top-tier option for color label printing.

Arkscan 2054A

Best Basic Thermal Printer

Specifications
Size: 8.3 x 9.5 x 6.5in
Connectivity: USB (wireless version available)
Resolution: 203dpi
Print speed: 127mm/s
Max Label Width: 4.25in
Compatibility: Windows and Mac

Reasons to Buy
+ Easy setup and use
+ Good print speed
+ Reasonably priced

Reasons to Avoid
– Some features are only for Windows

The Arkscan 2054A is an ideal choice for those seeking a straightforward, easy-to-use thermal printer. Its setup is simple and quick, usually only taking a few minutes, making it perfect for businesses requiring daily printing of 6 x 4-inch shipping labels.

The printer’s speed is commendable, churning out prints at around 5 inches per second. Although slightly larger than some alternatives, it offers the convenience of a label roll stored internally as well as the ability to handle fan-fold stacks. Moreover, this printer can be configured to be compatible with Zebra LP2844, thus supporting certain software applications.

The Arkscan 2054A comes packaged with the BarTender UltraLite Label Making Software, which includes features for text and graphics. However, it should be noted that this software is only compatible with Windows, so Mac users may not have access to all the printer’s features. If versatility is what you’re looking for, you can opt to purchase a LAN version for an additional cost to allow wireless printing instead of being restricted to USB. In summary, the Arkscan 2054A is a well-rounded and flexible thermal printer suitable for businesses with varied needs.

Brother P-touch CUBE Plus PT-P710BT Label Maker

Best for Small Labels

Specifications
Size: ‎2.6 x 5 x 5in
Connectivity: Bluetooth and Micro-USB
Resolution: 360 dpi
Print speed: 20mm (0.78 inches) per second
Max Label Width: 1in
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, iOS and Android

Reasons to Buy
+ Wireless and easy to use
+ Compact cube design
+ Rechargeable

Reasons to Avoid
– Only uses Brother’s own TZe tapes

The Brother PT-P710BT stands out as a compact and smart thermal printer, primarily designed for crafting narrow, plastic labels. It requires the use of Brother’s proprietary TZe tapes, but these perform admirably and come in a wide range of 60 colors and sizes, from 6 millimeters to one inch.

Its compact size lends itself to use with both desktop and mobile devices, but its dimensions and features make it exceptionally suitable for Android or Apple devices. You can operate it via Bluetooth, but it also features a USB 2.0 connection for a reliable backup option (though a USB-C connection would be more current).

One of the device’s highlights is the app, which provides an assortment of icons, images, barcodes, logos, and more. A spellchecker is an added bonus. In summary, the Brother PT-P710BT is a versatile and user-friendly thermal printer for those seeking a compact solution for label printing.

Phomemo PM-201

Best Budget Option

Specifications
Size: 8.66 × 4.13 × 3.54in
Connectivity: USB
Resolution: 203dpi
Print speed: 150mm/s
Max Label Width: 4.1in
Compatibility: Windows and Mac

Reasons to Buy
+ Great for high-volume printing
+ Compact in size
+ Easy setup

Reasons to Avoid
– No wireless option

The Phomemo PM-201, while compact in its design, might require additional space for the label holder. The setup process is fairly simple with a provided USB that contains instructional videos, quick guides, and necessary drivers ensuring a smooth connection. However, the lack of Bluetooth connectivity means that direct printing from smartphones or tablets isn’t an option.

The printer comes with Labelife editing software that allows for customized labels, but currently, this software is available only for Windows users. Nevertheless, its versatility in printing is noteworthy, with the capacity to print labels ranging from 1 x 1 inch up to 6 x 4 inches, thereby accommodating a vast range of commonly used label sizes. Additionally, it comes with a free label holder and a set of 4 x 6 inches fan-fold labels to jumpstart your printing journey.

The Phomemo PM-201 excels in routine labeling and printing tasks, with its high-volume capacity allowing for up to 12 hours of continuous operation. While it might lack Bluetooth connectivity, if you are fine with connecting your printer to a computer, the Phomemo PM-201 remains a solid choice.

