How to Choose the Right Barcode Label and Supplies: Tips to Avoid Common Labeling Problems
When you’re printing barcode labels, choosing a label and the right supplies can seem like a pretty simple proposition. A quick fix and a low cost often drive the choice, especially when the typical business has to spend three times the cost of its label printers on just one year’s worth of barcode labels and supplies.
But focusing on up-front cost and not paying attention to the quality of your supplies and the right matches for your labeling application can cost you much more over time.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at why cheaper isn’t better when it comes to barcode labels and printing supplies, what can go wrong when you make the wrong choices for your application, and how you can actually save much more money and get better results by making smarter choices.
Let’s start by taking a look at why cheaper labels and supplies aren’t a smart long-term decision for barcode labeling. Going cheap and saving some money up-front is tempting, but it usually results in some major drawbacks that can cause an array of issues that cost you time and money.
Here are some of the things that often go wrong when you prioritize up-front cost over long-term cost, printing and scanning results.
Excessive Printhead Wear
Cheap labels are inexpensive for a reason, and it’s because they’re made with lower-quality materials. Usually this includes facestocks that are rough and inconsistent, which grates on your printheads and eventually wears them out far too early, resulting in thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs.
Print Fading, Rubbing, Scratching and Damage
Most inexpensive labels are designed for short-term office or shipping use, so if you’re using them in more of a long-term or industrial application, you’ll often run into issues with barcodes and printed information fading or rubbing off, getting damaged by water or chemicals. This often results in failed scans, a need to reprint labels, and sometimes losing assets because their labels can no longer be scanned or read.
Excessive Print Darkness Requirements
Most inexpensive labels and printing supplies are designed for short-term office or shipping use. They don’t have the right combination of materials and ribbons to avoid issues with fading, rubbing and other damage to printed barcodes and information. To make up for this, you’ll often end up using excessive print darkness in an attempt to make your printing more durable, but this will use up your printheads faster and can easily cost you thousands of dollars in the long run.
Most basic and low-cost labels are made with low-quality adhesives that will often cause labels to fall off, particularly in extreme temperatures, if they’re applied to round or rough surfaces, or if they’re exposed to humidity, moisture, or chemicals.
Leftover Adhesive Residue
If you’re label was produced with an adhesive that’s too aggressive for your application, it can leave behind sticky residue that’s really tough to remove.
Labels Turning Black
If you’re using cheap, low-quality thermal transfer labels in a hot environment, your labels can actually turn black and become unscannable and unreadable.
How to Avoid Barcode Labeling Issues by Making Smarter Choices
The best way to minimize your barcode labeling and supplies costs while avoiding common labeling issues is to pay a little more up-front and choose high-quality labels and supplies designed for your application.
This starts with understanding the anatomy of a barcode label, so you know the right label materials and components that need to work together to ensure adhesion, print quality, durability and scannability.
The topcoat provides additional label protection and may need to be specialized for your application.
The right facestock will ensure great print quality and minimize darkness setting adjustments.
Standard adhesives work well for most items, but a more aggressive adhesive is required for extreme temperatures, rough or round surfaces, and many other applications.
Release Liner and Silicone Coating
A release liner and silicone coating are especially critical if you’re using an applicator to apply a label after it’s printed.
Once you know the basics of barcode label anatomy, you’re ready to start taking a look at the key factors for your labeling application and which parts of the label and your supplies will be the right ones to deliver your desired results. Start by looking at the three big factors in choosing the right labels and supplies.
- Your Printing Type
You’ll need to choose between direct thermal printing and thermal transfer printing, which then determines the type of label you’ll need to use.
Direct thermal creates images directly on your paper labels for more shorter-term label use, while thermal transfer melts ink onto your labels to form more durable images.
Here’s a quick breakdown of when you might use each of these printing types.
|Direct Thermal||Thermal Transfer|
|Shorter label lifespan||Long-lasting, durable labels|
|Ideal for office or shipping use||Ideal for more demanding applications|
|Doesn’t use ink, toner or ribbon||Melts ink onto label, forming durable image|
|Creates image directly on paper label||Uses synthetic labels with special materials|
|Limited durability||Resistance vs. temps, abrasion, chemicals|
- Your Ribbon
If your application requires thermal transfer printing, you’ll need to match your thermal transfer label with the correct printer ribbon.
Wax Ribbons are for applications with little to no exposure to weak chemicals and/or moderate abrasion.
Wax/Resin Ribbons are for extreme chemical exposure and/or exposure to moderate abrasion, or where UL/cUL approval is required.
Resin Ribbons are for harsh to extreme chemical exposure and/or exposure to excessive abrasion, and UL/cUL approval.
- Your Application
Next, there are a number of key considerations in matching up the right label materials and supplies with your labeling application. Here’s a quick breakdown of the factors to keep in mind:
The Surface to Be Labeled
Rough, curved or unusual surfaces require specialized label materials and adhesives.
Application temperature is the temperature at which you apply your label. Service temperature is the temp range when you’re actually using your label. Standard label materials apply well at a minimum temp of 25°F, with service temperature ranges from -65°F to 200°F. For temps outside these ranges, you’ll need a thermal transfer label and usually a specialty adhesive.
If your label needs resistance to rubbing or scratching, you’ll want to use a ribbon with higher resin content.
If you’ll be using a label applicator, you’ll need a compatible label that’s cut differently so it peels off properly.
Exposure of your labels to moderate to extreme chemicals requires that you use thermal transfer labels. If they’re exposed to harsh and extreme chemicals, you may need to use a high-durability resin ribbon as well.
Thermal transfer synthetic labels are best for outdoor conditions such as sun, rain or snow. They’ll provide maximum protection against the elements and make sure your labels don’t fade, smear, or otherwise get damaged by outdoor factors.
Print Speed, Darkness and Dots Per Inch (DPI)
Certain label materials and ribbons cause printing to be slower or faster, and some combinations require higher print darkness and/or higher DPI. Synthetic labels may also be needed for proper printing.
Why We Recommend Zebra High-Quality Labels and Supplies
If you want the lowest long-term cost, the most reliable label printing quality, and durable labels that will be ideal for virtually any application, we strongly recommend a smart investment in Zebra labels and supplies.
As a global leader in barcode printing since 1969, Zebra has decades of experience in producing labels and supplies with ISO 9001:2008 certified quality processes that ensure you’re getting the best and most consistent materials, matched to your application.
Zebra’s quality assurance includes:
- Extensive pre-testing on Zebra printers
- Printhead wear assessment
- Verification of adhesive strength specifications
- Pre-tests for different environmental factors, including:
- Indoor/outdoor conditions
- Extreme temperatures
- Abrasion, chemical and moisture exposure
Zebra also has an unsurpassed selection of over 1,000 combinations of stock labels, tags, receipts, wristbands and ribbons, and its R&D team can develop customized labels, adhesives or ribbon solutions to meet virtually any specific requirement.
But the biggest reason to use Zebra supplies is that, if you use Zebra printers and agree to use Zebra supplies exclusively, your printheads will be replaced at no cost to you. You get free printheads in exchange for investing a bit more up-front to get high-quality Zebra supplies and save yourself a lot of cost and headaches in the long run.
Get Expert Help with Your Labels
Hopefully this article has helped you understand how to choose the right barcode label for your application and avoid some of the common problems that can occur when choosing cheap labels that aren’t matched to your application.
However, if you still need help with choosing the right label or you just want to find out more about our top-recommended Zebra labels and supplies, contact TPI now. We’d be happy to help!