More suggestions for ways to label your power adapters
By Phil O'Keefe
Craig Anderton's recent Hot Tip on labeling power adapters with a soldering iron really caught my attention. Like any modern musician or studio owner, I'm surrounded by an ever-growing array of gear - much of it powered by wall warts, line lumps and other power adapters. The problem lies in the variety of different types of power supplies that are out there - and not all of them are compatible. In fact, plugging in the wrong one can severely damage some gear, so making certain you're using the right adapter with the right device is important. But what's the best way to label them? I really liked the Hot Tip suggestion of "branding" the name of the associated device right into the plastic of the adapter with an old soldering iron, and was so impressed with it that I shared the article with the folks on the Harmony Central Effects forum.
That's when the fun really started! While there were some who also really liked Craig's tip, others offered alternative suggestions. Here's some additional power supply labeling ideas you might also want to consider. They can be roughly broken down into two categories - those done on the adapter housing itself, and labels for the plugs.
ON THE ADAPTER
Some people suggested using paper covered by clear tape, but in my experience, tape gets old, comes off, leaves a sticky residue and is generally not ideal… but it may work for you. Forum member six acre lake says the colored dot stickers from Staples work well, stay attached, and don't peel off.
Forum member ispunk suggests using a Silver Sharpie (Fig.1), and member dap99 recommends using colored paint markers. These might just be my favorite suggestions of the bunch. I've tried writing directly on the plastic housing of power adapters with a normal black ink permanent Sharpie marker, but black ink does't show up very well at all against the typical black plastic housing of most adapters. Silver is a whole different story. Now that I know that you can pick up silver Sharpie markers at practically any local office supply store, I'll be using that method going forward.
Figure 1: Did you know they make silver Sharpie markers? They do... and they work great for labeling power adapters
Forum member mr benn uses a Dymo labeler, while 1DZReverendDavidLee suggested using a BrotherP-Touch Label Maker, and says that in his experience, such labels stay attached and don't come off. While I haven't experimented with this personally, if you already have a Dymo or Brother labeler or similar device, it's certainly worth trying.
AT THE PLUG
Forum member TieDyedDevil brought up an excellent point: The problem isn't at the AC receptacle end, it's at the power plug that connects to the unit. Marking the plug itself is a good way to help prevent accidents. He recommends using a labeled plastic "flag" and attaching it to the cable near the plug that goes into the device to be powered.
A forum member named onyxrhino suggested putting colored electrical tape around the plug, or the cable near the plug. Colored electrical tape is available at a variety of places, including electrical, automotive, hardware, and electronics supply shops - even Walmart sells it. 3M sells a five roll pack that includes red, green, blue, yellow and white rolls, and it typically sells for under $10 for the package online. With multiple colors, it would be fairly easy to color-code all of your adapter plugs. You can come up with your own color code - maybe using red to indicate adapters that put out alternating current (AC) instead of the far more commonly used DC power supplies, and maybe use a second color for any adapters that use a less common voltage, such as 12V, 15V, or 18V. You could also put a piece of the same colored tape on the unit itself, right next to the jack for the power adapter. Then it's just a simple matter of matching the color of the plug and the jack's tape tag.
On a similar note, forum member Ming Chow recommends using red electrical tape at the plug end for any plug that uses a center-positive polarity instead of the much more common center-negative plug. Or, as an alternative to electrical tape, forum member V suggests using colored heat shrink tubing, and points out that such tubing actually adds some strength and strain relief to the plug and cable junction. A member named mmolteratx takes this idea and combines it with the earlier color coding suggestion, using blue heat shrink for 12V, green for 18V, and adding a red band for any center-positive plugs, and a yellow band to indicate AC output.
Whatever marking method you decide to use, the important thing is to keep it consistent, and to use it on all of your power supplies. That way, you're much less likely to have difficulty tracking down the right adapter for the device you want to use, and much less likely to damage something by accidentally using the wrong power supply with it.
(Special thanks to the members of the Harmony Central Effects Forum for their contributions to this article.)
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.