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Best Barcode Labels for Manufacturing

We are often asked, “What are the best barcode labels for my manufacturing operations?” Before our label experts recommend the right labels, we ask questions about how the labels will be used, where the labeled items will be stored, to which surface they will be attached, and the size of the labeling area.

As you know, every environment has different requirements. However, for common manufacturing applications, most companies consistently use certain print technologies, label materials, and adhesives.

Best Barcode Labels for Manufacturing

What are the best barcode labels for inventory? WIP? Shipping? Should I use direct thermal or thermal transfer, paper or synthetic? We’ve taken the guesswork out for you with our list of common manufacturing applications and labels.

Label basics

Before reviewing the list of common manufacturing applications and labels, let’s take a moment to go over the basics.

Technology

Thermal printing is primarily used for barcode labels. There are two types of thermal print technology.

  • Direct thermal (DT) – Sensitive to light and heat, direct thermal labels are primarily used for items with a short life span.
  • Thermal transfer (TT) – Durable and chemical-resistant, thermal transfer barcode labels work well for items with a longer shelf life. Labels made out of synthetics are durable and long-lasting. They resist abrasion, moisture, and chemicals.

Materials

These material types—also known as facestocks— are mainly used to manufacture barcode labels.

  • Paper – Paper labels are primarily used for direct thermal printing. They work best for general-purpose applications, shipping labels, inventory labeling, and work-in-process (WIP).
  • Synthetic – Labels made out of synthetics are mostly used for thermal transfer printing. Durable and long-lasting, they resist abrasion, moisture, and chemicals. This makes them ideal for harsh industrial conditions and items used outdoors.

Synthetics

These materials are most commonly used for synthetic labels.

  • Polyolefin – This corona-treated material provides flexibility for labeling curved or rough surfaces.
  • Polypropylene – This high-quality material resists scratches, smears, and chemicals.  
  • Polyester – This material provides outstanding print quality and unparalleled smear, scratch, and chemical resistance.
  • Polyimide – This material withstands high temperatures up to 500°.
  • Long-life acrylic – This material is best for long-term outdoor use.

Labels

There are several types of labels to meet a wide variety of needs.

  • Stock – Stock labels are commonly used for a vast majority of applications.
  • Specialty – Specialty labels are a type of stock label designed for less-common applications.
  • Custom – Custom labels are specially ordered to fit specific printing needs.
  • Preprinted Preprinted labels are a type of custom label to which you can add colors, logos, text, and graphics. You can purchase labels that are fully printed or partially printed to add variable information in-house.

Software

Inventory control, label design, and asset tracking systems use barcode labels to optimize manufacturing operations.

  • Barcode label – This software enables you to design, create, and print labels that comply with industry, federal, and international regulations.
  • Inventory management – This software automates the data collection process by identifying and tracking inventory such as raw materials and parts used by manufacturers to assemble products.
  • Asset tracking – This software automates the tracking of depreciable assets such as computers, office furniture, vehicles, and equipment.

Common manufacturing applications and labels

The tables below list the best paper and synthetic barcode labels for applications commonly used by manufacturers.

Have questions about the best barcode labels to use for your unique labeling needs? Consult with a System ID label expert before purchasing labels. Doing so will prevent you from wasting time and money on products that won’t work.

Paper

Application

Technology

Adhesive

Cold storage

TT

Permanent all-temp

Cold surfaces when labeling

DT

Permanent all-temp

Compliance and product packaging

DT

All-temp

General-purpose product and food identification

DT

Permanent or removable

General-purpose, indoor use only

DT

Permanent or removable
(can also use polypropylene)

Indirect food labels

DT, TT

Permanent or high-tack permanent

(can also use polypropylene)

Inventory management

DT

Permanent or removable with limited resistance to moisture or abrasion

Packaging materials such as corrugate, plastic, and metal

TT

Permanent

Product identification

TT

Permanent or removable

Quality control

DT

Permanent or removable with limited resistance to moisture or abrasion

Shelves, bins, or totes (reusable)

TT

Removable

Shelves, documents, and pallets (removable)

TT

Ultra-removable

Shipping labels

DT

Permanent

Sorting

DT

Permanent or removable with limited resistance to moisture or abrasion

Wood and other porous surfaces

TT

High-tack permanent

Work-in-process (WIP)

DT, TT

Permanent or removable with limited resistance to moisture or abrasion

Source: Zebra Technologies

 Synthetic

Application

Technology

Material

Adhesive

ABS, aluminum, and stainless steel surfaces with outdoor exposure for up to 7 years

TT

Long-life acrylic

High-performance permanent

Asset tracking

TT

Polypropylene

Permanent or high-tack permanent

Asset tracking, excellent chemical-resistance

TT

Polyester

Permanent, high-performance, or high-tack permanent

Asset tracking, good chemical-resistance

TT

Polyester gloss

Permanent, high-performance, high-tack permanent, or removable

Chemical drums

TT

Corona-treated polyolefin

Permanent all-temp

Chemical drums (1-2 years outdoors)

TT

Polypropylene

Permanent or high-tack permanent

Circuit boards

TT

Polyimide

High-temp permanent

Cold storage

TT

Polypropylene

Permanent or high-tack permanent

Hard-to-label surfaces

TT

Polypropylene or polyester

Permanent or high-tack permanent

Hard-to-label surfaces, excellent chemical-resistance

TT

Polyester

Permanent high-tack

Harsh environments with high temps

TT

Polyester

High-temp permanent

Industrial settings with high temps

TT

Polyimide

High-temp permanent

Jewelry (for use in cleaners only)

DT

Polypropylene

Permanent

Jewelry (for use in cleaners and steamers)

TT

Polypropylene

Permanent

Outdoor tools and equipment

TT

Polyester gloss

High-performance permanent

Outdoor tools and equipment
(10 years, UID compliance)

TT

Long-life acrylic

High-performance permanent

Product labels

TT

Polypropylene

Permanent all-temp

Serial plate labeling, excellent chemical-resistance

TT

Polyester

Permanent, high-performance, or high-tack permanent

Serial plate labeling, good chemical-resistance

TT

Polyester gloss

Permanent, high-performance, high-tack permanent, or removable

Shelves and bins (removable), excellent chemical-resistance

TT

Polyester

Removable

Shelves, bins, furniture, products (removable)

TT

Polypropylene

Removable

UID-compliance

TT

Polyester

Permanent or high-tack permanent

UL/cUL and CSA-compliant product identification, excellent chemical-resistance

TT

Polyester

High-performance

UL/cUL and CSA-compliant product identification, good chemical-resistance

TT

Polyester gloss

Permanent, high-performance, high-tack permanent, or removable

UL/cUL-compliant product identification, excellent chemical-resistance

TT

Polyester

Permanent, high-performance, or high-tack permanent

Utility meters

TT

Polyester gloss

High-performance permanent

Utility meters
(10 years, UID compliance)

TT

Long-life acrylic

High-performance permanent

Vending machines

TT

Polyester gloss

High-performance permanent

Vending machines
(10 years, UID compliance)

TT

Long-life acrylic

High-performance permanent

Warning labels (long-term)

TT

Long-life acrylic

High-performance permanent

Source: Zebra Technologies

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Nicole Holcomb

Product Manager at System ID
Nicole Holcomb literally grew up around labels and printing. Putting that lifetime of knowledge to good use, Nicole helps customers solve the labeling needs of virtually any application in her role as Product Manager for Labels & Supplies at System ID. This creative problem solver unleashes her artistic side by creating customized clipboards and frames for her small craft business (while also daydreaming about being British, an obsession she’s had since her youth!).

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