Vintage aluminum label-embosser kicks your labelwriter's ass

Make's Sean Michael Ragan reviews an old-school Dymo Metal Embossing Tapewriter he found cheap on eBay and finds it to be an eminently satisfying piece of kit. There are modern versions but they'll cost you lots more, and this thing is pretty much indestructible so there's no reason not to buy a cheapo one on eBay.

But in terms of construction quality and durability, the Tapewriter is as far removed from those cheap plastic embossers as a Mercedes is from a Kia. It’s 10″ long, weighs almost two pounds, and is made almost entirely from cast aluminum, with steel fittings here and there, and all held together with machine screws. The only polymer in the thing, as far as I can tell, is a rubber friction coating on the internal tape drive wheels...

Embossed aluminum is pretty much the ultimate labeling material. Without wanting to be morbid, there is a reason why military services around the world choose it for personnel identification tags. Secured with mechanical fasteners, instead of adhesives, an embossed aluminum label will stand up for years against water, extremes of heat and cold, prolonged direct sunlight, and any organic solvent you care to throw at it. This is a true “industrial-grade” labeling tool, and if you can snag a used one for a reasonable price, you can expect a lifetime of use from it.

Tool Review: Dymo Metal Embossing Tapewriter


        1. Naw, I think if you’re going be aggressive, skip the passive part.  It’s just a waste of your time later on when they ask a second time.

          1. Dear snarky people: can one of you charmers point out where, on all of the charming sites you charmingly pointed out, it explains how those freshly available embossing metal tapes are compatible with the handsome, older item shown above?


        1. But it’s not difficult to find at all.  And why be rhetorical about something like that when the embosser in question is more difficult to acquire than a label writer?

    1. I completely missed this the first two times through the linked article, but the author points out:

      I loaded it with a new roll of 1/2″ aluminum embossing tape (which is still manufactured, with and without adhesive, and costs about $5 a roll) and found it worked perfectly.

      Plus, you’ve now got the snarky links the snarkly-linkers snarkily posted, too! hooray!

    2.  Nowhere near as difficult  as getting a replacement character wheel. I have one of these machines (much shinier than the above example, and found in a skip, I may smugly add). It’s a glorious device, but it’s not much use if I want to use the digits 0 or 8.

      Incidentally, mine is a plastic wheel, which is presumably not strong enough for aluminium tape. All the ebay auctions linked from the ‘Tool Review’ seem to have plastic wheels too, so anyone wanting to use one for aluminium tape may be disappointed. Also, the cutter seems to have an extra bar on the one above- presumably the cutter on the others will be insufficient as well.

  1. Cool machine! I love stuff like this, and I’ve never seen one of these before. I suspect they were really only used in industry, and possibly never really sold that widely in the UK.
    I’m now watching several auctions, but it’s the cost of postage from the US to the UK that’s frightening, it can double the original winning bid.
    Still hoping to win one, I’ve never owned a Dymo labeller.

    1. The Dymo ‘Junior’ (I think it’s called that) is pretty good and inexpensive, you can probably pick one up in Smiths or Staples or what-have-you.

      No where near as awesome as this, but realistically it’s probably easier to use and maintain and you can read the labels easier.

  2. I’ve actually used lab equipment old enough to have these aluminum labels. Most labs switched to embossed plastic decades ago, and then to the newer electronic labelers within the last 15 years. That said, this would be awesome for labeling racks of boxes in our lab’s -80C freezer, where adhesive labels are useless. 

    1. The power company in my town uses this device to label everyone’s electric meter with their address. It’s the only thing that will withstand the Arizona sun for many years.

  3. One of the “killer aps” of this kind of embosser is that you can emboss a label, and glue it to the pattern used to make green-sand castings. The sand takes the image, then the molten metal fills the cavity, forming a positive replica of the embossed label.
    Useful for all kinds of info like dates, serial numbers, part numbers, etc. and easy to use.
    I suspect this older model would work with the newer plastic embossed Dymo tape, and vice-versa.
    Sweet share, thanks.

  4. “..Embossed aluminum is pretty much the ultimate labeling material.”

    I’d say, rather, that embossed stainless steel is pretty much the ultimate labeling material. 

    And yes, the Dymo’s M-1011 embosser is a little pricey, but look, the label tape is free!  (Click on the ‘Labels and Accessories’ tab)

    Dymo’s Rhino line of labellers and their ‘industrial tapes’ are pretty cool as well .  I have a 5000.  You put the (polyester or nylon) cloth labels on cable, they don’t peel off.

    1. I’d say, rather, that embossed stainless steel is pretty much the ultimate labeling material.

      Have you ever had to squeeze out a few hundred characters on a Dymo? Plastic’s hard enough. Steel would leave your hands bleeding after a word or two.

  5. Not to be too morbid or pedantic, but I think the armed forces use steel instead of aluminum for dog tags, since aluminum is likely to melt in a fire.

    1. From Wikipedia: “Dog tags are usually fabricated from a corrosion-resistant metal or alloy such as aluminum, monel or stainless-steel”.

      Steel would rust.

  6. It looks like many of the ones on eBay only have the plastic lettering wheel. One that has a bunch of accessories in a box shows the metal wheel is included, it’s up around $80 right now. Would love to pick one up when the prices settle back down. Amazon sells both aluminum and stainless steel tapes; you can get them with or without the adhesive on the back. 

  7. We build nothing like this any more.  

    What passes for “product” now is shitty, sloppy, half-assed plastic overpriced crap built anywhere but here. 

    But the rectangle-heads like it because it’s cheap.  We can’t even make our own flags.

  8. Oh! This is just the product to label my Leica lenses with that are kept in a Halliburton Zero in my Dymaxion House. 

  9. It’s simpler to buy the aluminum tape and a set of letter and number punches.   That you can stamp a whole host of things with the punches makes the more versatile than this (cool) tool.

  10. Can anyone ID the specific model type of this all-metal version?

    Looks much like a “with authentic battle damage!” version of an M-11 with metal wheel accessory currently on eBay, but does anyone know for sure?

  11. You can expect a lifetime of wondering where to get aluminum tape.

    Or at least 5 years until you put it up on eBay for the next guy to puzzle over.

  12. Not to be provocative, but the comparison of Kia to Mercedes is not completely appropriate. One of the major concerns of German car makers is the fact that other automakers, specifically Hyundai, but also its subsidiary Kia have improved in quality dramatically over the last decade or so and are now starting to nibble at the edges of their market share. 

    I recall a specific incident at the Beijing auto show (IIRC) in 2011 in which one of the engineering bigwigs at BMW spent a considerable amount of time sizing up one of Hyundai’s production prototypes. When he was finished, he reportedly demanded to know how Hyundai had managed to do various things that he had been told were impossible or at least not financially practical.

    While it’s fair to say that a Kia or a Hyundai isn’t likely to evoke the same sense of prestige or power as a Mercedes, it is quickly becoming less poignant to compare them on the basis of quality.

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