Brother QL-800

Brother QL-800

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Like its higher-end QL-810W and QL-820NWB siblings, the Brother QL-800 ($99.99) is a reasonably fast label printer that churns out good-looking labels in several different types and sizes, ranging from small one-line barcodes, to address labels, and everything in between. It can print labels up to about 0.5 inch wide by 1 inch long to 2.4 inches wide by 36 inches long.

As the least expensive (and therefore lesser-endowed) model of the three in Brother’s QL-800 series of label printers, you give up a lot of features and aptitude for the $50 difference between it and the QL-810W, and quite a bit more still for the $100 difference between the QL-800 and the QL-820NWB. Even so, if all you need is the ability to design labels on your PC, Mac, or Android smartphone, and then print them out over USB, the budget-minded QL-800 will serve you well, making it our Editors’ Choice for entry-level professional label printers.

No-Frills Label Making

An upgrade from the Brother QL-700, a top pick from 2012, the QL-800 measures 4.9 by 5.6 by 8.4 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.5 pounds. That’s about the same size as its predecessor and slightly smaller than the Brother QL-810W and QL-820NWB. Unlike the other two 800-series models, though, this entry-level model has much fewer connectivity options: just USB 2.0 or a microUSB-to-printer cable and the company’s “USBtoGo” app for Android mobile devices. The Brother QL-810W, on the other hand, supports USB, Wi-Fi, and Wireless Direct (a.k.a. Wi-Fi Direct), and the Brother QL-820NWB connects via USB, Wi-Fi, Wireless Direct, Ethernet, and Bluetooth. The Leitz Icon Smart Labeling System, a label printer close to the QL-800 in terms of capabilities and features, supports USB, Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi Direct, and the Dymo LabelWriter 450 Turbo connects through only USB.

While all three of the 800-series (as well as all other QL) models support all 25 or so of Brother’s DK drop-in continuous tape and die-cut label types, only the QL-820NWB can operate as a standalone label designer and printer (with the aid of an add-on battery), and the QL-810W can run sans an AC connection via the same optional battery. The QL-800, on the other hand, can’t function without being plugged in to an AC power source and connected to a computing device.

Brother QL-800

All three 800-series models can, with the right label installed, print in not only black, but also black and red, or red only. However, currently Brother offers only one 2.4-inch continuous black/red tape. With a little ingenuity (and the built-in cutter), though, you can create many different kinds of red or black-and-red labels, such as FRAGILE banners, or eye-catching shipping labels and name badges from that single 2.4-inch wide, red/black adhesive-back tape.

Like its siblings, the QL-800 supports nine preset resolutions, ranging from 100 dots per inch (dpi) to 600dpi, with the highest setting being 300-by-600dpi. As with the Brother QL-810W and QL-820NWB, when printing text, I saw very little quality differences with the QL-800 after 300dpi, but when printing images and graphics, the higher resolutions did produce more detailed results. In addition, since all label design and creation takes place on a PC, Mac, or Android mobile device, the QL-800 doesn’t really need much of a control panel. To that end—printing labels—it has only four buttons on the front: Advance (for advancing the label roll forward), Cutter, Editor Lite (for launching the Editor Lite program on your PC, discussed in the next section), and power. There are also two status LEDs, power on/off and Editor Lite on/off.

Simple Installation and Not-So-Simple Software

To install the QL-800, you simply plug it in and connect it to your PC via the included USB 2.0 cable. At this point, you can launch the Editor Lite program, which resides in the printer’s firmware, onto your PC by pressing the Editor Lite button on the front of the device. Editor Lite is a pared-down version of Brother’s more robust P-touch Editor software. If quick and simple labels are all you need, the Editor Lite utility is fine, but you get a much wider range of features and design options from P-touch Editor, which you install from Brother’s install.brother web app.

From P-touch Editor, you can also install P-touch Address Book (Windows only), P-touch Update Software (Windows and Mac), and the Printer Setting Tool (Windows, Mac). P-touch Editor is a powerful label layout tool with integrated access to all the DK label types, as well as robust design options for controlling fonts, importing contacts from P-touch Address (a database for storing contacts and printing shipping labels, and inserting barcodes, images, graphics, logos, and such on to your labels).

