Designing and printing thermal labels: Mac users rejoice at Peninsula Group’s offerings

Mac users have always been left in the cold when it comes to business software and related hardware drivers. The CUPS offering for Zebra printers, for example, has label sizes that don’t print correctly, is extremely slow and has a low quality that makes barcode printing a trial and error affair. UK-based Peninsula Distribution has been the only company to offer well-designed software for owners of a Datamax, TSC, TEC, Honeywell, Intermec, Dymo, Godex, Brady, Argox, SATO, Monarch or Citizen label or card printer.

Peninsula’s Thermal Utility bypasses CUPS entirely, offering fast and high-quality printing as a result. And now the company is also offering a complete professional labelling solution for Mac owners. The Peninsula Labeller app lets you design and print labels from a database, Excel worksheet, the built-in database or keyboard entry at printing time. It comes with a rich feature set that I’ve so far only seen in Zebra’s own professional labelling software for Windows.

Peninsula Group Thermal Utility

I first tried out Peninsula’s Thermal Utility. The newest version of this driver has a completely new imaging engine that bypasses the CUPS system. The result with my Zebra GX430t thermal label printer has been a considerable speed boost and better quality that becomes especially obvious when printing barcodes. However, Peninsula’s Thermal Utility doesn’t stop there.

peninsula thermal utility for label printing

With older versions, you could create a virtual printer that printed shipping labels directly from the web browser. Setting up such a virtual printer was quite easy. The Thermal Utility app would display a resizable, movable window over the web browser. You moved that window until the label was centred and hitting the print button would make the label print.

The new version improves on this by supporting multiple labels on a single sheet. This is useful for Amazon FBA, for example, but it goes beyond that. Imagine you have just purchased a thermal label printer, but you used to print on Avery label sheets. You want to be able to print those Avery labels with your new thermal printer. Instead of having to painstakingly design all those labels again, or print them one-by-one, you can now use the multi-label functionality of the Peninsula Thermal Utility.

I tried this with a sheet of six labels per sheet and it worked like a charm. You can extract the labels much the same way as you used to with just one label. The process allows you to define the number of labels on the sheet, the gaps between them, etc. You can place the “label window” by hand and then further fine-tune by dialling in numbers. With my sheet, it took under a minute to get it right.

Labels can now be redesigned to fit on your label as well. For example, Fedex labels sometimes are not designed to fit in a 4×6 grid. They need rearranging to fit, so you can now cut areas of the label and move them around to achieve a tight fit.

Peninsula Group Labeller

The Labeller app depends on the Thermal Utility for printing to a thermal label printer, but as it is a labelling design application, you can also print to Avery labels, for example. Contrary to thermal printer drivers of which there are none except the Peninsula Thermal Utility driver that really work, there are decent label design apps for macOS.

However, the label design apps that were available before Labeller saw the light of day were all centred around design. Design in a business context of — for example — a stockist means something else than design from a point of view of a graphics designer. The stockist will be most interested in his barcodes printing efficiently and a clean, no-nonsense layout his employees can understand without being in awe of the visual embellishments the designer has added to the label.

The Labeller app may be a disappointment if you’re used to the designer’s approach to creating labels. It’s a boon, however, for anyone who craves for database integration, clean design and the flexibility that allows you to add elements right before printing, as well as label management.

My previous experience with professional labelling software has been an intense encounter with the ZebraDesigner Pro barcode label app. This Windows software has a WYSIWYG label designer, database connectivity and RFID capabilities. I’m very happy to say Peninsula Group’s Labeller only misses out on the RFID capabilities.

Labeller is WYSIWYG — of course, it is; if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be running on macOS. Although it’s not going to get you the same design features as an Illustrator or Affinity Designer, it still has the design features you need for professional label design, including the ability to have accurately positioned and sized images on your label, lines, rectangles, ellipses and database/text/barcode fields. The supported barcodes include Datamatrix and QR-Code.

It has database connectivity via ODBC drivers and its own built-in database. It goes even further than this. The app has a serial number generator built-in, lets you integrate with Excel worksheets, CSV files and printing fields that you enter data for at printing time and it can serve as plain label design app that integrates with no database at all.

Labeller’s built-in database

The built-in database allows you to enter records one-by-one or import them from a CSV file. It works well, but I would have loved to see all the fields in a record right from the list view. As it has been implemented now, the database list view will only show you the first three fields. The first one of which always has to be a unique ID-number. That leaves you with only two fields of you own data you can view.

In my test scenario, I had a name and a number in the first two data fields. The crucial information, a topic description, was in the third. Unfortunately, there was no way to view that information unless I would use one of the label templates included with the app. You can actually see all the fields in the record-by-record view, but that may become tedious when you have lots of records. Luckily, at printing time, all of the fields in a record are on display because you’ll be given a chance to select the labels you want to print.

The built-in database uses “personalities” to keep data that isn’t related separate. There are three personalities already set up: Default, Equipment and Education Equipment. You can create your own personalities, but the fields will always internally refer to the same setup, which is: Barcode (which holds the unique ID), Description, Make, Model, Type, Serial Number, Purchase Date, Notes, User and seven custom fields.

You can rename fields as you like, but that doesn’t change the internal database structure. If you want another structure, you will need the company’s development team to accommodate your needs. Of course, the internal database is only useful if you don’t have a database of your own. If you have FileMaker, for example, you can just use your FileMaker databases to get labels from. You will, however, need to set up your FileMaker database as an ODBC connected resource. Any ODBC database will do, in fact.

Working with Labeller’s other data resource capabilities

Instead of setting up a FileMaker database as an ODBC file just for the occasion, I decided to give the feature that lets you hook up an Excel worksheet a try. Setting up such a label is easy: after selecting the size of your label, the app asks you to select the Excel file and within the file, the worksheet you want to serve the label data.

You design the label the same way you always do, but in the Data Source popup, you will now find an option to define the Excel file. The second popup will now let you choose between the columns of your worksheet. At printing time, the record selection sheet will slide down so you can choose which records you want to print.

Two “external” data sources are Print Time Entry and Serial Number. The former allows you to enter data into associated label fields without having to select a data record. The interface offers you an entry panel with two columns for the Print Time Entry data. You can have three of them at any time, and they can be fed by data from the internal database. They’re meant to easily add batch numbers, for example, but they can be anything you want.

As you always get the opportunity to add Print Time Entry fields when setting up a label, I expected there would be more than three to use if you decide to design your label using the Print Time Entry option, but there isn’t.

Finally, you can set up a label using a CSV file as a database. It works just as efficiently as with databases or Excel sheets.

Labeller has yet another powerful feature, which is the Calculated Field. This feature allows you to concatenate multiple fields from your database in one label text or barcode. It can also concatenate data that you entered in the app’s Organisation panel of the Preferences window with fields that are already on your label.

Conclusion

Peninsula Group’s Labeller is more of a label design and management solution than a simple design app. It offers functionality that’s on par with the professional Windows applications. It has the design features that will ensure your label prints correctly and with the highest possible quality.

It will integrate with pretty much any data source, including none at all. It’s an app Mac users who need to print data for commercial, document management or business purposes have been waiting for. It’s available from Peninsula’s website for €315.06.

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