Best label maker for molecular biology lab?
February 22, 2018 9:08 AM   Subscribe

The standard in my lab is to either label tubes by hand or type and print each one separately with a portable label maker. I am not amused, as I just started a project that will generate 2,500 vials of bacteria for the -80 freezer. Please help me?

Ideally, this would be a tool used by the laboratory longer after I am gone, as similar (but a but lower scale) projects will occur more and more often in the future. Other info:

— We currently have a Brady portable label maker (with a box of printer tape!), but there is no way to connect it electronically or to easily print a series of 300 unique labels.
— We probably do not need an industrial label maker; we will be printing 100's - 1000's of labels, not 10,000's.
— These will be kept in -80 and -20 freezers, so they must be durable, and the ink can't run off / fade.
— We would like to connect to it via both Windows and Mac laptops. I've read that Brother label makers have issues with Macs; I would like the technology to be as easy as possible, to help out the laboratory in the future. Connecting a laptop to the label maker with a cord would be fine!
— No fussy software; printing from Excel (or, cut and paste from Excel) is a must. We don't use barcodes to label our samples.
— Less than £200 would be ideal. There's a terrific printer by Brady... that costs £1,400.
— We have a shared, fussy printer, so printer-based labels are not a practical solution.
— We are OK with hand-cutting the labels (probably the only way to have them fit on the tubes!

A previous answer suggested the Brother QL-500, but it's unclear if that will hold up under lab conditions. Anyone have experience with it?

posted by Peter Petridish to Technology (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We have DYMO label printers. I nelieve they meet all your listed needs (and there are different grades, i.e., increased capacities). You can also get freezer-safe labels for them in a variety of sizes to fit many tubes.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:11 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Here's the one on my desk right now: DYMO
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:12 AM on February 22, 2018

What size vials? We use these Avery 5667 clear return address labels for labeling big batches of 1.5ml GCMS vials.
posted by Captain_Science at 9:27 AM on February 22, 2018

Sorry for the multiple answers, but wanted to clarify that you must order labels from an alternate source to get those freezer-safe labels (so the ink doesn't run and the labels stick at -80C).. The ones that come with the printer are not good for this purpose. We usually order them from, not sure if they also work in the UK but I imagine there are similar supplier.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:27 AM on February 22, 2018

3rding Dymo, we use a couple in our lab as well. We get ours and the labels from USA Scientific if you can't buy from amazon. Probably also available at Fisher and most other places.
posted by bowmaniac at 9:28 AM on February 22, 2018

You don't need a label maker but you do need speciality labels for use in a -80 freezer. My lab uses a product called Cryo-babies, which are essentially sheets of blank labels that can be inserted into a laser printer. You just need to set up a template in Word or similar for printing. We also cover the labels with clear sticky tape after they go on the tubes for some extra protection, but this probably isn't necessary.
posted by emd3737 at 10:01 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

We use tubees labels which are specifically designed to go in a -80 freezer. They are for use in a laser printer, and you do need to jiggle about with the template in Word, but my gosh those things are great.

Nothing else we've used either sticks and stays on, or is as easy to generate labels (unique or multiples). Even if your lab printer isn't an option, surely *somewhere* can let you print off 10 sheets of labels to sort out your project?
posted by car01 at 10:32 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

My solution was to number the vials (in the recess in cap + side of tube) sequentially and have cryoboxes numbered sequentially - and have a database/spreadsheet to indicate what those numbered (and positioned for redundancy, is Box projectID-A01 position A3 = tube # 0003) = sample info.

Staedler fine tipped markers are excellent, Industrial strength Sharpies are ok (but they don't seem to come in fine tip).
posted by porpoise at 1:25 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Brady are the folks many labs turn to for specimen labeling. Brady's label printers and polyester label stocks are tested good from -70°F to 230°F. They make a wide range of printers from $100 handhelds to crazy expensive superfast desktop machines.

Zebra also makes lab-grade printers.
posted by bz at 5:44 PM on February 22, 2018

Our lab uses Cryo-Babies in laser-printable sheets. I cannot attest directly to the long-term reliability of toner on these labels in the -80 since I just do computer stuff, but I havent heard of anyone coming across a label with no printing left. If you have access to a fancy enough printer, you’ll probably get better print quality by telling it you are printing labels (as far as we can tell, it will heat the page more which will get more toner to adhere).
posted by silby at 6:39 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

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