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Friday, June 13, 2014, 09:01 pm PT (12:01 am ET)

Review: Using the Epson LW-600P portable label printer with Apple's iPhone & Mac

Epson's LW-600p label printer is an unassuming devices that solves a specific problem, and does so generally well: printing labels on the go. What makes this accessory stand out is the inclusion of Bluetooth and a companion iOS app.




When we first saw the Epson LW-600p label printer at CES, we didn't know what to expect. We've suffered label printer problems for years, where the added nature of a sticky surface means that printers can fail in all kinds of awful ways. Sticker paper jams suck orders of magnitude worse than regular printer paper jams.

Fortunately, we didn't have any mechanical mishaps with the LW-600p.

Traditional label printers use a roll of labels and in some cases, as the label is rolling through the printer feed, it can come off the non-stick backing and muck up the printer




Other problems stem from label composition software. In many cases, either the label size isn't known to the software, the layout shifts from landscape to portrait unexpectedly, or the software won't recognize a printer unless it's configured 100 percent correctly. For example, DYMO's label software only knows how to print to a USB-connnected DYMO, not one attached to an AirPort Express.

For many systems, label printing is harder than it should be, but Epson finally got it right.

How it works



Epson uses a cartridge loaded with labels rather than a spool that can come loose and unwind. The cartridge is more like the old VHS tape or audio cassette tape you might find in a museum or your grandparent's home. One benefit of this format is that we haven't experienced the label-sticker-jam problem. It's also really easy to install: simply open the door to the side of the printer, pop in a cartridge and close the door. There's no feeding of the label path.

The printer also has a cutter built-in so it can print labels of variable lengths, cut between each label as they are printed, or make a one-time cut at the end of a multiple label job.

Connectivity and power



Connectivity is handled by USB or Bluetooth, while the printer can be powered either by an AC wall adapter or 6 AA batteries. Epson clearly intends the device to be mobile solution. It's about as big as a paperback romance novel, in every direction. It's an easy choice to fit in a messenger bag.




Pairing an iOS device with the printer over Bluetooth was about easy as any traditional Bluetooth device. Hold down the Bluetooth button on the printer until it flashes, tap on the iPhone's Bluetooth Settings to connect and open the Epson iLabel iOS app, which comes free from the App Store.

Alternatively, it's possible to connect to a Mac via USB and use the free Epson Label Editor Lite app from the Mac App Store. We looked for a Mac-compatible non-lite version, but could not find one.

What we printed



Epson provided the printer and labels for this review. We were sent 1/4-inch, 1/2-inch, and 3/4-inch width labels, each filling a specific need for a variety of applications:

  • Labels for cable identification (which wire behind the surround sound system? Which network cable?)

  • Pink ribbon with black printing

  • Black ribbon with gold printing

  • 1/2" white labels

  • Glow-in-the-dark labels


We decided to print some return address labels for initial testing.

There's a preview function in the iLabel app that curiously grants access to the rear-facing camera. We say curiously because all the feature allowed us to do was take a picture that overlays the selected label on a target object. We understand that Epson wants to give you the ability to see your label overlaid on the object you're going to stick it on, but it seems like an unnecessary feature.




Printer setup with EPSON Label Studio Lite for Mac was easy enough and the app was fairly straight forward. There's a slider control that allows greater or lesser concentration of "ink" to be used (it's not really ink, it's a thermal process), which allowed for better results on labels made out of paper or ribbon material.

We printed the address labels; we printed glow-in-the-dark labels; we printed a huge series of pink ribbon labels that went around gifts for school teachers. It's a little odd, but once you have the capability of making labels for all kinds of things, you start looking at the problems around you that could be solved with one.

Things to watch out for



The iOS app is cool, and it's great that it's there, but it has some wrinkles. For starters, it's hard to decipher where you can swipe or tap and it took us quite a while to figure out that we could use our own photos instead of the provided clipart.

The app also allows you to erase a picture if you decide you want something different, or to remove it and have no picture at all. The clipart is called "Signs" and using your own image is named "Photos."

Removing an image requires swiping to another screen and using the Image Position control for "None/Left/Center/Right/Justified" and tapping "None." So, we add the image in either Signs or Photos, but clear it where we decide whether it should be left, right or center. We found this a little confusing to figure out on our own.




Supplies



It's worth noting that you have to use Epson's labels for the LW-600p, not generic substitutes. The app allows you to purchase supplies via a web view of the Epson supplies store, which is handy. The base unit comes with some starter labels, but refills run anywhere from $19.99 to $40.99 depending on the type of label.




Who is this for?



Crafters, people who need to label cables, smaller address labels, and other smaller label needs. We got a lot of use out of it in a short period of time, and once we started to understand the decisions Epson made in designing the app, we were impressed with its capabilities.

Score:4 out of 5





Pros



  • Labels print and work well.

  • No printer or label jams.

  • Ability to use your own photos.


Cons



  • Preview feature is superfluous.

  • Hard to navigate the iOS interface initially.

  • Navigating the UI requires multiple taps.


Where to buy



The Epson LW-600p is available from Epson.com and Amazon.com for $105. The apps mentioned in this review are free on the iTunes and Mac App Stores.