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GTD recommends a standalone label printer so nothing gets in the way of printing labels immediately when they are needed.


Researching what's available as far as label printers go, I'm seeing:

  • terrible stories about how quickly they eat up batteries, 4-6 at a time, rechargeables depleted after as little as 10 labels.
  • power adapters for them being 2A switched modes, costing twice as much as the printer
  • thermal labels fading quickly
  • very high prices on labels (especially locally)

I'm thinking about the unproductive use of time involved in recharging batteries, or trips to restock on batteries & labels at best, or being caught without labels or good batteries more realistically. The price of labels and propensity of companies to bring out new models not accepting older consumables has taught me not to stock up.

USB label printers

After seeing some of my desktop printers become throw-aways because they no longer have drivers under later versions of Windows, I also fear buying a dedicated USB-driven label printer.

Laser/Inkjet label sheets

I'm considering just sticking to sheet of labels in the laser printer. Some stories I've read from people who did this found themselves waiting for a full sheet of labels before they'd print. Not good. I'm thinking of printing straight away and just reusing the label sheet until it's empty or too beaten up to use anymore. Or did you also think you'd do that? Does the glue become ineffective after being heated through the laser printer multiple times, or labels start to peel off inside the printer?

Label removal

I've heard the laminated type of stickers used by some label machines can be peeled off quite easily (which those laser stickers don't!) Is this something handy for a GTD style workflow?


If the dedicated label printer is preferable, would the portability of running it off batteries outweigh constantly replacing them?

Essentially I'm just looking for the least intrusive method of professional looking labeling. The professionalism of printed fonts is important to my psyche, so just using a sharpie is out. In fact, even the 200dpi fonts these label printers seem to output bugs me a little.

Edit: I note two posters have talked about the simple pen. Normally I'd agree, I hate complex software engineering tools, preferring just a whiteboard. But here I get what David Allen is on about. Seeing well-designed fonts just seems to trigger a clean, organized mind. They can be read easier and from farther away, they're the same color, same stroke width, not haphazard.

Update: Reading some of the answers here and at other sources, I'm convinced labelling is just one task that must be handled by a unitasker, so it's always ready-at-hand. I've ordered a p-touch (PT2030AD) that comes with an adapter and appears to be unanimously liked by reviewers.

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I guess it depends on the information on the label, but couldn't you use a sheet of labels and write the information on it with a pen? – tehnyit Feb 17 '12 at 8:08
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Dah, on first reading, I didn't get that you were talking about a "label printer" vs. a simpler labeler. Oh, well, I'll post my answer as an Ode to Lablers.

I say get a labeler.

That said, you can make it a pretty basic one. I have had the Brother pt-65 for like 6 or 7 years. It's successor, the pt-70 is $25 bucks on amazon. Both use the same "M Tape" which I'll get off either amazon or ebay as needed.

In my initial labeling, where I labeled everything for the first time, yeah I burned through alot of tape. But I've never had to label so much at one time ever again. My experience is that battery life is reasonable too. I don't remember about my initial labeling, but since then I don't remember ever thinking "Dead batteries AGAIN?!" (I don't use rechargeable in it because of its relatively infrequent use.)

There is a definite, worthwhile niceness to having the labeler. You don't NEED it. It won't save the world. But one doesn't always have to pooh-pooh niceness. Don't know if you've had this experience, but it's like having the perfect sized screwdriver for a screw. Another screwdriver may work just fine, but the perfect one has this subtle, almost aesthetic, difference. Once you have it, you'll likely appreciate it. Don't spend too much thought energy over it. Just get it and try it for a while. It's a relatively small investment for a long term tool.

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I agree. I have two of a slighter older version of the PT-1880. I haven't replaced the batteries in a year or so, and after the initial rush where I used a spool of tape I rarely have to replace it. The labels never fade and don't peel up off the manila folders I put them on. It looks nicer than hand writing and is almost as fast. – Adam Wuerl Feb 18 '12 at 15:51
Agree completely. I haven't changed batteries in mine for over a year, and I use it regularly. There's something almost magical about opening a file drawer and seeing those nicely typeset labels, instead of my handwriting. – Dennis S. Feb 21 '12 at 19:11

So this is something that's confused me for a while about gtd... I'm not sure what is wrong with a pen? You can write your label out and then stick it on something. Certainly I've used label printers for things like barcodes or name badges in the past but in general usage I've not found the pen lacking at all...

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Heh. This should actually be its own question! – quux Feb 21 '12 at 21:33
Per GTD, labeling looks better. If done right, it can look like a table of contents when looking at your files... Handwritten labels look messier, less professional. Labeled folders when put on a table and your colleagues/clients see it, looks like you've got your act together tighter. – Blackbeagle Mar 5 '12 at 21:28
I agree this should be its own question. A key feature of GTD is that it can be implemented at any technology level. I use the excellent Dymo LetraTag LT-100T, but a sheet of labels and a Sharpie would be equally functional. The look of a properly printed label is just psychological and I don't think it makes much difference in a GTD system. Also, flat batteries, empty tape cartridges, or someone borrowing your labeler can all be a barrier to creating a file. – Tim Booker Mar 15 '12 at 11:52
Have made it it's own question (in a slight hurry as heading out, so will probably re-edit when back in) Link is -… – Joe Mar 15 '12 at 12:03

I've bought a few labelers. My first recommendation is to get one with a QWERTY keyboard and not an alphabetic keyboard. For touch typists, alpha keyboards are just incredibly frustrating to use because you have to hunt around for every single letter. Second, if you're going to do any significant amount of labeling, something with a computer interface makes it faster and easier to create labels.

The best label maker I've found so far is the Brother PT-18R. It's rechargeable and has a charging dock that works as a computer USB interface. You can drive it and print labels from your computer using the associated software (Windows only, sadly) yet you can still pick up the labeler at any moment and use on the go, creating labels with the built-in QWERTY keyboard. It's fairly compact and uses standard Brother labels, so you have a substantial set of styles, colors and materials to chose from.

I haven't tested battery life, but I've printed dozens of labels at a session. Since the charging dock is so convenient, it's easier to keep it charged all the time.

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I disagree with the information you found on portable printers. I've got a Dymo LetraTag and it's great. It's cheap, creates good labels and I can buy new supplies in a lot of stores. I've got 4 rechargable batteries in it, and it runs a really long time on them. For the price, I suggest you try one first before dismissing them, perhaps you'll like them and your problem is solved.

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Good to know. My information was based on the reviews of 3 different models and battery issue was mentioned time and time again. The 2 Amp power supply and thermal nature of these printers seemed to back that up. – jontyc Feb 17 '12 at 10:28
Reading Amazon reviews of the model you've found good also has people screaming about the battery use. Yet others find battery life ok. – jontyc Feb 17 '12 at 23:51

If battery usage is a problem for you try something like the Dymo LabelManager 260P, it's still pretty cheap and it has a rechargeable Li-Ion battery (like a mobile phone) and a charger so no need for batteries...

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