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Your durable label printing options explained

Durable labels and printer

Did you know that you can print labels in house using your existing laboratory laser or thermal transfer printer and achieve very high levels of durability?

Get the combination of durable label and print method right and your labels will be able to resist most harsh laboratory processes.

The wrong combination could lead to smudging, print degrading and fading resulting in illegible labels, causing problems with your identification and compliance processes.

There are 3 types of durable printed label options to choose from:

  • Blank durable labels – Fully printable by you on your thermal transfer or laser printer
  • Part pre-printed labels – A hybrid printing option where the manufacturer prints your design as a template, leaving blank fields for you to print variable data onto your label with a laser or thermal transfer printer
  • Fully pre-printed labels – All of your design, including variable data is printed by the manufacturer supplied to you durable, fully finished and ready to use

What makes durable labels computer imprintable?

In order to be computer imprintable, both blank and part pre-printed labels will have a special printer receptive coating matched to the material and the printer ribbon or toner.

This makes the label material receptive to the thermal transfer ribbon or laser toner so that it will accept the ink and you can print your own data, while still maintaining your required level of durability, using just your computer and printer.

Which printer is best for you?

There are 3 main types of desktop printer that companies commonly use:

  • Laser
  • Thermal Transfer
  • Inkjet

We will now look at each of these options in more detail and explain the durability achieved with each when printing your own durable labels.

Print durability from a laser printer

Desktop laser printers are popular due to their ease of usability and the fact that they are widely used already in many places of work.

You may not realise they are capable of printing very high quality durable labels.

In order to achieve durability with a laser printer it is essential that you use the original manufacturer’s black toner, as the computer imprintable label material and coating is specifically matched to the original printer manufacturer’s toner formulation.

Using low cost, recycled or generic toners will result in poor print durability and quality.

You might be surprised to learn that the correctly selected label material printed with a laser printer can resist:

  • Extreme temperatures: -196°C to +388°C
  • Harsh industrial processes: wave solder, infrared ovens etc.
  • Harsh laboratory processes: autoclave and sterilisation cycles etc.
  • Mild chemicals and solvent: e.g. 99.9% ISO propyl alcohol
  • Abrasion / frequent handling: through repeated use and direct contact
  • Moisture: humidity, condensation, damp and salt water

Laser printer compatible materials

Overall label durability is dictated by the material and adhesive that is used.

Black toner laser printers print at approximately 200 Degrees Celcius for around a 16th of a second, the extreme heat in this process limits the type of materials that can be used for printed durable labels.

I.e. PE, PP and PVC would not survive the laser printing process due to their low temperature threshold. Polyester (PET) is the most common laser imprintable label material.

Laser printable durable materials are designed for black toner desktop printers. Although the technology may differ slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, the general printing process is the same and will be able to produce your durable print when used with the original printer manufacturers black toner.

Colour and multifunction laser printers for printing durable labels 

The print technology used for colour and multifunction laser printers differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, therefore there is an element of uncertainty behind the print quality and durability you will achieve from one of these units. In particular, printing metallic labels with colour laser printers. The rule of thumb in these situations is to obtain a sample sheet to test.

Print durability from a thermal transfer printer

Thermal transfer printers are most commonly supplied to companies for printing variable data onto paper packaging labels in very high quantities.

However, they are an excellent method of printing labels with very high levels of durability in large batches or one at a time as needed.

Chosen for their compatibility with the widest range of materials, Thermal transfer printers provide the greatest label print durability.

Models range from compact desktop printers to larger, more robust, metal encased industrial units and you can print with either black or basic color thermal transfer ribbons.

There are many types of thermal transfer ribbons. To get the durability you need for laboratory applications, the matching of the correct durable ribbon to the durable label material is vital. This will ensure your labels and print will resist your application and process.

Even though your print may look great, if you get the wrong combination, it might not be durable.

In terms of durability, the right combination of label material and thermal transfer print can resist:

  • Extreme temperatures: -196°C to +388°C
  • Harsh laboratory processes: autoclave and sterilisation cycles etc.
  • Resistance to chemicals and solvents: such as Acetone, Xylene, Isopropyl alcohol (IPA)
  • Abrasion / frequent handling: through repeated use and direct contact
  • Moisture: humidity, condensation, damp

Printed label durability using an inkjet printer

Due to the slow speed and high cost of inks, inkjet printers are uncommon in the workplace. The durability of the ink is very low, so there is no market for high performance durable inkjet printable labels.

You may find synthetic materials that claim to be “durable” with a desktop inkjet printer, however this level of durability should be kept in context, i.e. the material will be tougher than paper, but by no means will it be tough enough for laboratory applications.

Handwritten Label Durability

Handwritten variable data on labels is possible and offers a flexible solution perfect for situations where the highest level of durability is required and you do not have the facility to print labels.

Handwritten labels are only ever as durable as the pen that you’re using. There are some specialist solvent pens available on the market that have been specifically designed for durability, to withstand exposure to chemicals and solvents.

Labels can also be provided with an easy to apply clear laminate that can be sealed over the top of your handwritten data to protect against harsh processes.

The durability of pre-printed data

As we mentioned earlier on, your durable label manufacturer may offer a fully or part pre-printed service, where they will print your design template and variable data or just your design template on your behalf.

Like with printing your own durable labels, the durability of the label manufacturer’s print must be considered for the application and end use process. Your manufacturer should tailor your print to your specific durability requirements.

If you are in any doubt about whether or not a pre-printed label will withstand the harshness of your application you should obtain either durability data or samples to test and evaluate for yourself.

Specialist print protection for added durability

Depending on the level of durability required, specialist print protection can be added when the labels are being made/printed, to ensure that the print stays put.

As an example, CILS uses 2 types of print protection to ensure that your pre-printing is durable:

CILS 3.0® Print Coat technology - A durable coating, which is only on the print, adding extra durability. It also raises the print and gives a great finish.

CILS 3.0® Print Guard technology – Print guard covers the entire label, adding an extra tough layer of durability to the pre-printing and the entire surface of the label.

Versatility and durability are achievable

In house printing offers versatility and is also a budget friendly option due to being able to use standard office equipment. The ability to print what you want, on demand, in high or low quantities also improves identification efficiency, saving time and reducing costs.

Our labelling specialists have helped 1000s of customers find the right computer imprintable durable label option for them.

Get in touch and we will help you decide on the printing route that is right for you, based on the level of durability needed, type of information you want to include on your label, your budget, existing printing equipment and the level of printing flexibility required.

Fill our our quick contact form, send us an email or call +44 (0)1903 219000.  

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