How are labels made?

 In industrial environments, thermal transfer printers are one of the most commonly used methods of making labels. These printers are able to create high quality labels that withstand light, heat, water, and abrasion, and which can include text, images, and barcodes. Thermal transfer printing is typically the preferred printing method due to its ability to produce long-lasting and durable labels, and it is particularly well known for its smear-proof images and resistance to fading.

Thermal Transfer Printing

The thermal transfer process creates labels by running a wax or resin-based ribbon through a printer and using heat to melt this “ink” ribbon onto a medium such as paper or vinyl tape in a specific pattern in order to produce an image. The main component of a thermal transfer printer is its printhead, which is made up of small heating pins, each of which represents a single pixel of the image. This printhead is controlled and it is predetermined which heating pins will be activated to form the specific picture, whether it’s a barcode or OSHA-compliant pictogram. The selected pins heat and cool in a rapid manner, which melts the wax or resin and transfers it onto the blank label surface.

Once created, each label will have different layers which serve their own specific functions. In general, labels have three distinct components:

  • The facestock, which receives the intended picture, text, or barcode. Although paper is most widely used for facestock, plastic film such as polypropylene is also popular. Vinyl is the most durable and resistant material for facestock.
  • The adhesive, which lies underneath the facestock and is what enables the label to stick to the surface it’s applied to. How well an adhesive performs depends entirely on the surface; there are adhesives designed for specific applications, including for use on oil surfaces, freezers, direct food contact, or within harsh environments.
  • The coating (or topcoat). This is applied to the top of the facestock and influences the print receptivity, as well as how resistant the label is to moisture. Typically, labels have more than one coating and there are a variety of coatings available for virtually any application.

For many facilities, thermal transfer printers are their go-to solution for high quality labels that will be able to withstand harsh industrial environments. The labels from this type of printer are well known for their durability and long-lasting applications.


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