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Durable laser printable labels vs. standard laser address labels… no more Sellotape®

Not all labels are the same and quite often it’s not until a label fails in a laboratory that this is fully appreciated.

During customer visits, we regularly see standard laser address labels used on plastic vials and tubes that are frequently handled and stored in refrigerators and freezers. These labels are usually covered in Sellotape® etc. to help the labels stick and to stop the print breaking up or smudging.

labelling lab plasticware with cellotape


There is a better way!

When the correct label is used, you won’t need to wrap the tube in sticky tape which means you can label your tubes and vials quickly, easily and with confidence.

Only today we received an enquiry from a bioresearch company in Tucson, Arizona that specialises in the custom synthesis of novel compounds who said that their labels do not hold up well, with the printing flaking off with handling.

This company can’t use mass print labels because they produce products on a custom basis and each batch is different. They needed computer imprintable labels and had thought that all labels were the same…until they failed.

They were using paper address labels that were 1" x 2.625" and printed the company name, logo, product name and amount using a monochrome laser printer. Although they had been laser printing their labels, they were also considering thermal transfer printing, provided that they could print with good resolution and greater durability.

In this case, the laser option works well for them, so it was just a case of supplying the correct laboratory and temperature resistant labels with an adhesive that worked on their polypropylene tubes and vials.

So why don’t standard paper envelope labels work in a lab?

Paper vs. Polyester for durability

Paper envelope labels are very conformable and will wrap around a vial or tube nicely, but it is only as durable as paper can be. They are usually made from low-grade matt paper and will not resist moisture and may disintegrate, especially if submerged. Water will also penetrate down to the adhesive layer and affect the performance of the adhesive.

Polyester is waterproof so it will resist refrigeration and freezing and water immersion. There is also a much wider choice of adhesives.

Special laser imprintable print receptive coating

Laser printing onto a paper label is no different from printing onto regular paper and therefore you can only expect the same level of durability.

Synthetic materials such as Polyester have a special computer imprintable coating that enables the fusing of the toner from a laser printer during the laser printing process. This creates tremendous print durability at high resolution and resists, solvents chemicals, fluids and refrigeration, and freezer storage.

A note about original manufacturers' toners

When you buy a low-cost generic toner for a laser printer, the quality of the print isn’t as good quality as the original manufacturer’s toner even onto a sheet of paper. Therefore, if you print onto labels with one of these generic toners, you will also get poor-performing print, even on Polyester labels with a computer imprintable coating.

This is because the printer manufacturers develop their printers to perform with the specific chemical properties of their toners at the temperature of the drums in their laser printers.

Water-based adhesives Vs solvent acrylic adhesive

Only water-based adhesives are used on paper envelope labels because their life expectancy is short, and a solvent-based adhesive would be cost-prohibitive. Water and solvent-based adhesives harden via a process of evaporation of either the water or the solvent.

Water-based adhesives dry out with age or can breakdown with moisture whereas solvent acrylic adhesives cure and get better with age. An envelope label may be sticky to start off with and look fine but usually unwrap from polypropylene vials and tubes, especially during refrigeration or freezing.

In conclusion, while Sellotape®, Scotchtape®, etc. are excellent products with a multitude of uses, using it to protect laser print or keep labels stuck to tubes and vials shouldn’t be one of them.

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