Epson TM-T20II Direct Thermal Printer

Best for Receipts

Specifications
Size: ‎5.51 x 5.75 x 7.83in
Connectivity: USB + serial
Resolution: 203 dpi
Print speed: 200 mm per second
Max Label Width: 3 1⁄8 x 230in
Compatibility: Windows and Mac

Reasons to Buy
+ Well built and reliable
+ Designed for receipt printing

Reasons to Avoid
– Receipt printing only

When it comes to printing receipts, the Epson TM-T20II truly shines. For those primarily seeking a receipt-focused thermal printer, this model is often hailed as one of the best in the market.

Its popularity among small businesses lies in its robust build, dependable performance, and speedy printing capability of 200mm per second. It’s an efficient solution for managing receipt printing tasks.
Although it’s compatible with Windows and Mac systems, it doesn’t come with a mobile app or Android support. Nevertheless, its ability to print on paper as wide as 3.125 inches and up to 230 inches long ensures it can handle a range of receipt sizes.

If your priority is receipt printing and you’re not looking for additional features, the Epson TM-T20II is an excellent choice that combines simplicity, speed, and reliability.

Conclusion

Navigating the vast market of thermal printers can seem daunting, especially when selecting the ideal one for your small business. Throughout this article, we have delved into the workings, benefits, and key features of thermal printers, and analyzed various top-of-the-line models available in 2023.

While each printer offers its own unique set of features, two models, in particular, stood out for their balance of affordability, reliability, and practicality, especially for small businesses: the Dymo LabelWriter 4XL and the Rollo Wireless Printer X1040.

The Dymo LabelWriter 4XL impresses with its easy setup, high resolution, and its ability to print a variety of label sizes. Its compatibility with many online platforms, quick printing speed, and wide choice of label styles make it a perfect fit for e-commerce sellers and small businesses.

The Rollo Wireless Printer X1040, with its sleek design and wireless connectivity, provides a significant advantage in today’s mobile-first world. Its compatibility with the Rollo Ship Manager, offering shipping discounts and easy tracking of shipping needs, enhances its appeal for businesses of all sizes.

Ultimately, the best thermal printer for your business depends on your specific needs and preferences. However, based on our personal experience, we can’t live without the Dymo LabelWriter 4XL and the Rollo Wireless Printer X1040. They stand as leading options for small businesses seeking efficient, versatile, and cost-effective thermal printing solutions in 2023.

FAQs

  • How Do Thermal Printers Work?
    Thermal printers operate by using heat to produce images or text on thermal paper. These printers have a thermal head that heats the paper, turning the heat-sensitive dye in the paper black (or any color embedded in the paper) and creating the desired image or text.
  • What are the Advantages of a Thermal Printer?
    Thermal printers offer several advantages. They operate quietly, print faster than many other types of printers, require less maintenance, and are generally more reliable because they have fewer moving parts. They also don’t need ink or toner, reducing operating costs.
  • Which is Better, a Thermal or Laser Printer?
    This depends on your specific needs. Thermal printers are generally faster, quieter, and more cost-effective for high-volume printing tasks like labels or receipts. Laser printers, on the other hand, are better for high-quality, professional-looking documents and can print on a wider variety of media.
  • How Long Do Thermal Printer Prints Last?
    Thermal prints can fade over time, especially if exposed to heat, light, or other unfavorable conditions. However, under optimal conditions, thermal prints can last several years or even decades.
  • Do Thermal Printers Need Ink or Toner?
    No, thermal printers do not require ink or toner. Instead, they use heat-sensitive paper that changes color when heated, thereby creating the desired print.
  • Can Thermal Printers Print Color?
    Most thermal printers print only in black and white. However, there are color thermal printers available on the market that use a special type of heat-sensitive paper.
  • Do I Need Special Paper for a Thermal Printer?
    Yes, thermal printers require heat-sensitive thermal paper to produce prints. This paper is coated with a material that changes color when exposed to heat. Standard paper will not work in a thermal printer.

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