Label Markets Printing Knowledge
Label Markets

There are many different types of labels and many different markets in which they are used. Each has its own special requirements. Some markets require labels that are exposed to extreme temperatures and weather conditions and some are required to be applied to an odd shaped container. Shown below are several of the different markets in which labels are used and some of the special features that are required for these markets.

Promotional and Sticker/Decal Labels

Promotional and sticker/decal labels are used everywhere we look. They vary from little novelty stickers to full body label wraps used on buses. They vary in durability according to usage. They are printed on a wide range of stock, such as paper, metallized paper, fluorescents and film and can have special coatings applied. The graphics used can be a simple logo to an eye catching full color graphic design. They can be printed by most any printing process available. The adhesives are available in various degrees of permanent, removable, repositionable, and non-adhesive static cling. Listed below are some areas where promotional and sticker/decals are used are used.

Stickers and Decals Available as holiday & seasonal decorative stickers, children's novelty stickers, advertising stickers, bumper stickers and decorative decals.
Point of
Used in P-O-P advertising for products such as indoor and outdoor store signs, restaurant menu signs, trade show exhibit signs and counter mats and signs. P-O-P labels are produced on various types of material that will hold up to various environmental conditions. Some conditions require special coatings for added protection. The type of adhesive will depend on the surface on which the labels is applied, what conditions it will be exposed to and what type of removability is necessary.
Floor graphics are being used more and more as an advertising tool. The label must be made up of a material that will hold up to the abuse it will be subjected to. Generally a film with an overlaminate is used to protect the graphics. The adhesive must hold the floor graphic in place yet allow it to be removed without leaving sticky residue once the promotion is completed.
Labels used in window graphics are available in clear or white film and can be produced with non-adhesive cling vinyl, a removable adhesive or repositionable adhesive. The material, adhesive and coatings used will depend on whether the label will be applied on the inside or outside of the window. Window graphics can be printed with see-through graphics to allow viewing from inside to outside.
Transit graphics are large format labels used on vehicles, such as trains, buses and other transit vehicles. The transit graphic must adhere to the vehicle and withstand a variety of environmental conditions.

The use of promotional labels, stickers and decals is endless. The list above is just a sampling of their uses. Be sure to communicate to your supplier all of the requirements necessary to satisfy your label needs.


Tracking and Variable Data Labels

Tracking and variable data labels are generally pressure sensitive labels. Tracking labels contain some type of tracking device, such as a bar code or an electronic device as used on Smart Labels. As an item moves from one area or operation to the next, the bar code is scanned and information is retrieve and recorded about that item. The tracking label is used for operations such as tracking the movement and updating the status of an item in the manufacturing process or workflow process. It is used for tracking fixed assets and for updating the location and inventory levels of finished goods for warehouse management. It is also used in distribution to track orders, movement and delivery of the product.

The label can be preprinted with or without the bar code. They can be blank, or only printed with static information, leaving an area for variable data if required. If variable data printing is required, the bar code can be printed at that time. The bar code can be a static or consecutive number. If the label or bar code is not preprinted it can be printed using several methods. The proper software is necessary to print variable data and bar codes. The labels can be printed prior to needing them or they can be printed on-demand as they are needed. Listed below are some of the options for printing variable data and bar codes.

Dot Matrix Printers - This is the least expensive way of printing bar codes and variable data. The bar codes are printed on roll stock or fan-folded stock. A special bar code software is used to create the labels. This is a satisfactory way to print bar codes on-demand in low quantities. The quality of the labels on a dot matrix printer is not very good and is a poor choice if you have serious bar code applications.

Laser and Ink Jet Printers - The excellent output of the laser and ink jet printers make it a more desirable choice than the dot matrix printer even though it is more expensive. The extra cost of the printer is offset by the quality and the ease of working with the simple software. You can create complex bar codes that will be easily read by all types of scanners. The variable data will also be much better quality that with a dot matrix printer. A problem that may arise is that, when printing labels, most laser printers print an entire page at a time. If the application prints a number of bar codes per page, there may be some waste that occurs if all the bar code labels are not needed.

Labels printed on laser printers must be constructed of a facestock, adhesive and a liner that are all laser compatible so that the can withstand the heat of the laser printer. The surface of the facestock must be suitable for the ink or toner to adhere properly.

Thermal Printers - The thermal printer's quality is much better than the dot matrix printer and does not require that you print an entire sheet of labels as on the laser printer. The printer uses roll or fanfolded stock. There are two different types of thermal printing. Direct Thermal uses a heat sensitive stock. When heat is applied, an image is formed. This stock cannot be exposed to temperatures above 140° F (60° C) or prolonged ultraviolet light, such as sunlight. In Thermal transfer printing, heat is applied to a special ribbon to transfer the image. The stock used for thermal transfer is not heat sensitive so it eliminates the exposure problem but adds the need for another consumable product, which is the special ribbon.

