Mundane Gadgets - Brother P-Touch 2730 Label printer

2014-03-29 02:52:08 -0400

The Brother PT2730 is not small, nor light, but it was the only label printer I could easily get that could print 1"-wide (24mm) labels. I'm embarking on a major reorganization of the gadgets and electronics around here - in plastic boxes on plastic shelves, so that nothing I'm not actively using is actually taking up visual space. I still need to be able to find things quickly, and this means a combination of translucent plastic boxes (so they don't look like clutter but I can still glance at a box and remind myself of what's inside) and highly visible labels...

I picked it up at a local Staples with some matching tape and batteries; turns out that it comes with a short "sample" tape cartridge that's actually the full 1" width. Popped it out of the box, put the batteries in, poked at the font size and typed some words and immediately printed some huge labels, which fit nicely on the shelf edges and on some boxes, and even around the in-line toroid of a Fuji USB cable.

At that point, I could reasonably have declared victory; it did what I needed, and enabled another project to move forward. That's not really getting enough out of a gadget; there's always some other way to use it that makes it more interesting. Reading the manual (really! I know!) turns up interesting features like timestamped labels (so there's a reason to set the clock after all) and barcodes and "forms" if I want to get really obsessive about categorized labelling. Also there are plenty of icons/emoji that are quite pretty at full width, though the arrows are what will really be useful on actual labels. Finally, you can supposedly use TrueType fonts (on Windows at least, maybe on the Mac - I don't know if it's just talking about rendering on the computer and printing pre-rendered bits, which would work basically for free on Linux too, or making the font available for local use, which would certainly be nice.)

What finally struck home from a gadget perspective was the USB port. I'd ignored it because I don't use Windows at all1, I sometimes use a mac, and I live in linux, and that's traditionally been a recipe for disappointment as far as printing goes. Still, I did some searching, and it turns out that there is CUPS support for the PT2610 which seems to work on the PT2730. You just install printer-driver-ptouch, hit the CUPS management interface and select it, and then dig up some arcane commands:

$ convert -size 100x24 canvas:white \
     -font Bookman-DemiItalic -pointsize 24 \
     -draw "text 0,24 'Magick'" -channel RGBA -stroke black \
     -draw "text 0,24 'Magick'" /tmp/fuzzy-magick.png
$ convert /tmp/fuzzy-magick.png /tmp/fuzzy-magick.pdf
$ lpr -PBrother_PT-2730 /tmp/fuzzy-magick.pdf

It really does have to end up as a PDF, and the incantation above only draws on the middle 7mm or so of the tape; it'll need more refinement to be useful. Also, it will advance the tape after printing... by the width of the characters that are currently typed in on the main label screen so be sure to clear the input before starting to print from a computer.

One surprise was that I've always thought of CUPS as an annoying complex web-wrapper around simpler things that do the real work. Turns out that there aren't simpler things - CUPS "owns" the printer, drivers get PDF from CUPS and give bytes back to it - and apparently the way to do one-off tests of the driver is to simply use it as part of a complete CUPS installation. This was a bit jarring, mostly because it suggests that my perspective on how one ought to poke at a system so as to understand needed some updating for modern tools, though possibly not in a good way. (I'm still hoping there's a way to take the existing filter and feed its output directly to a device, possibly with a little stty or screen wrapped around it, but I've stopped poking at it for now.)

My use case for this labeler doesn't really need computer output, though I'll probably come up with a reason for it some day, and maybe at that point there will be more rendering options; for now it suffices that it's possible and that I could bang on the problem some more if I had a project in mind. In the meantime, if you need a 1" labeler, just get this one; if you have priorities, go read The WireCutter's article on label makers since they've put a lot more effort into the general problem (while they always do excellent work, this is one of the few cases where their recommendations didn't match my worldview at all, simply due to different priorities.)

  1. with the exception of Portal 2 - I had to get ahold of thinkpad install media to put the version of Windows that came with the hardware back onto an alternate disk (Did you know Windows can't run off of a USB drive? What century is this again?) because the Mac I had around was barely enough to run Portal 1, and Steam for Linux was still several years away. Once I finished it, that disk went into one of the aforementioned plastic boxes :-)