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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Eagan

Selecting the Right Label

How to drive business efficiency and realize greater value by ensuring high-quality print and durability.

To an inexperienced person, labels may just seem like a sticky piece of paper that marks an item for shipping or storage. Beyond its size, no consideration may be given to its quality, the type of adhesive used, or the fact that not all labels are secure enough for all labeling scenarios. Product identification labels are now viewed as a critical mechanism for maintaining compliance, ensuring brand consistency, improving operational efficiency, and supporting business growth.

Labels do more than store data; they are designed to facilitate accountability through real-time visibility into asset status. They are the final link between your company and key stakeholders. With thousands of types of thermal labels, how do you choose the right label for your applications?

Zebra Technologies, the global leader in barcoding, RFID, and industrial printing technologies, offers a complete line of labels, tags, ribbons, and supplies that meet industry-specific application requirements. Here is a quick overview that will help ensure you make the right choice and get the best results when it comes to your label solutions.

Let’s start with the basics.

Direct Thermal vs. Thermal Transfer

Direct thermal printing is designed for applications that require a shorter label lifespan, such as office or shipping labels. Direct thermal printing doesn’t use ink, toner, or ribbon, but instead creates the image directly on a paper label. However, the image has limited durability.

If you need long-lasting and durable label images or protection against temperatures, abrasion, or chemicals, you need to use thermal transfer printing.

Thermal transfer uses a thermal printhead and applies heat to a printer ribbon, which melts ink onto the label and forms a more durable image. When combined with specialized label materials, thermal transfer produces labels that meet demanding application and environmental requirements that are beyond the capabilities of standard direct thermal labels. This is where the importance of selecting the right thermal transfer ribbon comes in. There are three different types of ribbon to consider.

  1. Wax ribbons produce label images with little to no ability to withstand exposure to weak chemicals and/or moderate abrasion.

  2. Wax/resin ribbons are for labels facing extreme chemical exposure and/or exposure to moderate abrasion, and UL/cUL approval is required.

  3. Resin ribbons are used to print labels that are subject to harsh/extreme chemical exposure and/or excessive abrasion, and UL/cUL approval is required.

Application Factors to Consider

When it comes to labels, not all are created equal. Each material features different attributes that enable it to be utilized in different environments. Here are key considerations for choosing the right label solution:

  • Surface type and shape

  • Application and service temperatures

  • Use of applicator

  • Chemical resistance

  • Indoor/outdoor usage

  • Lifespan of label

  • Print speed

  • Print darkness

  • Dots per inch (DPI)

There are thousands of types of thermal labels alone, each customized to ensure that it will work despite the environmental elements it will encounter. The labels needed for manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution environments will likely vary greatly from retail, healthcare, or field service environments.

From a printer perspective, you will need to start by considering your workflow:

  • What is the target printing volume by size of print job?

  • Do any bottlenecks in your production workflow exist that act as a constraint on the maximum labeling or tagging rate?

  • Are the printers subject to extreme temperatures? Is your plant or warehouse dusty or dirty?

  • What level of detail does a typical job require?

This list of questions is not exhaustive, but a sampling to demonstrate how complex it can be to build a printing solution that will fully support the labeling applications of your business.

Direct thermal and thermal transfer printers provide high-quality, efficient, and flexible printing for a wide range of applications. When choosing a thermal printing solution, you can rest confident knowing that Zebra’s selection of label and tag materials meets or exceeds the requirements of most applications and budgets.

Need more help choosing barcode labels? Contact the WNS Team to get answers to your questions.

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