Durable labels can enhance safety, productivity, and prevent a host of problems caused
by using standard paper labels that are not designed for industrial applications
Although standard “office” labels are more than sufficient for routine applications like
filing, addressing envelopes, and shipping boxes, they are not designed to withstand the
range of conditions and hazards found in harsh industrial settings such as warehouses,
production lines, laboratories, or construction sites.
Yet despite the availability of more durable offerings, many continue to use office-grade,
“paper” labels for everything from warehouse racks and equipment to identifying
chemical containers. This is often due to familiarity with such products from business
settings, and perhaps an incomplete understanding of the significant differences in
substrates, adhesives and other technologies used to design labels for specific
Fortunately, film labels are available that are engineered to withstand harsh industrial
environments. Some are even tested and certified to meet existing safety and regulatory
requirements. These self-adhesive labels can be utilized for everything from barcoded
asset tags on machinery to location IDs on parts bins and affixed to a variety of surfaces
found in industrial settings such as metal, wood (pallets), glass, plastic and ceramic.
Paper Labels in Industrial Settings
There can be serious consequences to using standard paper labels in an industrial setting.
For example, exposure to moisture, abrasion, chemicals, heat, and even sunlight can lead
to torn, smeared, discolored, unreadable labels, or labels that fall off.
This can compromise safety, reduce productivity, and may lead to regulatory fines or
legal consequences. For example, a missing or illegible label could not only result in an
OSHA fine, but also serious injury and litigation if someone were to spill a bottle of a
harsh chemical or worse, consume it. Similarly, equipment damage, unusable product,
and downtime could result if the wrong solvent or lubricant is used in production.
Even slightly damaged labels can be surprisingly costly, such as when inventory barcode
scanning errors lead to misplaced equipment and inventory. Besides the cost of the label,
estimates peg the labor costs to reprint the label at $10-$20, with up to $100 more to
identify and fix any issues related to incorrect scanning.
Characteristics of Durable Labels
Although standard paper labels and industrial film labels appear similar at a glance, a
tremendous amount of R&D and testing goes into creating each product so that it works
for its intended application. Because of this, it is much more cost effective to use the
right label from the start.
“There are significant differences between office labels and industrial film labels,
including the materials and adhesives used,” says Tina Huff, a group product manager at
Avery Products, a leader in printable, self-adhesive labels. “For the best results, they
should work with a trusted supplier that tests labels for their intended uses and provides
specifications for resistance to water, chemicals, abrasion, UV, as well as service
temperatures on request.”
According to Huff, most self-adhesive labels are constructed of four key layers: a
topcoat, substrate, adhesive, and liner. “The material characteristics of each of these
layers determine how well typical paper, durable industrial, or any label, performs in its
workspace,” she says.
Since standard paper office labels are intended for an indoor environment, the topcoat is
not waterproof, and the paper substrate tears easily and is not moisture or chemical
In contrast, film labels can have a protective topcoat that is waterproof, even extremely
chemical resistant in some instances. The substrate is a durable, scuff and tear-resistant
film that can be made from materials like polyester and vinyl. The adhesive is high
performance permanent that is also waterproof and chemical resistant. While the topcoat,
substrate and adhesive can vary for an industrial label, each adds a level of strength to the
entire label “sandwich” construction.
To ensure products will perform properly in the field, companies such as Avery
scientifically test and evaluate how the labels stand up to a host of potential situations
found in industrial environments. These tests run the gamut, and can include exposing
labels to a variety of common industrial chemicals such as isopropanol, and hydrochloric
acid, as well as with cleaners, fuels, oils, lubricants, and salt water.
In addition to increasing the durability of the label topcoat and substrate, additional
innovations in label design and construction can improve performance further.
Avery, for example, offers labels with technology which ensures that if a new label with
TrueBlock® technology is placed over another label that has any printed information, the
old information does not bleed through which could create confusion, cause incorrect bar
code scans or simply make it difficult to read.
Another innovation, Self-Laminating Labels, addresses a common workaround when
using office-grade labels: covering them with clear tape in an attempt to increase
longevity. By offering true lamination that can be easily applied by the user, these labels
provide extra protection against abrasion, dirt, moisture, chemicals and UV.
For Natalie Davis, a Product Design Drafter and Safety Coordinator at Itasca, IL-based
Solberg Manufacturing, utilizing paper labels covered with tape clearly was not working.
“Our previous labels on our acetone and alcohol dispensers in the production area kept
rubbing off and had to be replaced,” explains Davis. “We tried putting see-through tape
over the labels for protection, but the incompatibility of the tape with the harsh chemicals
caused the tape to crinkle and the label was impossible to read.”
When Davis switched to Avery Self-Laminating Labels, she found it resolved any issues
of label readability and longevity.
“I put the durable labels with clear self lamination on all our dispensers, and after weeks
of use and handling, it hasn’t really affected the labels,” says Davis. “The label
information is easy to read and the clear lamination is easy to clean if it gets dirty. This
has improved safety and saves the time and expense of having to print new labels and
switch the labels every week.”
Global Harmonized System (GHS) labels represent another improvement in label
durability that can be critical to achieving compliance with new government regulations.
GHS labels, which are regulated by OSHA and established by the United Nations to
create a unified system for identifying and communicating hazardous chemicals, are
required on chemical containers, including smaller containers used in down packing.
When Lani O’Connor, a Safety Manager at Tollman Spring Co. could not find any small
GHS labels, “As a temporary solution, I began printing our GHS labels on regular paper
stock,” she says. “Since they weren’t chemical resistant, the ink would quickly smear
and run. I was spending a lot of time printing and replacing labels.”
After doing some research, O’Connor discovered Avery UltraDuty GHS Chemical
Labels. These labels were created to withstand outdoor use for up to two years, are tested
to be waterproof for at least 90 days and resist a wide variety of chemicals while
remaining difficult to tear. Due to the harsh environments these labels are used in, the
products are typically rub-tested with wet sandpaper.
“The first time the labels came out of our printer they worked perfectly,” says O’Connor.
“The labels are chemical resistant and are available in a number of sizes that
accommodate all of our GHS labeling needs.”
These industrial labels are compatible with laser or inkjet printers. Users can print in full
color using a printer they have on hand, without having to purchase a specialized and
costly thermal transfer printer, plus multiple colors of ribbons.
Armed with a better understanding of industrial labels, safety and facility managers can
now avoid the pitfalls of using office-grade paper labels in such harsh settings. By doing
so, companies not only eliminate the time and energy required for frequent replacement
of labels, but can also avoid potential confusion and the additional hidden costs when
labels become unreadable, fall-off, or otherwise fail.
For more info, visit www.avery.com/industrial.
By Del Williams
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, California.