The facestock for thermal and direct thermal printing of the variable data and bar code should have a smooth surface for good imaging, be highly scannable and smudgeproof.

There are many different options available for tracking and variable data applications. You will need to decide what type of tracking device you are going to use, the construction of the label and the printing method you will use. Your requirements will depend on the type of application. Some of the common areas using tracking and variable data applications are listed below.

Industrial Industrial labeling is used to track materials, for product identification and to track products through the manufacturing process. UL compliance labels, drum labels, parts and raw material labels, finished goods inventory labels and equipment labels are some of the areas where tracking and variable data labels are used. Each having different requirements that must be met to satisfy printing, adhesion, surface conformity and environmental needs.
Electronics and Appliances Tracking and identification labels are used in the manufacturing of electronics and appliances. They are used to track the work in-process and the components of the product. The product identification labels include model numbers and variable data such as bar codes and serial numbers. These labels must be resistant to abrasion and the solvents used in this environment.

Retail shelving labels are used to provide information about the product. The labels have variable data pertaining to the product's name, brand, unit of measure, color, price and sale information. Shelving labels must have good image quality, adhesion strength and removability. They generally need to be laser or thermal printed. They may also need to meet special temperature requirements, such as what would be needed for shelf labels inside a freezer. Product identification labels are used for tracking and managing inventory and consumer purchasing. The product ID label will have different requirements for different types of products. They all require good printability and durability. The adhesion requirements will depend on the type of product, the surface of the product, the shape of the product and the environment the product will be exposed to. Labels that are applied to fabrics must be easily removed without leaving any residue on the fabric.

Healthcare Tracking and variable data labels are used in many areas of healthcare. They are used to track and manage patient records, supplies, equipment, lab specimens, x-rays and medications. On demand printing of variable date is necessary for many healthcare applications. Labels used in healthcare have many special requirements, such as laser or thermal printing, abrasion resistance, chemical and water resistance, extreme temperature resistance, conformability, special adhesives and tamper-evident features.

UL (Underwriters Laboratory) and CSA (Canada Standards Association) labels indicate that the product it is applied to has been certified and complies with standards set up by these organizations. The label contains information such as warnings, installation instructions and electrical ratings. UL and CSA labels must meet special requirements for image quality, legibility retention, durability, weathering, abrasion and scratch resistance, and adhesion performance.

There are many options available for facestocks, adhesives and liners to meet your tracking and variable data label requirements. Be sure to discuss any special requirements or concerns with your supplier. They will be able to help you with any special requirements you may have.



Packaging labels can be pressure sensitive, glue applied, in-mold, shrink sleeve, stretch sleeve or any combination of different types. Packaging labels provide product identification by use of graphical design and generally include a bar code, which is encoded with information about the product. It also provides descriptive information about the product and instructions on how to use the product.

The packaging label can be constructed of various types of paper, metallized paper or film. Each has many variations to select from. A thin clear film can be used to give a "no-label" look to the package, or it can have a combination of different type labels applied to it. The material used for the label will be affected by the container it is attached to, the method of application and the environmental conditions it will be exposed to. The container could be a bottle, jar, tube, can, box, carton, molded container or a shrink wrapped package. It could be made of paperboard, glass, metal or some types of plastic.

There are many different markets where packaging labels are used. Each market may have its own special requirements that need to be followed. You will need to design the construction of the label according to these requirements. Some of the markets using packaging labels are listed below.

Personal Care Personal care products consist of cosmetics, hair care products and toiletries. The label must have an eye-catching image to give the product shelf appeal. Sometimes the labels for personal care products must be approved by the FDA. The label stock must be durable, have good printability and conformability, and be water resistant.
Food and Beverage Food and beverage labels must be FDA approved for direct and indirect contact. The labels will be applied to many different type containers. The containers can be constructed of many different materials, such as glass, plastic, metal or paperboard. The label and its adhesive must be able to withstand the abuse from the filling equipment, the pasteurization process, and the extreme hot and cold temperatures they may be exposed to in their environment. They must have wet strength for applications that will be exposed to moisture and be scuff and scratch resistant.
Chemicals and Household Products Labels used on these products must be able to conform to the shape of the container, have squeezability, and be grease, chemical and moisture resistant. The containers are generally constructed of plastic or metal and labels are pressure sensitive, glue applied, in-mold, shrink sleeves or stretch sleeves.


