Digital Journal — Today's all-in-one printers tend to be overachievers; they print, fax, scan, copy, manage documents, print photos and do more than some people actually expect out of a simple printer. They’ve been enormously popular in the market, and small- to medium-sized offices (and households) have been snapping up the units as if they are about to go on long-term backorder.
With the printer-that-can-do-anything category continues to earn kudos all over the world, it makes some people wonder if there is there still room in the market for specialized printers that do just one job (remember when printers just printed, and nothing else?).
And even though many manufacturers continue to make single-function printers, not all are good (Digital Journal often gives out its famous “Lemon Awards” to products that suck). However, there are those that continue to be very good, and Brother’s P-touch QL-550 — a little printer that prints adhesive labels of various sizes — is a perfect example.
About the size of an oversized Rolodex (it has a footprint of 5.7 x 7.7 inches), the QL-550 doesn't really eat up that much of your desk space. It doesn't take long to get this compact workhorse going, either. Install the supplied drivers and software, connect the printer to the USB port of your PC or Mac, and you're ready to print your address labels, name badges, folder labels, and anything you ever wanted to keep your colleagues (or family members) from claiming as their own.
Also, the great thing about the QL-550: there's no ink to load. Using specially coated paper, this unit is a thermal printer that prints by applying heat. It comes pre-packaged with two pretty generous sample spools of paper, including a spool of pre-cut 1-1/7" x 3-1/2" labels, and a spool of uncut paper 2-3/7-inches wide. You can print labels up to three feet long using the uncut roll, making the QL-550 a sign printer as well. Naturally, Brother sells a whole gamut of other paper supplies, including CD/DVD film labels and wide yellow tape.
Whatever size of label you use, they can be loaded with remarkable ease (a feature common with most Brother printers). The spools come supplied with standard mounts that can be placed only one way into the printer, meaning there is no confusion whatsoever. Also, changing spools takes just seconds — handy if you're printing different types of labels in one session.
One way to create labels — anything from shipping labels, return address labels, you name it — is to use Brother's P-touch editing program. This full-featured program offers a lot of bells and whistles, such as decorative frames, clipart, and even barcode creation. While many product features are good in theory, we found that the P-touch program wasn't as intuitive as we would have liked. Because it offers so many functions, it can sometimes be confusing or difficult to determine where things are, and the interface is not as friendly as other Brother printer products. However, once you are used to navigating through features, the program will allow you to quickly create and print any labels.
Another bonus with this printer is the ability to create labels using Microsoft Office applications such as Word or Excel. This is where Brother scores big points: So many manufacturers force consumers to use proprietary software, making a product experience frustrating and tedious. Brother, on the other hand, understands that every user has a different comfort level with various types of software, and sometimes a user will prefer to use software other than the one packaged with the product (Note to other manufacturers: Learn something from Brother and don’t force consumers to re-learn software every time they buy a new printer).
Using software like MS Word, for example, you select the text you want included in your label, click on the P-touch icon that's been added to your application's toolbar, and you're brought to a simpler version of the P-touch editor. From here, you can add a few cool-looking graphics or adjust the layout, then print. Simple. Intuitive.
Printing on the QL-550 can only be described in one way: very fast. Using the smaller labels supplied in the box, we found that only three seconds elapsed from the time we clicked on "Print" to the time the label spewed out of the printer, pre-cut to the correct length by the integrated cutter. Longer labels don't take much longer, either. We printed an 18-inch sign using the 2-3/7" paper in only seven seconds. Even at 300 dpi (high-resolution), the printed labels looked polished and images looked sharp if not exactly photo-quality.
The verdict is unanimous: If you do a lot of label or sign printing, the QL-550 stands out as a perfect complement to your existing printer. At about $169 (CDN), it's about the price of a low-end inkjet printer — not expensive, especially considering you don't have to reckon with the recurring expense of ink cartridges. However, in lieu of frequent ink costs, you will have to consider the cost of the specially-coated labels — a roll of 400 die-cut address labels costs about $16 (CDN), and a 2-1/2-inch continuous-length roll costs about $30 (CDN).
For the speed and convenience — not to mention ease of use — the Brother P-touch QL-550 can indeed be labelled as a must-have for those with extensive labelling requirements. Even those of us who don't have such requirements will think up ways to use this neat printer.
Hmm, how about content labels for all those boxes you haven’t touched in 15 years that clutter up your basement? Or, how about a name label for the office stapler that continues to go missing from your desk?
No matter the use, if you get it, you will print.
Housing Design: PC-Connect
Tape Type: DK
Tape Width (mm): up to 62
Print Head: 720 dots (300 dpi)
Max Print Height: 27 mm
Print Speed: 90 mm/sec.
Cutter Type: Auto scissors
Half-Cut / Multi-Cut: n/a
# of Sizes: PC sizes
# of Fonts: PC fonts
# of Print Styles: 65 (V)
# of Lines: Unlimited
# of Frames: 87
Computer Connectivity: USB
Mirror Printing: Yes
Tab Function: Yes
Auto Formats: 25
Symbols: 151 (Clip Art)
Display Buffer: n/a
Length Set: Use all PC length sets
Repeat Printing: 1-5000
Stamp Making: No
Bar Codes: 16 types
Tape Included: DK1201 Die Cut address labels (starter roll), DK2205 2 3/7" Continuous paper tape (starter roll)