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Fun With Labels & Bumper Stickers

I like labels. Not the political kind like "liberal" or "conservative," but the sticky kind that you can put on file folders, personal possessions, CDs, video cassettes and anything else that needs labeling.

When I was a kid I had one of those Dymo machines that made plastic labels. More recently I got a Seiko label maker for my PC and my wife recently got a $40 portable standalone Dymo LabelMANAGER 150 that lets her make very nice stick-on labels.

When my son Will went off to college this fall, we made tons of them to label his possessions. He may still lose his iPod, cell phone or digital camera but with any luck, his name and phone number on a sticky label will lead them back to him.

The label maker I like most is the new Brother P-touch QL-500. Like computer label printers from Dymo and Seiko, this one attaches to the USB port of a PC and prints on thermal labels, but it has two distinct advantages.

One advantage is that it's cheaper ($100) and the other is that it uses a wide variety of labels ranging from small file folder labels to continuous feed labels 2.4 inches wide and up to three feet long. You can also get labels designed for labeling CDs and DVDs and, of course, shipping labels and standard address labels. Thermal labels print in black only, but there are three colors of label stock that black ink can be on: white, yellow, or clear.

Other label makers on the market also support different types of labels but this is the only moderately priced one I've seen that offers continuous feed labels.

The advantage is that you can make very large labels or even signs, suitable for use in classrooms, office bulletin boards or whether else you need to post something large enough for everyone to see.

You can even use the 2.4 inch continuous feed labels to make bumper stickers, which can be pretty handy in this political season, especially if the ones that the candidates print up don't quite express your personal feelings.

Because these labels use a thermal printing process (similar to old fashioned fax paper), they are subject to fading when exposed to sunlight but, to my surprise, the (decidedly non-partisan) bumper sticker that I put on the back of my car ten days ago is still quite legible. Unlike thermal printing on fax paper, the black is truly black, and the stock is much thicker and easier to work with than thermal fax paper.

Another unique feature in the Brother label maker is that it's much easier and faster to load and change labels. It's not that other models are so difficult, but with this one you can remove and replace label stock in a couple of seconds, making it practical to change from, say, file folder labels to CD labels.

The labels come in their own little caddy that snaps into place and the software automatically senses what label type you're using so you don't have to reconfigure it when you change label types. Other label makers also work with a variety of label types but it typically takes a couple of minutes and almost always results in wasting a couple of blank labels. With the Brother there is usually no waste.

As with almost all printers, you have to consider the cost of the supplies along with the initial purchase price. Thermal labels don't require ink so the only supplies are the labels themselves. Brother's standard address labels cost $13.99 for a roll of 400, which comes to 3.5 cents a label - about the same as you'd pay for labels for competing printers. CD labels cost $27 per hundred (27 cents each) from Brother. 100 feet of continuous feed stock costs $25.99, which comes to less than 25 cents for a typical bumper sticker.

Brother makes two models. The QL-500 is identical to the $150 QL-550, except that the more expensive model has an electric label cutter. The QL-500 has a manual cutter that works just fine.

Both can print up to 50 standard address labels per minute and both come with software that allows you to design and print labels with features such as clip art, time and date stamping and an auto-counter if you want each label to have a unique number.

The label printer also works directly with Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook -making it possible to create mailing labels directly from a database of addresses. You can also print bar codes.

I still have no intention of slapping political labels on people but, thanks to this new label printer, I might use it to make up some name tags for our election night party.

A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid
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