There are many label material options for durable computer imprintable labels, but which one is right for your application?
What is durable label material exactly?
The top layer of a durable label is known as facestock or film, and is typically made from either paper or a synthetic film.
The material is supplied with an adhesive on one side and the manufacturer, end user or both, print on the other.
Why the correct label material matters
Durable labels require materials that can survive various laboratory challenges:
- extreme heat
- refrigeration and freezing
- solvents and other chemicals
Incorrectly matched label materials can cause labels to break up, shrink, melt, burn, discolour or come off altogether. This can lead to non-compliance, loss of traceability, sample wastage, delayed research etc.
The right label for the right purpose is made by following this process:
- evaluate the label’s end use application
- use appropriate materials and adhesives
- manufacture using a printer designed for the label.
What are the different types of durable label materials?
In general, label materials are separated into two categories: paper and synthetic film.
Each material has its advantages and limitations, so choosing the specific type depends on the durability requirements for your labels in their end-use application or process.
Choose synthetic label materials for greater durability
For applications where paper labels are not durable enough, synthetic facestocks offer a higher level of durability, with resistance to:
- Extreme temperatures: between a range of -196°C to +338°C
- Solvents and chemicals: acetone, xylene, IPA etc.
- Sterilisation and autoclave cycles
- Humidity and moisture
- Repetitive handling
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There are different synthetic options available, each with their own benefits and resistance characteristics, these include:
Polyesters are best for durability and performance, with excellent temperature resistance and suitability across most laboratory applications.
Polyesters can be coated with a solvent acrylic adhesive, which is essential for long-term adhesion in challenging lab environments e.g -196 °C
Typical application for polyester labels: vials, cap and tubes, flasks, reagent bottles, wellplates etc.
Vinyl has now been replaced by polyester, polypropylene and polyethylene for most other applications.
Vinyl is low cost, due to its limited temperature range and low-spec adhesive, but is very conformable to curved and textured surfaces.
Typical applications for vinyl labels: in-lab warning signs
Polypropylene is perfectly suited to cosmetics packaging. These label materials are typically found in the household and personal care sector for health, beauty, food, beverage and cleaning products.
Typical applications for polypropylene labels: rigid packaging, window graphics and signage.
Note: mass production for these industries means that polypropylene labels are available only with low-spec water-based acrylic adhesives, to keep costs appropriate to the products.
Polyethylene is flexible and perfect for squeezable containers.
Polyethylene is commonly used as a packaging material, and therefore a label made of polyethylene will be easily recyclable with the packaging.
The packaging industry demands low-cost materials and therefore water-based acrylic adhesives are used.
Typical applications for polyethylene labels: squeezable containers, household, personal care and pharmaceutical industry
Paper is an inexpensive, low-spec general-purpose label material available in a wide range of colours and finishes. Paper is computer imprintable with laser and thermal transfer printers.
Paper facestocks are far less durable than films and are not rugged enough to survive weathering or exposure to solvents or abrasion. Some paper materials have good tolerance to water but are not waterproof.
Paper facestocks are available only with water- or rubber-based adhesives, to keep costs low.
Typical applications for paper labels: delivery labelling, packaging, office
How a synthetic material is made printable.
Unlike paper, synthetic materials are not naturally printable once turned into label material.
Synthetic label materials are treated with a print-receptive coating to enable them to be printed by computer printing methods.
These coatings may be computer imprintable using a laser or thermal transfer printer, but it is important to make sure that the computer imprintable coating is matched to the print method.
What does durable really mean?
The mass-production of polypropylene and polyethylene label material for the packaging industry means these products have crossed over into the world of laboratory labelling under the heading of ‘durable’.
The term ‘durable’ is relative. There is a massive difference between durability in the context of a label that will be stuck to a bottle of shampoo (polyethylene will be better than paper) versus the durability of a label that will be stuck to a cryo-vial at -196°C (polyester will be better than polypropylene).
Regardless of the durability of the material, the adhesive is what really matters. Read our blog on adhesives.
Get the right durable label material
Selecting the right durable label material can be difficult without the help and experience of a computer-printable label manufacturer.
At CILS, we work with you to understand your product and its end-use durability requirements, helping you find the right label every time.
Want to find out more?
Read our next guide - Your durable label printing options explained
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