The Best Shipping Label and Printer Solution for USPS, UPS and FedEx

[Last updated September 20, 2014)

If you are a high-volume shipper, you probably already have your expensive, high-capacity shipping label print system running. For the rest of us new startups and low volume shippers, you may still be wondering which system to get or whether or not your current label printing setup is cost-effective.

I am presenting my solution to you so you can compare yourself how efficient and cost-effective your labeling system is and, in return, perhaps some of you may have a better solution out there that I may not be aware of.

In one word, the best system currently on my list is the Zebra GC420d (former Zebra LP 2844) + 4×6 fan-fold labels. Here are the reasons:

1. Low cost labels. (under 2 cents, much lower than brand name labels or regular letter sized adhesive laser/inkjet labels that can cost around 10 cents per label)
2. Cost-effective, durable, long-lasting direct thermal printer. (some of you may not agree but read further below)
3. Professional look with 4×6 labels.
4. Quick work flow.

You may at first think, “Wait… Zebra printers are too expensive and those 4×6 labels are big and aren’t they expensive, too?”

Yes, Zebra printers are expensive, but there are alternate suppliers that sell them used or refurbished at a reasonable cost. For example, eBay supplier Hippo Variety sells the Zebra LP 2844 refurbished at $167 ($127 before), a not-so-bad price for a 4″ direct thermal printer.

[Update] The refurbished printer seems to be a modified version that prints a little light after some use but setting the print darker makes it better.

Also, 4×6 labels are probably the most common and mass produced ones and using the right source brings the label price down under 2 cents a label. Compare that price per label to the labels you use right now and multiply that to the amount you use per week, month and year and see the difference.

[Tip Update] The fan-folded 4×6 labels are much better than the 4×6 roll type. Towards the end of the rolls, the wrap diameter shrinks and messes up the feed and print.

Some people still may think, “My laser/inkjet printer using regular paper and box tape will beat any label system.” Depending on your source of paper, printer, ink/toner/drum and tape, maybe, just maybe that’s true. But if you get your supplies from your local office store, you’re paying a lot more money per label than 2 cents. Laser printers use much more electricity and there is no time wasted on folding/cutting paper and applying tape. Oh, and it looks much better, too.

For your reference, I am preparing a table comparing a few label suppliers (to be uploaded soon). Feel free to comment/suggest any further suppliers for lower costs and comparison.

For those who are interested in buying a brand new Zebra , my search results came out like this (prices include shipping):
[Update: The Zebra LP 2844 has been replaced by the Zebra GC420d. Prices and links have been adjusted accordingly.]
$265.39 Shipped

[Note: Zebra printers are generally Mac unfriendly and does not support 4×6 label rolls.]

If you are looking for a USPS postage service to go with this printing system, I recommend a paid service from Endicia ($15.95/month). Not only will Endicia save you trips and time spent in line at the post office, it will keep your postage prices lower than the post office and shipping process efficient. A 4×6 label will print your send/return address, postage, delivery confirmation number and even your customs declaration (for international shipments) all in one label, ready to pass on to your mailman or to drop off at the post office.

If you are a regular UPS or FedEx shipper, you may qualify for a low-cost rental printer and free labels so check that out, too.

If you haven’t tried this solution yet, give it a try and let me know how it worked out for you. I’m sure you’ll find it cost effective and also highly efficient.

2 Responses to The Best Shipping Label and Printer Solution for USPS, UPS and FedEx

  1. I would like a free or reduced printer for my ebay sales

  2. Matt says:

    I am in need of a portable shipping label printer with Bluetooth or some kind of direct connection to my android phone. I can’t seem to find much, and especially nothing very affordable. Can you help? Thanks!

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