Key Questions to Ask Before Choosing Your Label

Feb 13, 2018 4:45:34 PM / by George Vaniotis, Ph.D

The Design of a Label

While at first choosing the right label might sound simple, the reality is, labels have evolved over the years to become complex in terms of their material, physical properties and applications. As such, what was once a straight-forward exercise has become quite daunting due to the large variety of options available. To ensure you pick the best label for the job, there are few things to consider, including the cost. Before deciding on which type of label is right for your unique needs, let’s review the basic anatomy of a label.Design of a label

Support Liner – This is the smooth non-stick base upon which the label sits. The liner protects the adhesive but doesn’t really factor into the decision process.

Adhesive – This is the “glue” that fastens the label to the surface. Adhesives come in a wide variety of formulations and have different adherence strengths and can also be made to withstand extreme temperatures and conditions.

Face Stock – This is the face and printing surface of the label, and serves as the backdrop for your information. Traditional office labels are made of paper, but thermoplastic film is the material of choice when label stability is a priority, providing waterproof and tearproof properties.

Topcoat – Not always needed, but can be used as a primer to prepare the facestock to accept different types of printer inks. Also provides an additional layer of protection against high temperatures and harsh solvents.

Laminate – This protective layer of transparent film is optional, but can greatly increase the lifespan and durability of the data printed on your label by physically sealing the facestock and print.

How to Choose the Right Label

When choosing the best label type to identify items in the lab, it’s important to think about the specific kinds of conditions and processing your labels will need to endure, as not all labels are created equal. For example, you wouldn’t choose a general-purpose paper label for a wet surface, nor would you choose a heat-activated direct-thermal face stock for use in the high temperatures of an autoclave. In order to pick the optimal label for your application, it’s important to make the following considerations.


What Printing Method Will You Be Using? – Will you be printing your own labels, having them custom printed, or simply writing information by hand? It’s always important to ensure the label type and print method are compatible. Laser and inkjet printers are often a convenient printing method, commonly found in most workplaces, they allow for the use of colorful, eye-catching images and logos. Thermal-transfer and direct thermal printers, on the other hand, are fast, with high resolution, ideal for serial barcode printing, and can print small batches of labels to fit your exact needs.

Choosing the right printing method

What Surface Will the Labels Be Applied To? – What do you plan on putting the labels on? Most labels are perfectly suited to stick to standard items found in the lab such as plastic and glass sample tubes, bottles, plastic bags, etc. However, you may need a label for metal racks in freezers or for hydrophobic waxy surfaces like the paraffin blocks used in tissue embedding. Perhaps you need to quickly label already-frozen cryo vials or wet and oily surfaces. Also, consider if the surface is flat or curved, smooth or rough, and if you need the adhesive to be permanent or removable.

What Size and Shape Does the Label Need to be? – How large is the surface you want to label, how much information do you need to include? The size and shape of the product your labeling, as well as the amount of information you need to print, will determine what label you get. For example, the sides of small diameter cryogenic tubes & vials require a label of a specific size and format to ensure it adheres properly while a circular label would be ideal for the top of the microtube. Conversely small PCR tubes will require their own type of label.Labeling a microtube, size matters

Are There Any Special Requirements to Consider? – Most importantly, it’s crucial to consider any exceptional storage, temperature, or processing conditions that the label will be exposed to, and how they may put stress on the label data. Will your labels be exposed to extreme temperatures, either extreme cold or extreme heat? Perhaps your label will come in contact with a number of harsh organic solvents and fixatives, and you need to ensure that the label and printed information remain intact, in which case an additional laminate may be required. In other cases, you might require a tamper-evident or blackout label for added security. Specialty labels have been created to accommodate all of these applications and many more.

At GA International, we develop customized labeling solutions for all of your requirements. To learn more, visit, or speak to one of our specialists by calling 1-800-518-0364 / 1-450-973-9420, or by email at

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Topics: Labels