Caution: metaphors ahead.

BarTender vs LabelDirect

To compare these two brands of software is like comparing the M14 sports car made by the small British car manufacturer, Noble, to a BMW M5. They both the do same job but in a slightly different way. Both cars will get you from A-B but one will be more comfortable, have more gadgets, have more of a presence on the road and perform slightly better, while the other is cheaper and British. The software side-by-side has very much the same sort of aura about it. One is full of many advanced features, is easier to use, has a nicer user interface, while the other is more of an entry level product. Now allow me to elaborate on what I'm trying to say here. LabelDirect is a great bit of software. It was the first label design and print software I used. It has all the features you'd want to use when designing a label for pretty much any environment. The selection of barcodes exceeds the most commonly used with the exception of the legendary QR code. The text boxes are easy enough to work with and have plenty of settings to change. The database connectivity is a breeze to setup and you can even move the single-license software from one computer to another; but only providing both computers are present and both fully working. But there's still that one little thing missing, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, that X factor. I guess for me it's not got enough. On the other hand, those of a slightly computer illiterate nature may find LabelDirect more than ample enough for their needs. BarTender has nailed it. It's not perfectly in the center of the dartboard but it's still a bullseye. The user interface in both style and layout is more pleasing and easier to negotiate. The settings are vast and nearly all of them are where you'd expect to find them. It has so many different types of barcodes it's probably impossible to not find the type you're after. You can even fully design the user prompt for variable data input. With a truly impressive range of vector graphics available with just a click and a drag, allowing you to conjure up interesting shapes and diagrams very quickly, this software certainly has the cherry on top. Plus BarTender can export to the printer if you have an external keyboard. LabelDirect requires a hefty payment from the Pro version to SOLO for this ability.


First thing to notice is that LabelDirect's GUI looks like it was developed in the 90's. It's very flat and bland. The buttons are not very large so the icons may be slightly unclear as to what they do. BarTender is coloured and styled like Microsoft's 2005 Office suite. The icons are large (but can be shrunk to half the size) and clear so you easily know which button does what. The icons can be customised to add or remove the buttons you use most or least. When starting a label template from scratch, unlike LabelDirect, BarTender really does want you to start from scratch. LabelDirect will remember previous label sizes, printer selection and printer settings; BarTender wants you to set this for every new label design. LabelDirect will always want you to set the print speed, head temperature, sensor type and media type (direct thermal or thermal transfer). BarTender defaults to an option called "Use Current Printer Settings..." which does exactly that. For most of the time these settings are perfect but should you need to override any of them you can, at a click of a button. There is one small criticism to be made of BarTender, in relation to its start-up wizard, and this is the form which invites you to select the printer you wish to use. What is not made clear is the importance of clicking the "Document Properties" button after making your selection. This button gives you access to the "Stock" and "Options" tabs, the former allowing you to specify print method (Direct Thermal or Thermal Transfer) and type of label (Gap, Black Line or Continuous), the latter allowing you to specify print speed and darkness. If these settings aren't visited they default to "Use Current Printer Settings" which is fine if you have a gambling streak. Actually it would be nice if these settings were displayed in the design window (as with LabelDirect) to save having to drill down to them to check their status. In the professional version of BarTender I found it marginally easier to select the rows of data I wanted printing. In the professional version of LabelDirect, it wasn't that clear what I was meant to do. On the first attempt at printing a selection, I only printed one. Next attempt I almost printed everything. Third time lucky I chose the correct print button. With the user prompt option BarTender wins hands down. LabelDirect is nice and simple to use but if you set the variable data fields up in the wrong order you'd like them to be entered in, you can use "Data Entry Order". With BarTender you can literally drag and drop the fields into any order you want using the data entry form editor. Not only can you rearrange the order of the fields, you have a huge selection of field types such as, textboxes, number counters, drop down lists, checkboxes, radio buttons, time and date fields. One of the options is even image capturing from either a webcam or a scanner (though there is no option to import from file). It even has face detection!

Final Thoughts

Hopefully now you're starting to understand the metaphor I used at the start of this post. LabelDirect has everything you need to print a label but BarTender has everything and more. If you like gadgets and you actually have a use for them then go for BarTender. The only reason I would recommend BarTender over LabelDirect to anyone and everyone is that LabelDirect is run by Image Computer Systems, a small company in Hampshire, whereas BarTender is run by Seagull Scientific, a multi-national company established over 30 years ago, in 4 locations around the world, and focusing solely on software and drivers. As much as Image Computer Systems has clients such as US Air, Rolls Royce and BMW, the company's small size does place a question mark over its long term permanence, concern centring on the continued availability of technical support and software licensing/reactivation arrangements. If you're struggling to decide on which one you want to use, they both have a 30 day trial that you can download and install.