Under most circumstances, you can put your average office laser or inkjet printer to good use and print labels. You will have to adjust the setting however for labels as they are not the same as what you use for regular paper stationery.
Most office supply stores don’t have a wide choice of sheet form labels; they are typically made of paper and come in sizes for address, shipping and file folder labels, with a few designs for special applications like CD labels. Adhesive choices are limited to permanent or removable; either way, they are going to be more “general-purpose” than strong and all-purpose. They often come packaged in small sheets and are expensive if you figure the price per label.
Compared to other types of printing methods, the selection of laser and inkjet label materials is fairly limited. For laser labels, certain plastics will start to melt and thick adhesives will become gooey with the high heat needed to transfer toner to a label substrate. This type of reaction leads to printer jams and messy clean-up. In the case of inkjet labels, it takes a special surface to absorb the inks and not bleed or smear and for the most part, you only have a couple paper substrates with either a matte or semi-gloss finish.
A key question to ask yourself: Where and how are you going to use your labels? How important is durability? Since there is not a heavy demand for strong laser or inkjet labels, you won’t find them on the shelf at your local Staples or Office Depot.
EIM however, has special water-resistant and cold-temperature materials that are great in laboratory and healthcare application, for example. We also have hard-to-tear polyester and plastic materials that handle a lot of abuse. If the toughness of the material is your main concern, the ceiling is actually quite high. Just remember—laser or inkjet labels are NOT IDEAL for rigorous chemical, weather, or outdoor exposure, particularly if you are printing colors that can fade.
So what’s the catch? As you know, laser and inkjet printers use sheets of labels. This means you have to print an entire sheet of labels every time you need a label – no matter if you need 1 or 50 pieces. Laser label manufacturers will typically guarantee jam-free performance only to sheets of labels that have been run through a printer a single time. Not only does the material tend to curl when you remove a label or two but it may drag the sheet improperly through the printer. Overall, there can be a lot of waste using sheets of labels. It is good to remember though that not every label on the sheet has to be the same; you can print sequential numbers or other variable data on different labels. It’s all a matter of how your database is set up.
On top of being versatile, laser and inkjet printers are quite affordable, starting at under $200.00. Buying sheets of laser or inkjet labels is often the most cost-effective option. EIM offers then in packs of 100 sheets so you don’t have to buy them in reams of 500 like you would for your stationery. (Some suppliers require a minimum of a 1000 sheets which may be way more than you need.) It pays to double-check though, to see exactly how many labels – not sheets of labels – you need. Will it be enough if you want to print “one-of-a-kind” labels once in a while? Are there ways to use the same labels in other ways?
That leads us to another question: How important are colors for your print? A full-color toner (laser) or inkjet printer is an excellent choice for printing logos and artwork, a feature not standard with roll form thermal transfer printers that can only print one color. Color printers are quite a bit more expensive than black-and-white models.
Are laser/inkjet sheets right for you? While laser/inkjet sheets are accessible and cost-effective, they’re limited by a fairly narrow material selection and force entire sheets of labels to be printed at one time.
Ribbon-based printing (thermal transfer) tends to produce higher quality, more durable labels, but it does require a dedicated printer and ink ribbon supply. If you know that your application requires extra-tough labels with extra strong and thick adhesives, and you still want to print your own labels, check out our QuickStart Thermal Transfer Printing Kits to get everything in an all-in-one, easy-to-setup-and-use package.