Pharmaceutical labeling is very demanding due to the cleanliness and security that is necessary. The facility manufacturing the labels must be clean and follow certain standards. The label must have good print quality to ensure readability and to give the consumer the feeling they are receiving quality product. The proper materials, adhesives, inks and coatings must be used. The label must meet FDA requirements. Documentation should be made of step by step procedures performed to meet the pharmaceutical company's specifications. This documentation is important to have if there are any problems with the product.

Security is a very important issue. It is critical that all waste be disposed of properly so that there is not any chance of counterfeiting a false drug for another drug or a wrong label being placed on a drug. Once the labels are manufactured they must be stored in a secure area until they have been checked for quality and are ready to be used.

The standards for the prescription drugs are higher than for over the counter drugs (OTC) but OTC standards are becoming higher. One challenge in this area is the FDA's requirements to display more information on the O-T-C drug labels. The limited space on a standard label makes it difficult to display and reducing the type size affects the readability. Some companies have started to use an extended content label (ECL). There are several types of ECL labels used. One type has an area on the back of the label where additional content is printed.

A deadening agent applied to the adhesive in that area allows the label to be peeled back, content read and the label placed back down. Another type of ECL label has a extra folded piece attached that unfolds to reveal the additional content. This type of label can also be used for coupons, mail-in rebates and recipe booklets. Security is extremely critical in pharmaceutical labeling. Some of the features used on pharmaceutical products are tamper evident bands, destructible labels and holograms.

FDA Approval Most packaging labels must meet FDA requirements. The FDA must approve the label stock, adhesive, coatings, copy format, type style and size and content of the label.

There are many different types of packaging labels available along with many material and adhesive choices. Consult your supplier for any questions that you may have when choosing the type of label that will best fit your needs.


Durable Marking Labels

Durable marking labels are used for durable products needing a label to last the life of the product. The labels must be able to withstand extreme weather conditions, be chemical and grease resistant and adhere to difficult surfaces. Durable marking labels are used for product identification, safety/hazard warnings and instructional labels. Some markets requiring these labels are listed below.

Retail Shelf
This is an environment in which the labels are exposed to a lot of abuse. They need to be smudge proof and scratch resistant. The adhesive used on the label must adhere properly and hold for an extended period of time but also be easily removed when the label needs to be replaced.
Drum labels are applied to drums that contain many different materials. The label must be extremely durable, tear resistant, moisture and chemical resistant, and the facestock must have a suitable surface for printing. The label must have the proper adhesive to hold the label on the drum through harsh conditions. There have been adhesives developed that allow the label to adhere and hold properly but will also allow the label to easily be removed when the drum is recycled for reuse.
Labeling in this area must meet many special requirements. They must be extremely durable and grease, chemical and moisture resistant. They must be able to withstand harsh weather conditions and hold up to extreme temperatures. They must adhere to many different types of surfaces and remain attached for the life of the product. Automotive labeling includes labels used in many areas, from parts labeling to labels used on recreational vehicles.
Appliances/Tools & Outdoor Equipment All of these areas include labeling that may require adhesion to rough textured, painted and contoured surfaces. They must be able to withstand harsh weather conditions and extreme temperatures. The labels need to be extra durable and abrasion resistant. The labels for these types of products require resistance to chemical, grease and moisture. Appliances, tools, and outdoor equipment labels have many different requirements that must be met to provide a label that will hold up through the life of the product.

Durable marking labels are used for two basic types of applications, which are shown below.

Product Identification - Product ID labels must be able to produce a clear image and remain readable and intact for the life of the product. Depending on product use, the label will need to have proper adhesion strength, be weather resistant, and resistant to abrasion, chemical, grease and moisture. It will need to have a printable surface for printing bar codes and other product information. Product ID labels are used on durable items such as appliances, power tools, outdoor power equipment, recreational items, sporting equipment, bicycles, recreational vehicles and automotive parts.

Safety/Hazard Warning and Instructional Labels - Labels containing information that deals with the safety of the consumer. The label displays a warning on possible dangers when using the product. They can also be instructional labels on the proper use of the product. It is important that these labels remain intact and readable for the life of the product. They are used on many durable products, such as power tools, outdoor power equipment, under the hood of a car and recreational vehicles.

When designing your label, be sure that you consider all aspects of your labels intended use, such as exposure to weather conditions, temperature exposure, life of the label, surfaces it will be applied to, its print needs and whether or not it will need to be removed at some point. If you have concerns in any of these areas, communicate these concerns with your supplier. They should be able to help ensure that your label will satisfy all your requirements.

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