What kind of printer do I need to print mailing labels?

Ink jet, laser or thermal? You can print mailing labels on any printer. We’ll cover the advantages of each and help you identify the best one for your needs.

Mon Nov 09 13:36:00 EST 2020

You know those official-looking mailing labels you see on your inbound letters and packages? You can save time and money by printing the same mailing labels from home.

First, it’s important to understand the difference between mailing labels and shipping labels. The process of “mailing” an item refers to mail sent in envelopes through USPS®. With mailing labels, you can print the sender’s and recipient’s addresses in one convenient step. Mailing labels look professional and are easy for USPS to read. 

Shipping refers primarily to packages and can be handled by any carrier, including USPS, FedEx® and UPS®. Shipping labels contain more information than mailing labels, including carrier-specific postage and tracking barcodes. 

The distinction between the two is important (find more details here) but doesn’t impact the type of printer you need. If it works for a shipping label, it works for a mailing label.

Do I need a special printer to print shipping or mailing labels?

No, you don’t need a special printer to print shipping or mailing labels. The real question is, do you need an inkjet, a laser or a thermal label printer? That answer depends on the results you want to achieve and the money you are willing to invest. But remember, what you pay upfront can impact what you pay long term.

Printing shipping labels with an inkjet printer

Odds are you already have an inkjet printer in your home or office. That means you can start printing shipping labels today. But if your shipping volumes are high, you’ll want to invest in a laser or thermal printer for long-term savings.

The advantages of an inkjet printer:

  • They’re readily available and inexpensive to purchase.
  • Their compact footprint works well in any environment.

The disadvantages of an inkjet printer:

  • Ink is expensive to replenish, even the non-OEM options.
  • Print speeds are slow and media tray capacity is low.

Printing shipping labels with a laser printer

A laser printer will print shipping labels much faster than an inkjet. If you print more than a couple of labels a day, you’ll appreciate the difference. Printed text is sharper, even at tiny font sizes (which shipping labels use). The upfront investment is steeper than that of an inkjet, but you can print more labels for less cost over time.  

The advantages of a laser printer:

  • They print faster with sharper, cleaner results than an inkjet.
  • They print more mailing labels for roughly the same price as an inkjet.

The disadvantages of a laser printer:

  • They weigh more and have a larger footprint than an inkjet.
  • Replenishing the toner is expensive and work only with laser-compatible print media.

Printing shipping labels with a thermal printer

Thermal label printers are distinct from inkjet and laser in one important way: they are purpose-built to print shipping labels. You can see that in features like built-in label-roll cutters and feeds designed specifically for rolls of 4x6 shipping labels.

Thermal technology means no messy, expensive ink or toner cartridges to deal with. Thermal is also the most expensive option of the three printer types, though affordable options are available.

The advantages of a thermal label printer:

  • They have one job to do and they are very fast and good at it.
  • No ink or toner to replenish. It’s worth repeating: No ink or toner.

The disadvantages of a thermal label printer:

  • Other than their higher upfront cost and singular purpose, there really aren’t any disadvantages.

Can I print shipping and mailing labels on regular paper?

Yes, you can. Ask any frugal multi-channel seller who runs a successful mail order business with nothing more than an inkjet printer and ordinary printer paper. Many of those same frugal-minded sellers print shipping labels using SendPro® Online to access their choice of carriers and discounted postal rates.

You can also use SendPro Online to print postage directly onto an envelope, but you do need special USPS-approved paper to print stamps.

Can I handwrite shipping and mailing labels?

You can easily handwrite mailing labels – if you don’t mind the extra work. For shipping labels, you can handwrite the shipping address, but you’ll need to take it to your local post office to be measured, weighed and stamped with a special shipping barcode.

Better yet, you can just print your shipping and mailing labels at home with the proper barcodes and postal information automatically generated by your sending service or software.

Can I save money printing my own shipping and mailing labels?

Yes! Once you’ve chosen a printer to print your shipping labels, you’ll want to focus on how to receive all the postage discounts available to your business. That’s where an online sending service like SendPro® Online can help.

With SendPro Online you can compare prices across major carriers, access discounted shipping rates on USPS and UPS, create and print shipping labels (official barcodes and all), track your packages and view your shipping and mailing history.