Brother QL-800

Brother also provides the iPrint&Label and USBtoGo (mentioned earlier) apps at Google’s Play Store for Android and Chrome OS devices (there are currently no iOS iPhone and iPad equivalents). iPrint&Label is not as versatile as P-touch Editor, but it, too, delivers a powerful set of layout, design, and print tools for creating labels on the DK drop-in label rolls. No matter which option you use—P-touch Editor or iPrint&Label on an Adroid mobile device—both provide everything you need for creating labels from Brother’s myriad templates, or your own custom label designs.

Fast, Good-Looking Labels

How fast the QL-800 prints depends primarily on the size and complexity of your labels. (I tested with P-touch Editor running on our standard Intel Core i5-equipped PC running Windows 10 Professional over USB 2.0.) Brother says that the QL-800 can print all-black text “standard address labels” (1.1 by 3.5 inches) at up to 93 labels per minute (lpm), compared with its two higher-end siblings’ 110lpm rating. Without the lag time (the time required for the computer and P-touch Editor to process the print job before the first label starts printing) I clocked the QL-800 at 95.2lpm.

Brother QL-800

With the lag time, the QL-800 printed the same address labels at 85.3lpm, and when I used continuous 1.1-inch-wide tape, telling the printer to cut each label at 3.5-inch intervals, it managed only 17.4lpm. When printing die-cut address labels (without cutting), the QL-800 came in at a little under 20lpm slower than the Brother QL-820NWB and about 13lpm behind the Brother QL-810W. The Leitz Icon, on the other hand, churned at 30.7lpm faster than the QL-800, but the former’s print quality wasn’t as good. The Dymo 450 Turbo, at 68.5lpm, was well behind the other label printers mentioned here.

Even if mailing labels aren’t the type of labels you’ll be printing on the QL-800, these numbers can give you an idea how fast each of these machines print. However, they don’t really tell you how fast they print, say, name badges with logos or photos of faces on them. I clocked several label types with varying content, but reporting them here probably wouldn’t be all that helpful. In any case, it took the QL-800 7 seconds to print a red-and-black, 2.4-by-9-inch label, which was 1 second slower than its two higher-end siblings.

As for overall print quality, the labels I printed came out with good-looking, well-shaped, highly legible text at sizes ranging from 6 to 100 points (and beyond). I did, however, notice some slight banding in large areas of red, especially large red letters. But then you can’t expect masterpieces on thermal printers like these, and it certainly wasn’t bad enough to make the labels look unprofessional.

Running Costs

No matter which of the 800-series models you choose, you’ll pay the same, on a per-label basis, for the labels themselves. As mentioned, Brother offers around 25 different label types. Those 1.1-by-3.5-inch die-cut address labels we mentioned before will run you about 3.9 cents per label (when you buy the 400-count roll online at Brother Mall), but when you buy a six-pack of the same rolls (2,400 labels), the per-label cost drops to 2.5 cents.

File folder labels run about 4.4 cents each, and much less when you buy the rolls in multiples. In addition, a few companies sell QL “compatible” labels for half as much (or less) as Brother’s refills cost, though we haven’t tried them and therefore can’t recommend that you use them. And finally, those two-color (black/red) continuous roll labels mentioned above will cost a little more than twice as much as the one-color equivalents, no matter what type of label you create from them.

A Label for Every Purpose

While short on frills and connectivity options, the Brother QL-800 prints professional-quality labels in multiple shapes and sizes at a reasonably fast clip. You can’t use it on a network, or wirelessly from your smartphone; you’ll have to step up to either the Brother QL-810W or QL-820NWB for that (or perhaps the Leitz Icon, if label quality isn’t mission critical). Nor can you use it as a standalone label maker without a connection to a computing device; only the Brother QL-820NWB can do that. If, on the other hand, all you need is to make labels—several different types of labels or just one kind—from your PC, Mac, or Android mobile device, the QL-800 can do that, and well enough that we like it as our top pick for a non-networkable, entry-level professional label printer.

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