When a company boasts, as Zebra does, that its product is "the label printer that just…works," it’s setting itself up for added criticism when it just…well...doesn't. That's unfortunate, because even though getting the ZSB Series DP14 thermal label printer to work can be a challenge, once it's finally set up, it's a capable device. Its key feature is the flexibility to print wirelessly from Zebra's web app or any program on your computer, something that no other label printer this size can boast. Just don't be surprised when the ZSB-DP14 ($229.99) doesn't live up to Zebra's claim that it will "end the plug n' pray." If you don't need the ZSB-DP14's unique wireless printing capabilities, look to the inexpensive, reliable Arkscan 2054A-LAN, which remains our Editors' Choice for a 4-inch label printer.
Cloudy, With a Chance of Labels
Thanks to its cloud-based interface, the 4-inch ZSB-DP14 has little to no competition. The Zebra ZSB-DP12 has all the same features, but it's limited to label stock that's a maximum of 2 inches wide. And though it's easy to find other printers that can handle 4-inch-wide labels, we haven't seen any that are controlled through a web app. So if you want both remote printing and the ability to print shipping labels from eBay, Etsy, FedEx, UPS, and more, the ZSB-DP14 is the lone choice at this writing.Our Experts Have Tested 53 Products in the Printers Category in the Past YearSince 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. (See how we test.)
The printer's minimalist design, with nicely rounded edges, will fit in any decor. The plastic body is mostly white, with a bit of gray near the top edge; it has a modest 6.9-by-6.9-inch footprint and is only 5 inches high. The gray area on top surrounds a window that lets you see the label on the currently inserted cartridge. A single button, for power, sits on the front, encircled by a solid ring that occasionally lights up.
Unfortunately, when it comes to ease of use, the ring around the power button is a questionable design choice at best. Though it has no visible breaks, it's divided into four sections that can each light up in blue, green, red, yellow, or white. Each section can be dark, steadily lit, or blinking in one of multiple patterns. And each combination of indications means something different.4.0Excellent$118.99See Itat AmazonRead Our iDprt SP410 Thermal Label Printer Review 4.0Excellent$249.00See Itat AmazonRead Our Arkscan 2054A-LAN Thermal Shipping Label Printer Review 4.0Excellent$521.66See Itat AmazonRead Our Zebra GC420d Direct Thermal Printer (GC42-202510-000) Review
The ring does make efficient use of space without the cost of an LCD screen. But it's impossible to decode without instructions, and there's no hint in the quick start guide of where to find the appropriate Rosetta Stone. Zebra has an online FAQ with the lengthy list, but you have to find it on your own or contact its support team for help.
The lack of clarity around the status lights quickly becomes an issue if you run into a problem. In my tests, the printer stopped working on two separate occasions, and both the website and the phone app reported it was offline, so I couldn't find what was wrong without decoding the ring light. I would have preferred an easy way to confirm whether the Wi-Fi connection was still active, and a Wi-Fi search button or the equivalent to reestablish the connection. Almost as useful would be a more robust Quick Start guide with a troubleshooting section. Zebra says it's aware of this issue and is in the process of revising the Quick Start guide.
Not Exactly Painless Setup
To print, the ZSB-DP14 requires a Wi-Fi connection to an internet-connected network, so it needs some way to let you enter the details for the router or access point. The approach Zebra picked was to create a phone app (available for both Android and iOS) that lets your phone serve as a kind of Bluetooth remote control for the printer. Note that the Bluetooth support is for setup only. All printing is handled through the Wi-Fi connection.
After you've used the Bluetooth printer-to-phone connection to get the printer on your Wi-Fi network, you can then establish a Workspace account on the ZSB Series website, including a login with a password, which you have to enter twice. As tested, this step is unnecessarily difficult. There's no option to unmask the password you've typed, so it's impossible to confirm that you entered what you meant to, or to correct mistakes. Zebra says it is planning to add an unmasking option.
Finally, once the Workspace account is set up, you can print from the web-based Label Designer app using any device that can log on to the site. I found the app easy to work with, but not as well designed as it should be. When using the bar code, shape, or text tools, for example, the app opens an unmovable dialog box that often covers part of the label itself, an issue that Zebra says it's planning to address. To see the effect of your changes, you have to close the dialog box, then open it again to make more changes.
You can also download a driver to to print labels from programs on your Windows or macOS computer, such as address labels generated by Word or Excel, or shipping labels from shippers or marketplaces. At this writing, there's no way to print shipping labels from a phone, but Zebra says an update to add that feature for phones is scheduled to be deployed shortly.
The Good News: High-Quality Printing and a Wide Choice of Labels
Once set up, the ZSB-DP14 prints well enough to largely make up for the frustrations of the setup routine and incomprehensible status ring light.
Zebra sells eight label sizes. The smallest, at 2.25 by 0.5 inches, is suitable for labeling small items like jewelry. The largest, at 4 by 6 inches, is just right for shipping labels. The price per label ranges from 2 cents for the smaller sizes to 13 cents for the 4 by 6 size. Mailing labels (3.5 by 1.25 inches) are 6 cents each. The selection of sizes is based on the needs of small companies who sell through online sites like eBay, but they should be suitable for any business that needs labels up to the 4-by-6-inch size.
Timing print speed was a challenge. We usually avoid running our printer tests over Wi-Fi, because the speed will depend on the connection quality at that moment. As you know if you've ever watched a streaming service sputter mid-movie, adding a cloud-based service into the mix only compounds the problem. Reprints of the same 4-inch-long label took anywhere from 2.3 to 5.2 seconds. Results were more consistent for a 60-label run of address labels, at 62.6 to 65.3 labels per minute. However, that's significantly slower than Zebra's rating of 73 address labels per minute or 4.25 inches per second. Depending on your Wi-Fi and internet connections, your results may differ. The wired label printers we've tested, including the iDPRT SP410, the Arkscan 2054A-LAN, and Zebra's own GC420d, have print speeds in the range of 5–6ips.
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Output quality is good by label printer standards, largely thanks to the 300-by-300-dpi resolution. Text is readable even at small point sizes. At 7 points or smaller, the text looks a little gray, but that's easily fixed by formatting it in bold. Larger fonts and filled-in shapes, including QR codes and standard bar codes, are suitably black and have crisp edges; any scanner will read them easily.
Does Your Label Printer Need to Be Online?
Although the ZSB-DP14 doesn't live up to Zebra's promise of "just...working," once you get past setting it up and the initial learning curve, it's easy to use. The speed and output quality are suitable for small companies selling products through online sites.
The only question is whether a cloud-based printer is what you want. If you need to print on 4-inch-wide stock and you'd prefer to just plug in a cable, you'll be better off with the Editors' Choice–winning Arkscan 2054A-LAN. But if you want the ability to print 4-inch labels from any internet-connected device, the Zebra ZSB-DP14 is the one and only label printer that can meet those needs.3.0See It$229.99 at AmazonMSRP $229.99
The ZSB-DP14 can be frustrating to set up and troubleshoot, but once it's running, you can print 4-by-6-inch labels from any PC or mobile device.
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