How Do You Know You Have the Right Label?
Choosing Your Label Solution
A Luxury of Choices
There are thousands of types of labels, though all are not created equally. Each label is designed for a specific use and with materials for specific conditions. Labels may also be chosen for brand consistency, operational efficiency or compliance with specific industry and government standards.
Before selecting a label solution, it is important to understand the differences between direct thermal and thermal transfer printing technologies. Each method uses a thermal printhead that applies heat to the surface being marked. Thermal transfer printing uses a ribbon to produce durable, long-lasting images on a wide variety of materials. Direct thermal printing does not use a ribbon and instead creates the image directly on the printed material which has been designed to react to heat generated through the printheads.
How to Choose Your Solution
In order to identify the optimal print technology, material and ribbon, and ensure that the label remains readable during the full lifespan of the items it is being used on and eventually be safely and appropriate disposed of, consider the following:
1. Required Lifespan of the Label
Knowing how long the label will need to be readable in addition to the environmental factors will help you identify the optimal solution. For example, if the label only requires readability for six months and does not need to resist chemicals, moisture, and abrasion, a direct thermal paper label would best meet your needs. However, if the label will be subjected to moderate chemicals and be on an item that will be stored outside for over three years, a specialty thermal transfer synthetic label would be required.
2. Extreme Temperatures
Materials and adhesives are also sensitive to very low and very high temperatures. There are two types of temperatures you need to consider, Application Temperature and Service Temperature:
- The application temperature is the temperature in which the label is being applied. For example, a new test tube is taken out of a box at room temperature, and a label is applied, the application temperature is 70ºF (21ºC).
- Service temperature is the temperature range in which the label will be used. For example, the same test tube is filled with a sample and cryogenically stored. Sometime later, it is thawed and sterilized with steam. The service temperature range is -112ºF (-80ºC) to 212ºF (100ºC). Standard materials generally perform well when an application temperature is a minimum of 25 degrees F and in service temperatures ranging from -65 degrees F to 200 degrees F. Labeling in conditions outside of this range requires the use of a thermal transfer solution and normally requires a specialty adhesive to insure that the label remains secured.
3. Indoor or Outdoor Environment
If your product will be subjected to the elements outdoors (rain, sun, cold, etc.), a thermal transfer synthetic material would be the optimal solution, as the label and the image provide the added durability required to survive these tough environmental factors.
4. Use of Applicator
If an applicator is to be used, this must be known up front as the label must be cut differently so that it peels off properly from the liner. In addition, perforations are not always recommended as they change the stiffness characteristics of the label, making the label difficult to release from the liner.
5. Chemical Resistance
When a label will be exposed to moderate to extreme chemicals, a thermal transfer labeling solution is required. In the case of harsh and extreme chemicals, a high-durability resin ribbon is also recommended.
6. Abrasion Resistance
Contact and rubbing will affect readability over time. If in your application, the label will come into contact with items that could scratch it and make it unreadable, a ribbon with a higher resin content will provide improved resistance.
The type and the shape of surface being labeled needs to be considered to ensure that the label remains adhered to the surface. Have you ever noticed that a specific label does not adhere as well to a plastic bin as it does to a cardboard box? This is because these items have a different surface energy. The shape of the surface is also important to consider. For example, small curved surfaces are also difficult to label, since they require a flexible material with a tight mandrel adhesive to make sure the label does not pull away from the surface.
8. Print Speed
This is a key consideration, as material and ribbon selection will influence the maximum print speed. Typically, synthetic labels do not produce quality text and barcodes above 6 ips, and in order to print at 12 ips or higher a thermal transfer paper label with a high-speed wax ribbon is required.
9. Print Darkness
Increasing print darkness is necessary when printing at faster speeds to get the best barcode grades and print quality. When using higher-grade ribbons, which require additional energy, a higher print darkness is also required.
These are just the basic factors in understanding the right label solution for your application. While labeling may seem like a simplistic afterthought in the big picture of running a large facility, there is actually quite a bit of change and disruption in labeling technology, with new innovations coming out on a regular basis that can provide opportunities for improved efficiency and a more durable label. Staying up to date on these developments and partnering with a labeling expert can generate significant returns for your business and reduce opportunity costs from failing labels.
If you’re like most enterprise-quality operations, you’ll likely have a mixture of thermal print solutions throughout your business, varying by need for speed, volume, quality and durability.
But you’re also likely to have at least a few of your solutions be out-of-date in terms of getting the most for your budget and providing the most accurate and best customer experience.
Download our free whitepaper to get a better idea of some technologies in labeling that might help you think of previously unknown possibilities – like the Zebra “Zip-Slip” that eliminates the need for a separate packing slip.
And when you are ready to have a professional review your existing solutions and see how you can take advantage of new ones, the experts at Peak-Ryzex are available to assist you with your review and solution testing.
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