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Making Dymo-mite Labels One Letter at a Time

A Dymo 1571

If you scan the ads inserted in your Sunday paper in the coming weeks — you do subscribe to a Sunday newspaper, right? — you'll notice many stores holding sales on organizational gear like storage bins. I assume that's either because people buy a lot of that stuff after receiving too many Christmas presents or because "getting organized" is a common New Year's resolution. Either way, it's fair to say we're entering the organization season. And if there's one thing a competent organizer needs, it's a labelmaker.

Dymo has been making and selling labelmakers since 1958. The company started out making them for industrial and business clients. (In its old ads, Dymo said its reps would happily come to your place of business and label "any six items" to show off how useful the labels were.) The technology is dead simple: Select a letter on the font wheel, squeeze the trigger and the raised letter is pressed into the malleable plastic or metal substrate. The plastic would turn white from the stress of being stamped, making the label easy to read.

The firm lays claim to introducing the first personal labelmaker and it democratized the gizmos with inexpensive embossers. It sold a range of machines, from simple plastic ones for home use to metal "executive" models with carrying cases and multiple font wheels. Other companies got into the game and soon seemingly everyone had the ability to punch out labels for things that clearly needed no marking. (I mean, did anyone actually put their phone number on their sunglasses?) In the 1970s, the company sold 7 million embossers per year.

Logos a la Dymo

Though they might seem slightly antiquated in this age of customizable print-your-own labels, I have noticed that embossed labels are still relevant. The Dallas Cowboys continue to use the labels to denote which helmet belongs to whom. You can get fonts that look like the embossed labels, so that your next PowerPoint presentation can have that extra pop. And of course the embossing font motif pops up in logos: The NBC show "Chuck" uses it, presumably because the labels were once a staple of retail nametags, and the Paramount Vantage movie imprint relies on it too.

Dymo is now a unit of Newell Rubbermaid and primarily a seller of printer-style labelmakers with keyboards and screens and a zillion options. But it still makes a couple of embossers, including one that goes for about $10. They seem aimed at scrapbookers now, though the company also manufactured one recently for kids that actually spoke the selected letter. You also can also find vintage ones without much trouble. (If you're looking for old ones, a vertical font wheel is a nice option.)

I find them fun to use but also finicky and occasionally laborious. My model seems to regard the font baseline as mere suggestion; spinning the font wheel in same direction sometimes helps. The key to consistent lettering is even finger pressure on the trigger, which is a challenge. Then again, those innate errors are definitely part of the charm. And surely charm is what you're after when you label your new storage bins.


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