If you need to print laminated plastic labels as large as 36 millimeters—roughly 1.4 inches—wide, and you want a printer you can share on a network, the Brother PT-9800PCN should be on you short list. Like the Editors’ Choice Dymo LabelManager PnP ($60 street, 4 stars), it prints on both iron-on fabric labels and the kind of waterproof plastic labels that you can use indoors or out. It costs a lot more than the PnP, but it prints much wider labels. It also some tricks that are possible only because it can plug into a network, and which also help make it an Editors’ Choice.
The first network trick is the obvious one. Because you can hang the PT-9800PCN on a network, you can amortize the initial cost over multiple users, with a breakeven point of about eight users compared with getting each one his or her own PnP printer. Even better, all the users get the advantage of being able to print at the larger widths, instead of being limited to the PnP’s maximum 0.5 inches.
The second trick is of interest only if you print a lot of labels. Brother’s printing software for the PT-9800PCN lets you speed up a print job with distributed printing, which translates to splitting up the print job among multiple printers on a network. If you have three printers, for example, and need to print 300 labels, it will print 100 on each, cutting the total time for the print job by two thirds. If you print enough labels to let you take advantage of this feature very often, the savings in time can be tremendous.
Basics, Setup, and Software
The PT-9800PCN fits comfortably on a desktop. It measures just 5.5 by 4.6 by 7.6 inches (HWD), and weighs 3 pounds 8 ounces. Connection choices include both USB and an RS-232 serial port in addition to Ethernet. If you’re not going to connect to a network, however, there’s little reason to get the PT-9800PCN. The better choice would be the PT-9700PC ($399.95 list), which is essentially identical according to Brother, except for the lack of a LAN port.
Setup consists of snapping in the tape cartridge the printer comes with, plugging in the power cord, connecting a cable, and installing the software. For my tests, I connected the printer to a network and installed the driver and label printing software on a system running Windows Vista.
The PT-9800PCN’s label printing program, P-touch Editor version 5, will be familiar to anyone who’s used other Brother label printers, including printers for paper labels, like the Brother TD-4000 that I recently reviewed.
In addition, as with other Brother label printers, the installation program adds a printer driver so you can print directly from standard application programs like Microsoft Word or Excel. It also gives you the option to install P-touch shortcuts in Word and Excel. The shortcuts make it easy to create or store label text in Word or Excel files, and then send the text to P-touch Editor to print as labels, if you prefer that to using P-touch Editor to edit the text.
Tape Choices and Printing
Printing labels with the PT-9800PCN is simple, with one minor complication. Basically, you create the label, put the appropriate tape cartridge in the printer, set the P-touch Editor for the right tape cartridge, and print.
The complication is that the labels on the cartridges show the tape widths in millimeters and in decimal values of an inch, while the settings in P-touch Editor are in fractions of an inch that don’t necessarily match the decimal values on the cartridges. The discrepancy can be confusing, but it’s a minor annoyance at worst. It also doesn’t take long to learn which setting goes with which actual tape width.
One important issue about the cartridges is that the PT-9800PCN can use two different types of Brother cartridges. HGe tapes offer faster print speed and effectively higher resolution in the form of edge enhancement. 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 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. The results include the time for automatically cutting the tape after printing each label.
The speed for one label in my tests with HGe tape came out to 5.5 seconds at the default Standard setting, 4.8 seconds with the High Speed setting, and 9.4 seconds with the High Resolution setting. Printing 20 labels at the default setting took 1 minute 23 seconds. With TZe tape, which allows only one setting, the times were 9.1 seconds for one label and 2:08 for 20.
That makes the PT-9800PCN a little faster using HGe tape than the Dymo LabelManager PnP, which took 6.5 seconds for a 3.5-inch label. It’s also much faster than the Editors’ Choice Brother P-touch PT-2730, which took 11.8 seconds.
We don’t have a standard output quality test for label printers, but because Brother has an enhanced resolution setting for the HGe tape, I printed some text at a range of sizes using the High Speed, Standard, and High Resolution modes so I could compare them. The text was reasonably well formed in all three cases at sizes as small as 5 points, but a close look showed crisper edges, with less obvious jaggies, at each step up the quality scale. At sizes smaller than 7 points, the characters were also darker and easier to read at each higher step. If you need labels to look fully professional, particularly with small font sizes, the High Quality mode counts as a strong argument for the printer.
If you don’t need the High Quality mode, don’t need to print on tapes wider than 1.0 inch (the maximum for the Brother P-touch PT-2730), and don’t need to share the printer on a network, there’s little reason to consider the Brother PT-9800PCN. If you need its wider tapes or high quality output, however, there are few alternatives that cost less.
Keep in mind too that sharing the printer can be a cost-effective way to make label printing available to everyone in your office. And, of course, if you print enough labels to take advantage of distributed printing, that alone makes the printer worth considering. If you can make use of just one these features, the Brother PT-9800PCN will be hard to beat. Given that it offers all of them, it’s an easy pick for Editors’ Choice.
|Maximum Standard Paper Size||1.4" tape|
|Printer Category||Thermal Transfer|
|Direct Printing from Cameras||No|
|Connection Type||USB, Ethernet, RS-232 Serial|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc