Setting up the printer is easy. Just snap in the tape cartridge and the lithium-ion battery that come with it and connect the power cord. You can then wait for the battery to charge. Alternatively, you can just connect the power cord to use AC power or substitute six AA batteries for the rechargeable battery.
The special-purpose design shows most obviously in a set of buttons for what Brother calls labeling applications. Each one is basically a predefined template that you can adjust as needed. The Cable Wrap application, for example, prints the text across the width of the tape so you can wrap the tape around a cable, with one end of the tape overlapping the other, and read the text along the direction of the length of the cable. You can specify the text, the diameter of the cable, and whether to print the text only once or repeatedly, which lets you read it from any angle, 360 degrees around the cable.
An alternative for cables is the Cable Flag application, which lets you print the text so you can wrap the center portion of the tape around the cable, then paste the tape together to stick out like a little flag, with the text on the flag. Still other application types include three for labeling different types of flat panels—Faceplate, Patch Panel, and Punch Block—plus General, for everything else.
Among the more general-purpose, built-in features are the ability to print barcodes and an option to serialize, which lets you print a set of labels with automatically incrementing serial numbers or the equivalent. You can also save labels you've created to the 6MB internal memory to reuse them later, and can download a database file from your PC or mobile device, save it to memory, and then print labels by merging a master label with the data in the database.
Keep in mind, too, that Brother P-touch Editor v5.1, which comes with the printer, is one of the more sophisticated programs available for printing all kinds of labels from your PC. It even includes its own cable labeling wizard, with all the same label application choices that the printer itself offers.
The PT-E550W prints primarily on laminated plastic labels. Brother offers roughly 70 choices of tape cartridges, with various combinations of types, widths, and colors, at prices ranging from $13.99 to $29.99 each.
The choices in tape types include standard laminated labels; flexible labels, which are recommended for cables; labels with extra-strength adhesive for uneven surfaces or harsh environments; non-laminated iron-on fabric labels; labels with acid-free adhesive; and security labels, which show a checkerboard pattern of missing color if you try to remove them.
Also of particular interest for labeling cables are heat-shrink tube labels. As the name implies, these come out of the printer in the form of tubes that you slip onto a cable and then shrink to fit the cable tightly, using an industrial heat gun or a high-wattage hair dryer with a sufficiently high level of heat.
Color combinations vary with the type of label, but include black or white on an assortment of background colors, plus red on white, gold on black, gold on satin silver, and blue on white. Tape widths range from 0.13 inches to 0.94 inches.
Creating and Printing Labels
Creating and printing labels with the PT-E550W is pretty much the same as with other Brother label printers. Both the built-in features and the PC-based program are easy to get started with and capable enough to handle just about any kind of label you need. I found the Android app hard to get started with, but once I learned how to use it, printing with it was easy.