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Brother P-Touch QL-550 Label Printer

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Typewriters are quaint, irritating anachronisms of another age that should have been recycled a long time ago. We only have the one, and for the most part, it’s used to address envelopes. This is, to be sure, mildly preposterous – having word-processed letters and outputted them with a high-speed laser printer, their authors have to walk down the hall to where the typewriter lives amidst its dust and ignominy, and peck out an address.

There are a number of ways to work around the issue of typewriters in this capacity – window envelopes, laser printer compatible envelopes and so on – but few of them actually turn out to be practical. We’ve tried them all, and the typewriter remains.

The Brother QL-550 label printer hasn’t quite put our typewriter out to grass, but this is largely because not everyone here has one yet. Clever, quick and adaptable, it will generate instant address labels for anything that needs to be mailed, stored, filed, labeled, indexed, titled or identified, all with a minimum of fuss and typing.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the QL-550 printer is that there’s almost nothing to say about it. Remove it from its box, plug it into a wall socket, connect it to a USB port, drop in a roll of labels and load its software – most of which will probably take about as long to perform as it took to read this sentence – and it’s good to go. Careful users of technology may want a few additional minutes to make sure they haven’t missed anything, as it seems too easy to be true.

The P-Touch software that accompanies the QL-550 is intuitive and easy to use. It allows for whatever label designs you can come up with, including as much text and as many graphics as good taste and available space allows. It will store frequently-used labels for later printing.

In addition to its stand-alone labeling application, the QL-550’s software suite can optionally install hooks to allow you to print labels from within Microsoft Word and Excel.

The QL-550 prints on proprietary rolls of thermal paper. Thermal printing – the same technology that’s used by most retail cash registers to print receipts – isn’t quite as nice to look at as laser print or even inkjet printing, but it’s quick, embodies no warm-up time and has no ink to dry up or run out. It’s more than adequate for printing text labels.

The QL-550’s software will accept graphics – a thermal print engine arguably gets stretched to the limit of its abilities in rendering halftones. The promotional copy for the QL-550 suggests that it be used to print identification badges, among other things. It can certainly do this, but pictures therein will look a bit coarse.

We did persuade the QL-550 to print some pretty respectable graphics by converting them to monochrome dithered images with Graphic Workshop Professional prior to letting the P-Touch software go at them – that’s a bit of shameless self promotion, I know.

The label paper for the QL-550 is slightly pricey, although it’s less so than it first seems, in that it doesn’t entail the use of any ink or toner.

Unlike most contemporary printers, the QL-550 does not have a standby mode – you’ll need to turn it on before you print to it, and remember to turn it off when it’s not in use.

As handy little boxes go, the QL-550 is easily worth the desk space it occupies. It saves a considerable amount of re-keying, and if you buy enough of them, you can probably ditch your last remaining typewriter, as we hope to do any day now.