Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden - Chinese proverb

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Brother Garden Labeller: Product Review

I was recently sent the pictured Brother garden labeller to review and my inner geek has thoroughly enjoyed making all kinds of labels for both my garden and office supplies.

Using the labeller

It's very portable and easy to use. Labels can be produced quickly without really needing to read the enclosed instruction leaflet as it's very much like using a calculator. However, if you want to make full use of the functionality available, then the leaflet is most useful. For example, gardeners may want to use italics and quote marks so their labels follow plant naming conventions.

Text entered and any setting adjustments are saved when the machine is switched off, so it's worth getting into the habit of resetting everything at the start of the next session. This is very easy to do, as is using the function keys to select fresh settings or using the special characters available. The back of the unit has a handy quick function key and shortcut reference label, so it's easy to quickly get to and adjust the particular settings you want.

Up to 9 labels can be stored in memory, which is particularly useful for producing name tapes without having to type them in time after time. I've been given a reel of the special iron-on tape available and I'm anticipating using this over the Christmas period to label some of my niece and nephew's new schoolwear. Note: there's lots of different types of tapes, plus a range of sizes and colours available.

How to ensure the tape lasts as long as possible

It's very easy to quickly use up the reel of tape provided with the machine and as replacements are relatively expensive to buy, I found several ways to conserve tape via a combination of:
  • adjusting text size and width
  • adjusting margin width (though unfortunately this only adjusts the margin on one side)
  • printing on 2 lines (only works with the larger 9mm and 12mm tapes; mine was 12mm)
  • using the repeat label (up to 9 at a time) or chain label (for different names) options
  • using the smallest label size setting (mini DVD) which restricts the maximum label width to 42mm (NB an error message appears if the text won't fit)
  • simply keying names one after the other with minimal spacing between them
If several of these options are used together, then the readability of the text on the label needs to be weighed up against the amount of tape saved. And if the last option is used, then I recommend using the preview function to make sure everything is spelled correctly!

Note: to see how much tape you have left, you need to take the back off the labeller and look in the little window in the tape cassette.

Things to watch out for when using
  • Batteries aren't included as standard and you'll need 6xAAA ones
  • when using the 2 line option, the space between the word at the end of line 1 and the beginning of line 2 can be omitted, otherwise the start of line 2 is indented
  • when using the chain print option, say yes to the tape feed option presented after the last label, otherwise it'll be cut in half. Say no to the tape feed option for your first label through to the penultimate one to minimise tape wastage
  • the error message explanatory text in the leaflet doesn't really explain how to correct the problem encountered. I found resetting the machine is usually the answer
Ideas for improvement
  • I'd like the option to adjust both margins down to minimum size so less tape is wasted
  • The Preview function just shows the text entered and label length. It would be good if there was the option to preview all print settings as not all of these are obvious or shown on the visual cues shown on the printer's screen
  • Make the difference between error message and settings displays clearer. It took me a while to realise the Line lmt message I was getting was an error message rather than part of setting up a multiple line. Use something like Error-Line lmt perhaps?
  • Make the explanatory leaflet available online in A4 format, so it can be printed off and laminated. Whilst the machine's easy to use, it would be good to have the option to have a more durable, waterproof and wipeable set of instructions as I can see the current version becoming torn and mud spattered very quickly. NB there is a leaflet available online, but it's for the previous model (so I've not linked to it) and there are subtle differences between the two
Overall opinion

This is the kind of thing you might not see the need of because your usual label + pen/pencil approach usually works fine. But then when you get one, you fall in love with it. It would make the perfect Christmas present for a gadget loving gardener.

Small businesses will also find this a useful piece of kit, particularly if portability and/or label durability is important. Any community group or other society needing to label lots of items e.g. for plant sales will find a good use for it. I think mine will come in handy for next year's Corsham Food Festival and Gardeners' Question Time :)

Tomorrow's post will show you some of the labels I produced whilst testing this gadget out.

