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A Label Printer That's Convenient Enough To Use

We didn't cuss at the Seiko SLP 450 Label Printer, not even once. By Esther Schindler
Years ago, when I owned a computer store and consulting business, a client called me to ask for assistance. She was trying to figure out how to print mailing labels in WordPerfect 5.1 (okay, that tells you how long ago it was), and had gotten herself confused. This was a big customer, 100 miles away, so I didn't mind providing the phone support. After ten minutes of walking her through the process, which was more complex than usual, I asked how many labels she was about to generate. "Eleven," she said. "Use a typewriter," I replied.

Mailing labels have gotten a lot easier to deal with since those bad old days, but they're still somewhat of a pain. Even when your word processing or database application has the ability to generate labels on the fly, the printing process requires that you change the paper in the printer or fuss with software settings... which is still not worth it for eleven labels.

However, the early models of dedicated label printers weren't much better. They were persnickity to set up and slow to print; they were expensive to buy; they were even more expensive to run; and they had limited functionality. The Seiko Instruments USA Inc.'s new SLP 450 addresses three out of four of those problems... and it's so convenient to use that you may find it worth the expense of buying its specialized labels. If I had eleven labels to print, even on an irregular basis, I'd choose this device.

Let's address the functionality first. This label printer has barcode printing, prints one label per second at 300dpi, and supports a surprisingly large range of label types. The SLP 450, which Seiko says has a street price of $189, can generate large mailing labels, sure, but it also prints labels for file folders, shipping, photographic slides, VHS tapes (no longer useful for most people, but there's no reason to quit supporting these), tags for jewelry or other small retail items, and "Hello My Name Is" labels. About the only format it doesn't do is CD labels, simply because the unit isn't big enough to handle them. Printing is fast and its quality is impressive, even when you include graphics on the label. Installation is simple, too, even for this reviewer whose motto is, "God made hardware so I could use software."

In terms of desktop real estate, it isn't bad. The label printer consumes about the same amount of room as two coffee cups shoved together, and the power cord length is generous. The SLP works with both USB and, if you need it, a serial interface. Seiko claims that the SLP 450 will work on a network; I didn't try its network support, however, as my network has an unusual configuration, and I think this is largely a single-user item.
seiko slp 450
The Mac version of the software lets you import from Entourage and the Mac's address book.

The hardware is accompanied with a dedicated application which talks directly to the printer, or (on the Mac at least) can go through the operating system. This is one of the instances in which Mac support is much slicker than it is on Windows. The Mac version of the Smart Label Printer program has an easy-to-understand interface that will keep you from needing to look at the well-written manual (most of which is online). It's also a Universal binary, so I had no problems running the software on my new Intel-based iMac.

In comparison, the Windows version is a little clunky, though it's certainly functional. The Windows version also comes with a SmartCapture program to automatically select and capture address text from Microsoft Word, Act, Goldmine, and WordPerfect, though I never needed to fire it up. That's because the SLP 450 installs as an ordinary (if tiny) printer on both Windows and Mac OS X, and most applications will talk to the printer directly. You may need to fuss with some settings -- for instance, Microsoft Word's default is a 1" top and left margin, which doesn't leave much room on the label -- but I had no trouble printing from any of my usual applications on either operating system.

The dedicated Smart Label Printer application (which could use a sexier name) is smooth enough that it's worth the time to start it, rather than mess with margins and label settings in your desktop applications. The Mac version, in particular, has some lovely little features. In addition to reading a tab-delimited file (and a CSV formatted file on Windows -- I've no idea why that isn't included on the Mac), you can import addresses from the Mac's address book or from Entourage. Choose a group from your address book (not a smart group, though -- that doesn't show up), and click on the check marks to indicate which labels to print. It cranks out the labels so quietly that you probably have to look at the device to see that it's doing anything.

Loading the labels into the SLP 450 is surprisingly easy, even for those of us who believe they can make any printer jam. The hardest part of the process is making sure that the roll of labels points the right way. There's a snip of paper cut out between each label, and the device apparently uses this with a light beam to determine the label size. It never got stuck in-between labels, or lost its alignment.

Obviously, I'm quite impressed with this little gizmo. The only question is whether the SLP 450 is worth the money, especially for a one-purpose device. The initial cost isn't as painful as the cost of supplies, which is obviously in the razor blade category. A roll of 130 basic labels for the SLP 450 is $6.95, which is a lot more than the $8.95 advertised price for a box of 750 inkjet address labels at my local OfficeMax.

As a result, if you generate a lot of labels -- say, for the 150 members of your local computer user group's monthly newsletter -- this probably isn't the right tool for the job. It's fast, but it's too expensive to justify the convenience. On the other hand, if you print one or two mailing labels a month, this device is clearly overkill. However, if you're somewhere in the middle -- like my customer with the eleven labels to print on a random day -- the Seiko SLP 450 is a dandy tool for the job.

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Esther Schindler has been writing about technology professionally since 1992, and her byline has appeared in dozens of IT publications. She's optimized compilers, owned a computer store, taught corporate training classes, moderated online communities, run computer user groups, and, in her spare time, written a few books. You can reach her at
Related Keywords: printing, output, hardware, seiko, sii, label printer, mail, postage, windows, macintosh

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