With the advent of so many people setting up online stores with Amazon, Etsy and eBay, especially during the pandemic, there’s been a mini boom in the market for label printers for small businesses to produce address and shipping labels with a minimum of fuss. Sticky labels on a roll are so much easier than printing out addresses on sheets of A4 paper which then have to be trimmed and stuck on a parcel using sticky tape.

Until fairly recently, brands like Dymo, Brother and Seiko had much of the consumer market for label printers pretty much to themselves – perhaps for not much longer if Zebra has its way. Zebra manufactures a lot of commercial label printers for big industrial users like airlines, manufacturing and couriers. Now Zebra has set its sights set on the burgeoning consumer market with a new range of two new wireless label printers for consumers and small businesses.

The new Zebra ZSB range consists of two models of label printers that print black on to white thermal labels. The first model can print labels up to two inches wide while the second handles labels up to four inches. The Zebra ZSB printers use an ingenious system of label cartridges that simply slot into the printer and are virtually unjammable. The labels come in a range of sizes that are designed for a wide variety of applications including shipping, barcoding, name tags and envelopes.

The new Zebra ZSB label printers connect over WiFi and can work with iOS and Android devices as well as computers running Windows, macOS or Linux. Set up requires a smartphone which establishes a connection to the printer to access the local WiFI network. There’s no wired connection for the printer, going wireless means labels can printed from a smartphone using the Zebra ZSB app.

Unlike most label printers on the market, the Zebra ZSB system has a web portal for designing, managing and printing labels instead of a software package. The printer can also print from third-party software like Microsoft Word thanks to a downloadable printer driver. Labels can also be printed from the websites of popular couriers like UPS, DHL, Hermes or Royal Mail. Some couriers virtually mandate the use of Zebra printers as larger 6×4 inch shipping labels fit perfectly in the wider ZSB model.

Before accessing the Zebra printer tools and web portal, the user must first set up a Zebra account and register the printer online. Once that’s done, the ZSB Portal can be accessed where all the design tools are. There’s a choice of popular label templates that can be accessed online and even downloaded for offline use. Users can create their own label templates which are stored in the cloud and available to anyone who shares the printer. Designs can also be shared more widely with other Zebra users. It’s a flexible labeling system that can use custom designs from third parties and companies. The Zebra portal also provides a convenient way to order extra labels when needed.

ZSB printers can only accept Zebra labels and they are packaged in special cartridges made from biodegradable potato starch. The cartridges look a little like an egg box and can be recycled or composted once finished. On the base of the cartridge there’s a tiny chip that the printer reads to discover the type of label cartridge installed. The chip also keeps track of the number of labels used as well showing how many are left.

The cartridge system makes it easy to load labels and makes it far less likely that the printer will jam. The chip on the cartridge also stops the user from loading third-party labels and if the chip is missing the cartridge is rendered unusable. One of the cartridges I was sent to test had its chip missing but I contacted Zebra’s support service via the web portal’s online chat function and received a new set of labels the next day. I’d say that was excellent customer service.

Once the printer driver is installed on the user’s computer, it’s possible to print to the Zebra ZSB using almost any software, although you might have to fiddle a bit to get the right size setup. As a Mac user, I think it’s fair to say that integration with Windows is a bit more advanced than macOS.

The Zebra design portal offers a selection of popular label templates plus the option to create custom labels using design tools that can add text boxes, shapes, lines and barcodes. The system offers compatibility with a wide range of barcodes plus QR codes. Barcodes can be added to label designs along with other fields like time and date stamps.

Like most label printers, the ZSB uses a thermal printing mechanism so there’s no need to buy any ink. Labels cost around $25 per cartridge and each cartridge may contain anywhere from 200 to 1,000 labels. Each label is separated by a perforation which eliminates the need for a motorized guillotine or manual cutter; all the user needs to do is tear off the label when it emerges from the printer.

For people who use a label printer for large mailing runs, the Zebra label design portal has a section that can handle data files. This makes it possible to print multiple labels from a database at speeds up to 79 labels per minute. I’d like to see a little closer integration with the macOS Contacts app as I couldn’t find a way to click on an existing contact and automatically populate the address template. Maybe that feature will come in the future.

These ZSB printers are very convenient for anyone who does a lot of shipping and has accounts with major shippers like DHL or Royal Mail. It’s so easy to print a label off directly from the shipper’s website complete with address, barcode, date stamp and sender’s details. The print quality is sharp and the darkness can be adjusted along with the amount of dither used to render graphics.

To check out the printer driver, I tested the ZSB using Belight Software’s Swift Publisher 5 which runs on macOS and includes a comprehensive label designing tool. I’ve been told that Belight will be including templates for the ZSB range in the next update of Swift Publisher 5. Another label app that is considering supporting the new ZSB printers is Address, Labels & Envelopes from Hamiltons Apps.

There are a few fonts installed in the printer but other fonts used in the label designer will print as bitmaps which can slow things down slightly. To give you an idea of the print quality, just look at a shipping label on a parcel from Amazon or UPS; it’s the same kind of resolution and quality.

Verdict: The new Zebra ZSB wireless label printers are superbly built and ecologically sound, thanks to the label cartridges made from potato starch that are completely recyclable. When a roll of labels is finished, the user can simply throw the cartridge in a compost bin and let nature take its course. There’s no plastic used in the cartridge and it’s a sustainable solution that will appeal to anyone who is trying to cut down on their plastic waste. I’d like to see closer integration with macOS but once a workflow is established, it’s an easy printing system to use. For anyone who prints an occasional small address using a favorite labeling application, it might be better option to go for one of the smaller models from the likes of Brother or Dymo. However, for anyone shipping with couriers using large shippers that create their own labels, I’d say the Zebra ZSB printers are probably the best choice and can speed up the whole dispatch process quite considerably. Recommended.

Pricing and Availability: The ZSB Series of wireless label printers is available now in the US through select retail e-commerce platforms, office product suppliers and consumer electronics stores. Prices begin at $129.99 / £99.99 for the two-inch model and $229.99 / £199.99 for the ZSB four-inch model. 

More info: Visit the Zebra website for more details.