The Brother RJ-2050 ($695) is a strictly business label maker, designed primarily for highly mobile on-demand applications. As part of Brother’s RuggedJet series, it’s built to a high set of durability standards. In many settings, such as your showroom, warehouse, or order fulfillment desk, staff can carry it around with them, printing receipts, markdown tags, order pickup tickets, and so on, on the fly. These attributes combined with its multiple connectivity options make it a great choice for enterprises where printing and distributing a lot of labels on demand (and on the fly) is mission critical.
Petite and Powerful
A few of the consumer-grade labelers we’ve reviewed, such as the Editors’ Choice Brother QL-820NWB, come with—or have optional—batteries and provide wireless connectivity, allowing them some degree of autonomy. However, they can’t match the RJ-2050 in a few critical areas, including its petite portable size, RuggedJet durability, and high-volume ratings. It supports 2-inch label media, making it part of the RuggedJet 2″ series (or Series 2). Brother offers 10 RuggedJet models: four Series 2, four 3-inch Series 3 machines, and two 4-inch Series 4 models. The RJ-2050 is second from the bottom in the Series 2 pecking order, making it one of the less costly, with fewer features and lower capacity than some of the others in the family.
At 2.2 by 4.8 by 3.9 inches (HWD) and weighing only 1 pound, the RJ-2050 is less than half the size of the Brother QL-820NWB, which supports label rolls up to 2.4 inches wide. The QL-820NWB has an optional battery, but it’s still a bit big and bulky to carry around as you work. The RJ-2050, on the other hand, comes with a belt clip that allows you to comfortably print labels or receipts wherever you go. If you don’t find the belt clip comfortable, Brother also offers a shoulder strap for $25.
The RJ-2050 supports seven types of media, in both continuous and die-cut configurations up to 4 inches long. The four die cut label rolls have adhesive backs, and the three continuous “receipt” paper rolls come in Standard, Premium, and Fast Dry. You load the media rolls by simply dropping them in to a compartment at the back of the printer, and the machine does the rest, including communicating to the computing device you’re printing from which media type is available.
There is a set of controls on the front, and power and mini USB ports, as well as levers for opening the media and battery hatches, on the right side. The control panel consists of Power, Menu/down-arrow, and Feed/OK buttons; an Active/Battery status indicator; and a small two-line monochrome LCD for making connection and other configuration changes.
According to Brother, the RJ-2050’s Li-ion battery is good for 6,400 labels before requiring a recharge, which takes about three hours, however, both the AC charger and USB cable are sold separately.
Finally, the name “RuggedJet,” of course, denotes toughness and durability, which the RJ-2050 and its siblings live up to with their IP54 (International Protection Marking, IEC standard 60529) rating, which means, among other things, that it’s water and dust proof and that it has been drop and tumble tested from 8.2 feet.
Connectivity and Software
The RJ-2050’s connectivity features consist of USB, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, with support for Windows, Apple iOS, and Android via drivers you download from Brother’s website (there’s no installation media in the box). You can print labels directly from the Brother’s P-Touch Editor software on your PC, or you can operate the printer from your mobile device by downloading templates and databases. The fastest, most efficient solution, though, is to push your templates, databases, logos, graphics, and other content to the printer itself. You can then recall the template on your mobile device, replace data as required, and then print the completed label, receipt, pickup order, and so on.
The software bundle includes Printer Setting Tool, P-touch Template Setting Tool, P-touch Transfer Manager, Transfer Express, and P-touch Update Software. That last one keeps your P-touch Editor software and printer firmware up to date, while the others are the utilities required to push templates and other files to your mobile device and printer.
At first glance, using the software seemed a little complicated, but after closer inspection, the steps got clearer and it got more straightforward. It took me about an hour to create a few templates, a database, and other supporting files, and then download them to my smartphone and the printer. The good news is that, unless you change your documents or add new ones, you only need to do this once, and, after you have it all set up and configured for your devices, the process of downloading files is much more streamlined and automatic.
Fast Mobile Printing
Brother rates the RJ-2050 at 6 inches per second (ips). Most of the label printers I’ve tested, except the professional-grade Zebra GC420d Direct Thermal Printer, measure performance in labels per minute, which makes direct comparisons between the RJ-2050 and these other machines difficult. In any case, I ran two tests: printing over USB using P-touch Editor from our standard Intel Core i5-equipped testbed PC running Windows 10 Professional, and, after downloading the appropriate files to my phone and the printer, printing over Wi-Fi from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.
Printing from our testbed PC, the RJ-2050 churned out a batch of 1-by-2-inch mailing labels with a small border around them at the rate of about 1ips, which is quite slow. That score is more than 75 percent behind the Zebra GC420d’s pace of 4ips. When printing from my smartphone to the RJ-2050 with preconfigured templates and other supporting files resident in the printer’s memory, however, print speeds improved significantly, to just less than 5ips. The larger and more complex the label, of course, the slower the print speed.
While monochrome thermal output is not as attractive as inkjet print quality, it’s more than good enough for the RJ-2050’s intended applications. Many label printers, including those in Brother’s QL-series, support resolutions up to 600dpi, whereas the RJ-2050 and its enterprise-grade Zebra GC420 competitor both support only 203dpi. Even so, everything I printed with the RuggedJet model looked fine, and I especially liked that it was capable of printing borderless prints. Some types of labels look much more attractive with borderless, or “bleed,” finishes. I have no complaints about the RJ-2050’s print quality.
Cost of Consumables
Depending on which of the label or receipt thermal paper types you choose and where you buy them, your running costs will vary some. I used the prices at Brother Mall to make the following calculations, and each assumes that you purchase the more economical 12-roll packs, which, in the following scenarios, contain more than 5,000 labels or receipts.
If you buy Brother’s premium 2.25-by-1.25-inch die cut label 12-pack at Brother Mall, you’re per-label cost will be about 1.1 cent per label. And using the company’s premium continuous 2-inch receipt paper, assuming receipts of 4 inches long, each print will run you about 0.8 cent. These numbers are slightly higher than the Zebra GC420’s for similarly sized labels. Brother’s consumer-grade models, as well as output from Dymo and Leitz brand models, all cost several times as much, making the enterprise-grade models better values in the long run.
For the Long Haul
The Brother RJ-2050 comes at a premium price, but what you get is a rugged, capable machine meant for heavy-duty use in less-than-optimal conditions. You can print many different types of labels and receipts at relatively low running costs, and it’s easily toted around your warehouse or sales floor. It may require some administration to get optimal results, but the RJ-2050 is built to perform in many types of high-volume, on-demand settings.