What is it?
The Brother P-touch series contains a lot of models, both currently and historically. A P-touch is a label maker. A label maker that prints very good looking labels in a variety of sizes, and on a variety of different label colors (including clear).
Anyone who’s been on a trip with me knows I’m a bit of an anal-holic when it comes to labeling my gear. Most things have a bythom.com label on them (down to lens caps), and some even have a label on them defining what they go with (e.g., most of my batteries are labeled with what camera they go to, since I have a constant stream of cameras, and thus batteries, filing through my office). I think this habit started back when I began teaching workshops again in 2001 and we’d end of with a pile of very similar gear sitting in the back of the SUV. Even with just four students in tow, that could mean 10 same-model cameras and dozens of same-model batteries. As it’s turned out, those labels have helped return a few errant things to me. Since my assistant also tends to shoot the same gear I do, it also helps us keep track of whose stuff is whose. I suppose it’s a low-key form of advertising, too, as you can’t run into me in the field without seeing something slapped with the bythom.com label on it.
But back to the label makers.
I used to use a P-touch 1180, a variant that’s about the size of a very fat sandwich (though I’ve had some sandwiches that are heavier). The problem I found with the smaller Brother models is essentially this: numbers and symbols are overloaded onto the letter keys. Want to type a 4? Well, you can switch the keys to number mode by pressing the Num button, or you can hold Code while pressing the Q key (which is also the 1). Either way is a bit annoying, and it just slows me down, down, down. Since I’m an incessant labeler, I want to output the label I want fast, not think about what mode I’m in or whether I have to press an extra key.
So I went down to Staples and looked through the other models and settled on the 2030. Slightly smaller in size than the iPad in two directions, it’s much thicker. Think of a large desk calculator and you’ll get the idea. Unlike my smaller, simpler labelmaker, the 2030 has a number of helpful features:
- a real and full (chicklet) keyboard
- the ability to save and recall labels
- the ability to preview labels
- the ability to print multi-line labels
- the ability to print bar codes
- borders, icons, and more
some interesting but mostly non-useful “common” labels (when do I need a label “Drinking Water” complete with a pixelated image of a bottle? Oh, wait, when I have two water bottles in my tent at night, one for water, and one as a pee bottle).
There’s really not a label (up to 1” tall) that I might want to create that I can’t create with this new gadget.
How's it Handle?
As usual with Brother there are pluses and minuses.
First up, the thing takes 6 AA batteries (not included). The battery compartment (bottom of the unit) is a bit tight and it’s difficult to see the orientation markings in low light. You can get a wall wart AC accessory, but that sort of ruins the joy of having a small, portable label maker. You can take it into the kitchen and label away, then into the office and create your 1/2” tall version of War and Peace...
Here’s the thing about all the P-touch devices, though: they waste label space like you wouldn’t believe. If all I wanted was a label that said bythom.com and printed one, I’d have more blank label than the printed bythom.com. The simple way around this is to create multiple labels at once, like bythom.com bythom.com bythom.com bythom.com (e.g. one space between each). Then print this label and use scissors instead of the built-in chopper on the unit.
But the 2030 does solve most of my complaints about the 1180’s keyboard. Other than a couple of symbols that I sometimes need, it’s just like typing on a miniature keyboard, which is what I wanted. The file save/load feature means I can keep my common labels handy, and the advanced font and styling features give me options that--well, I don’t typically use them. The multiline label ability is useful and simple enough to do. Indeed, the user interface reminds me a lot of the old Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 computer many years ago: straightforward enough that you really don’t need a manual.
Changing label (size or color) is simple, too: unlike my old 1180, which buried the label cartridge on the back of the unit, just lift the 2030’s lid and you have instant top access to the cartridge. Getting your fingers under the little lift ribs might be better suited to small elves, but I can manage it with only minor cursing and swearing.
How's it Perform?
What can I say. It works pretty darned well. Other than the label wasting bit, there’s nothing I can really fault it for. Printing isn’t super fast, but you also aren’t waiting for it, either (unless you print mammoth 12” long strings of bythom.com like I do ;~).
Battery life is better than I expected. When something says it needs six batteries, that’s usually a sign that it’s power hungry. But I’ve gone through multiple cartridges now without changing batteries, so my worst fears weren’t realized. When I finally need to change batteries I’ll update this review with what I found. But I’m a label maniac and I’m not chewing through batteries. That should be enough for the rest of you.
Overall, I’m glad I upgraded from my simpler, older model. Most of the things that were minor irritants on the 1180 simply aren’t present on the 2030.
One word of note: the label cartridges are expensive (and new Brother label makers come with a short, sample cartridge). I probably go through US$100 worth of cartridges a year. But again, I’m a label maniac. Still, if you’re cost conscious, you need to think about how you maximize a cartridge rather than let the gadget spew out lots of blank label on either side of your precious words. That generally means doing multiple labels at once and separating them with only a space or two rather than creating them as individual labels.
If you do some Web surfing, you can usually find places that will sell you the labels at discount, especially if you buy multiples.