Small Lab Label Maker

I am looking to purchase a small format label maker for my personal lab.

Something that will print somewhat professional looking labels that I can place on PCBAs or the top of ICs to indicate things like FW version numbers or serial numbers.

google search turns up many options from $ to $$$$. I am willing to spend a few hundred dollars. but I really have no idea were to start.

any suggestions would be very much appreciated!

I don’t think this is exactly what you’re looking for, but for home use I switched from a simple brother’s label maker to a Brady BMP-21-plus and what a difference! The labels no longer peel off or fade away after a year and the quality is just so much higher overall. Plus I love the ability to make wire markers which wrap nicely around the wires. Brady makes more expensive versions you can send text to over serial, I believe. For your use-case I would be concerned about the minimum label size, which is too large for an IC.

I have used a Brother P-Touch in the past but don’t recommend it.

For wire labels, I have been using clear heat shrink tubing. I just print the labels on a laser printer plain paper, cut them out, slide under the heat shrink tubing and apply heat. A lot cheaper than using a label maker. They look pretty good. I don’t know if inkjet colors would fade - the tubing probably blocks UV. I’ve got some that are a couple of years old and still look good.

I’ve used various mailing labels and they work though sometimes peel off. Cleaning the surface with alcohol helps a lot. I trim them to fit with a small hobby knife.

I use a Brother QL700 which takes either continuous or precut labels. 2.25" wide. Their pc software is a little goofy. I mostly print postage labels from ebay or paypal and have never had a lost item.

The smaller P-Touch makes nice labels for front panels and cables, but it wastes a lot of tape. They do have a tape in other colors and with extra strong adhesive.

For some equipment labels, I buy 8.5 x 11" vinyl sheets and run them through the color laser printer. They look great and see to hold up well. You have to hand cut to size and may be wasting a lot if you don’t need a full sheet. I print labels and instructions on these and stick them on equipment. I like the look an feel.

Good luck!

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I often use the ink-jet version of these for mockups, they look great.

The high-end (but not obscene) answer is Brady BMP61 + These would be the normal type you see as you can run them through reflow & they are ESD safe. You can use software for the BMP61 to print more complex stuff - there is a free version that does most stuff you need, they try to sell you on the wire & label etc but not sure it’s necessary. Some features (like 2D barcodes) are locked in the paid version IIRC.

You can get them in kits which includes the SW & makes it a little better, I got the BMP61 in wire & label kit for example. Don’t get the M611 (which also works with those labels) as the cutter jams easily.

Some of the lower end brady printers work as well, but I’m not sure you can get that same polymide substrate with them. A lot of Brady supplies are stocked by Digikey which can be handy.

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The BMP61 sounds good until you get to the price. $700! Add on some software and you are quickly over a grand.

The BMP21+ isn’t too pricey - $100ish. The battery option basically doubles the price. No connectivity, though. They have several type of chemical/temperature resistant labels for it but it doesn’t look like they would survive reflow.

Anyone used their wrap on wire labels? How well do they stick? I’d be worried about them falling off down the road which is why I use clear heat shrink tubing.

It’s all relative :wink: I had some pre-printed serial number labels that minimum order was 10K and that one roll was $700 (same ESD / high temp labels). So if you’re doing moderate volume it works out pretty OK.

They work great - the self laminating ones they call them. Watch the wire size though, you need a smallish wire so it overlaps a few times to actually self-laminate. Lecroy uses these types of labels on their production test probes and stuff I’ve noticed even. Here was a photo on RG316 cable for example, lots of overlap you can see from the ‘flag’ so very robust:

The BMP21 might have a limited maximum flag length, that I think maybe works for CAT5 but you’d have to check. Most of the complaints are when you use too small of one (like 1/2" flag) with larger diameter cable (AC power cord).

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Client asked me to find a good label printer, and I sent him details of the BMP21 and BMP61. He said “Buy the expensive one!” (a very endearing trait in a client :slight_smile: ). Printer has printed like two labels in two years, and just sits lonely under a desk somewhere in the factory in Minnesota. So tempted to bring it home after one of my visits…

i use my dymo rhino 5200 a lot for different types of labels, cabling, heat shrink , wire etc, but it is manual. haven’t really had an issues with it other than being manual entry. it has a lot of different tape types but i don’t recall seeing anything super fancy but its been a workhorse for me.

They are good too - we’ve got one of those exact models and it was used for years for heatshrink. IIRC the issue with them compared to the BMP21 is tape sizes - the BMP21 can load larger flag tapes for wrapping around, the Rhino 5200 is limited there (the BMP21 has the labels rotated differently). Also I found it handy the brady stuff is in digikey etc (especially for international people).

that is good to know, cheers!

I encountered this many years ago doing small production runs with my company in Seoul. Pre-printed labels from a third party were a bit pricey, but the real problem was our production lots were low, often in the hundreds or low thousands, and these companies didn’t want to bother with us. We found ourselves buying our own stocks of rolls of blank labels because the companies didn’t want to deal with that for such a small customer. And some of our clients had very precise label requirements which often meant we were designing the label ourselves, as well. Finally we just bought our own industrial-grade machine (it was a few thousand dollars, as I recall). It’s about the size of a sewing machine case, and prints labels insanely fast. The consumables are rolls of labels themselves, and corresponding rolls of “ink”. It prints on all sorts of materials – I can recall white paper, glossy/plastic labels, Kraft-paper-like labels, mylar labels, etc. It was still working like a champ, even after more than ten years, last time we used in an a rare production last summer. In fact, we really don’t need it anymore and tried to sell it, but despite being in such good condition, it was too old and didn’t have any buyers.

My point isn’t to recommend a brand (although if anyone is curious I can track that down), but to point out that investing in one of these machines might make sense if you’re in a similar situation.

I got the Brother P-Touch P700 about a year ago, based on some suggestions and also the price and convenience of buying the labels here in South Korea. Until yesterday, my wife had been using it to print drawer and plastic bin labels for my from time to time. I needed to label some PCBs yesterday, and installed it on my computer. First impressions…

It wastes tape, indeed. Every label is preceded by about an inch of blank leader which (it gets cut off, but still, it’s a waste). I don’t see any setting in the Brother-provided P-Touch label editor software to adjust / disable this. If you print multiple copies of the same label, however, the leader only gets printed once per “print job” (bad memories of waiting for my computer printout in college, where the first page contained the user name and print job number).

I looked briefly, and there are some programs out there which let you print directly to the printer without using the P-Touch software, and maybe these give you more control over the tape waste?

The narrowest tape I have is 6mm, which fit just fine on a SOIC-24 package. Looking at the software, apparently a 3.5mm tape is available, too. If I wanted more permanent adhesion, I would consider painting it over with clear fingernail polish or the proper electronics-approved equivalent thereof.

Yeah. I’ve used the P-Touch P750 and I have the same impression. Lots of waste, but they do offer labels that can soak in water (plastic covered) and that was a requirement for one of my projects. It isn’t shabby at all.

The BMP61 looks very interesting though. Not expensive, given the right client that needs it?

Any idea what this one inch leader is for? If we assume that it isn’t a blatant way to make the user buy label refills more often, what could be the reason? The only thing I can imagine is this… IF this leader was followed by a partial cut (it isn’t, it is a 100% cut), and the label you are printing is very short, then the leader would be helpful in extracting the label from the machine, as short labels tend to hide in the mouth of the printer.

Maybe this one inch of tape is potentially no good, if you’ve left the label cartridge unused for a long time? Or in the sunlight?

I’ve a Brother PT-P300BT. I didn’t like the provided software, and it wasn’t available on Linux where I needed it, so I cobbled up some work by others and my own work to print labels without the wasted tape. At the shell, I just type print-label hello world and out it comes. Then I have to either press the button to waste some tape, or print another label to push the first one out far enough to use scissors. :wink:

The cobbled up thing is based on imagemagick, rfcomm, bash, python, and pyserial. If there is interest, I can put it somewhere. I didn’t keep track of where I got some of it from, so I can’t vouch for license; you’ll have to do your own search and assessment.

It is just to provide an easy tear-off point it seems? It could certainly be much shorter.