A Bonus Item

I admitted I used to be in IT, so I was also sent a P-Touch 2430PC Label Printer to try with my laptop. This came with its own power unit (aka AC adapter), so didn't use batteries, though it can do if needed. NB We found the same power unit can be used with the garden labeller, though I can't find it as a separate item for sale. NAH's eyes lit up when the labeller arrived, so over to him for this part of the review (via email):

Arrived complete with white labelling cartridge, USB lead, Wall-Wart power supply [AC Adapter - Ed] and manual.
Battery operation is an option using 6 AA cells (not supplied and not tried).
Simple to load cartridge once side opened. Cartridge only fits in one position so cannot be mis-loaded.
No software to load but a CDROM is supplied for 'advanced' features.
Simple software auto-loads like a driver when USB lead is plugged in.*

Explorer opens; there is only one .exe file to open, then it works like a simple editor.
Text fonts and styles are there as usual. Sizes text automatically for multiple lines.
Pictures can be inserted but resolution is very low and monochrome only.

Neat and simple to use (and I didn't even read the manual!).

Nice!

* = this means the software isn't downloaded onto the computer, so it doesn't clutter things up or potentially interfere with other applications on there

As NAH's an engineer you can see he's not as wordy as I am! I'll only add that this option is really for organisations needing to do a lot of labelling or needing to use the additional functionality it provides. Bearing this in mind, we're going to have a go at using the picture functionality to see if QR code images are readable when used. More on this to follow...

Disclosure: My thanks to Brother for arranging to send both items of kit, plus lots of tape so promptly and for giving both NAH and me a lot of fun testing things out ;)

15 comments:

  1. Great review. I have a P-Touch labeler, and I don't use it very often. I should. It is great to know what's growing in the garden, and I often forget.~~Dee

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  2. I just like to make labels because it's fun to hear the clicking noise when it's printing. ;)

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  3. How very interesting, VP. You've just made me run to the supply cupboard to see which kind of labeller my very gadgety guy bought about 5 years ago. Turns out, it is a Brother P-Touch, albeit a much older model. I'd never considered using it for the garden. Must now give it a think.

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  4. Dee - thanks :) I wonder how many other people have a labeller languishing at home and have forgotten their possibilities:

    Petoskystone - I like the sound the cutter makes!

    Helen - you're right this originally wasn't produced for the garden at all, but someone at Brother realised the possibilities. So they went to Gardeners' World Live one year to test the waters thinking 100 units would be enough to last them 5 days of exhibiting. They sold out on the first day.

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  5. PS I'll be posting examples of the labels I produced tomorrow :)

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  6. A Garden Labeler - man thats a cool little gadget, gardening does not usually involve cool electronic gadetry! I love it!

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  7. A most thorough review VP! I have its parent/sibling - the P - touch Brother GL100, which dear old Mr. Fothergill's is presently selling for £9.95 with any order whilst stocks last. I have used it sparingly mainly because of the cost of replacement tape. Where I have used it to make permanent outdoor labels they seem to be standing up very well to the ravages of the weather.

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  8. Jezibels - welcome!

    Anna - the leaflet for the GL100 is still available on the Brother website. £9.95 is a very good price. The durability of the labels is one of the key points, though as you say the cost of replacement tape means most people will consider using it just for long lasting items.

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  9. PS I hope the hints and tips in this post plus the examples post will show how the tape can be used up more slowly.

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  10. I have one of these and I love it. I managed to make stylish looking labels when I opened the garden using the black tape with white lettering.

    I was never able to establish if the P-touch 2430PC worked with a mac, otherwise I may have gone for that - but given that it had PC in the name I thought that probably it was only for a PC ... could you let me know if it that is so? Life would be so much easier for checking the correct spellings of plant names
    :)
    K
    xx

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  11. Wow, sounds v useful (and v fun too! :D) Thanks for the review! I may have a new addition to my xmas list ;)

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  12. What a great gadget. Never heard of it, or considered one. Always thought whilst writing hundreds of labels for new seedlings that there must be some way to automate this???? Tadaaaaaa!!! Thanks for great review.

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  13. Well I suspect I need one of these now! I suppose the tapes they supply stand up the wine and rain and dont fade or come unstuck from the plant label.

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  14. PG - that's what they claim they do. I'm giving them the intensive treatment at the moment!

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