The Brother PT-9700PC isn’t for everyone, or even for everyone who prints plastic labels. But if you need its ability to print laminated plastic (or, more precisely, polyester) labels on tape up to 36 millimeters wide (a little over 1.4 inches), less expensive printers—even Editors’ Choices like the Dymo LabelManager PnP ($60 street, 4 stars), which handles tapes up to only about 0.5-inch wide, or the Brother P-touch PT-2730, which maxes out at 1 inch wide—won’t do. That alone can make the PT-9700PC worth the price.
Almost identical to the Editors’ Choice Brother PT-9800PCN in most ways, the PT-9700PC differs from its more expensive sibling in two key details: it lacks an Ethernet connector and it costs less. The lack of network support obviously makes it the wrong choice if you want a printer you can hang on a network. But if you don’t plan to share it, there’s no point in paying extra for a feature you won’t use.
Beyond that, connecting the printer by USB instead of Ethernet makes a small difference in print speed, but doesn’t change anything else about the printer. As with the PT-9800PCN, the PT-9700PC prints on the kind of waterproof plastic labels that you can use indoors or out, and Brother offers a variety of tape cartridges for it.
Basics, Setup, and Software
The PT-9700PC weighs just 3 pounds 8 ounces and measures 5.5 by 4.6 by 7.6 inches (HWD), which makes it easy to find room for on your desk. In addition to its USB connector, which I used for testing, it offers an RS-232 serial port. Setup is standard for the breed. Snap in the tape cartridge the printer comes with, plug in the power cord, connect a USB cable, and install the driver and label printing software on your PC. For my tests, I connected to a system running Windows Vista.
Brother provides the same set of software for the PT-9700PC as for its other label printers I’ve tested, with P-touch Editor version 5, a driver that lets you print directly from application programs like Microsoft Word or Excel, and the option to install P-touch shortcuts in Word and Excel.
If you prefer editing in Word or Excel rather than in P-touch Editor, but also prefer the easier printing from P-touch Editor compared with defining page sizes in Word or Excel, the shortcuts make it easy to do both. Simply create and store label text with your preferred program for editing, and use the shortcuts to send the text to P-touch Editor for easy printing.
Tape Choices and Printing
Printing with the PT-9700PC is easy. Put a tape cartridge in the printer, create the label, and print. The only complication is the same one I mentioned when I reviewed the PT-9800PCN. The labels on the cartridges show tape widths in millimeters and in decimal values of an inch, but the settings in P-touch Editor are in fractions of an inch, with fractions that don’t match the decimal values on the cartridges. Fortunately, the discrepancy is only a minor annoyance. It doesn’t take long to learn which setting goes with which actual tape width.
As with the Brother PT-9800PCN, the PT-9700PC can use either of two types of Brother tape cartridges. The HGe cartridges offer faster print speed and effectively higher resolution in the form of edge enhancement. The TZe cartridges offer more variety.
The HGe cartridges come in sizes from 6 to 36 mm, four choices of color (black print on white, yellow, clear, or silver), and two types of tape (laminated polyester with or without extra-strength adhesive).
The TZe cartridges come in sizes from 3.5 to 36 mm, in a wider variety of colors (adding black on orange, red on white, gold on black, and more), and in more choices of tape types (adding flexible, tamper-evident, fabric iron-on, and acid-free tapes). Brother also points out that the HGe, and select TZe, tapes are UL-969 certified, for applications that need it.
Prices for the TZe cartridges vary from $13.99 to $37.99 (list). The HGe cartridges are sold in 5-packs at $85.99 to $180.99 per pack. For both TZe and HGe tapes, most cartridges offer an 8 meter tape length.
Because the different cartridge types print at different speeds, I ran timing tests with both types, using a 3.5-inch long label with the text PCMag: Print test to match the labels I used for the PT-9800PCN. The results include the time for automatically cutting the tape after printing each label.
With HGe tape, a single label took 6.2 seconds in the default Standard setting, 5.4 seconds at the High Speed setting, and 9.8 seconds at the High Quality setting. Printing 20 labels at the Standard setting took 1 minute 19 seconds. The TZe tape, with only one setting available, took 9.6 seconds for one label and 2:14 for 20.
Compared with the PT-9800PCN using a network connection, all of the times for single labels were between 0.4 and 0.7 seconds slower with the PT-9700PC. For 20 labels, the PT-9700PC was about six seconds slower with TZe tape, but about four seconds faster with HGe tape.
To help put those numbers in better context, note that the PT-9700PC came in just a bit faster than the far less expensive Dymo LabelManager PnP, which clocked in at 6.5 seconds for a 3.5 inch label, but it was also a lot faster than the Brother P-touch PT-2730, at 11.8 seconds.
To check the output quality for the various settings, I also printed some text at a range of font sizes using the High Speed, Standard, and High Resolution modes. For all three modes, the text was reasonably well formed at sizes as small as 5 points, but a close look showed crisper edges, and less obvious jaggies, at each step up in resolution.
At sizes smaller than 7 points, the characters were also darker and easier to read at each step up the scale. If you need labels that look fully professional, particularly with small font sizes, the High Resolution mode counts as a strong argument for the printer.
More than that, the only reasons to get this printer are precisely because your application demands either the higher output quality of High Resolution mode or the ability to print on tapes as wide as (roughly) 1.4 inches. If you need either or both features, and don’t need a network connection, the Brother PT-9700PC is a highly attractive, and less expensive, alternative to the Brother PT-9800PCN.
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