Choosing the Right Label for Your Barcoding Application



There are thousands of types of thermal barcode labels, each with different materials and adhesives. To help you choose the right labels, here are some key considerations you should keep in mind.


Direct thermal printing doesn’t use ink, toner, or ribbon. It creates the image directly on the printed material. Direct thermal materials offer a shorter life than thermal transfer and may fade over time. They’re usable for some applications but offer minimal resistance to heat, light, abrasion, and chemicals.


Thermal transfer printing uses a ribbon to produce durable, long-lasting images. A thermal printhead applies heat to the ribbon, which melts ink onto the material to form the image. This technique provides image quality and durability that is unmatched by other on-demand printing technologies. Thermal transfer labels are resistant to a wider variety of temperatures and chemicals. To ensure the right resistance, the label material and ribbon must be carefully matched.


Thermal transfer ribbons are available in formulations for a wide range of durability requirements and labeling applications:

  • Wax Ribbons are used when there is little to no exposure to weak chemicals and/or moderate abrasion.
  • Wax/Resin Ribbons are for extreme chemical exposure and/or exposure to moderate abrasion, or where UL/cUL approval is required.
  • Resin Ribbons are used for harsh to extreme chemical exposure and/or exposure to excessive abrasion, and where UL/cUL approval is required.

Key Considerations for Choosing the Right Label

  • SurfaceSpecialized materials and adhesives may be required to help your label adhere to certain surface types or shapes. Curved surfaces are one of the biggest challenges
  • Extreme TemperaturesApplication temperature is the temperature at which a label is applied, while service temperature is the range at which the label will be used. Standard materials generally perform well when an application temperature is a minimum of 25°F and service temperatures range from -65°F to 200°F. Labeling outside of this range requires thermal transfer and normally requires a specialty adhesive to ensure the label remains secured.
  • Abrasion ResistanceA ribbon with a higher resin content will provide improved resistance to rubbing and scratching of your labels.
  • Applicator UseIf you’ll be using an applicator, the label must be cut differently so it peels off properly from the liner. Perforations aren’t recommended because they change label stiffness and make it difficult to release from the liner.
  • Chemical ResistanceA thermal transfer label is required if your label will be exposed to moderate to extreme chemicals. In the case of harsh and extreme chemicals, a high-durability resin ribbon is also recommended.
  • Indoor/Outdoor UseA thermal transfer synthetic material is optimal for exposure to outdoor conditions such as sun, rain, and snow.
  • Label LifespanIf your label only requires readability for a limited time and doesn’t need resistance to chemicals, moisture, and abrasion, a direct thermal paper label will meet your needs. Otherwise, a specialty thermal transfer synthetic label is required.
  • Print Speed, Darkness, and Dots Per Inch (DPI)Material and ribbon selection influence maximum print speed, and certain print speeds, printing requirements, and ribbons require higher print darkness and/or a higher DPI. Special materials, such as synthetics, may also be required to ensure proper printing.

Getting a Recommendation for Your Application

At POSRG, we’re experts in barcode printing and labeling and a leading supplier of barcode solutions and supplies from Zebra Technologies. Zebra offers hundreds of stock and customizable options to provide the right label, materials, and ribbon for any application. Contact us now for a free consultation and recommendation. Call us at 1-866-462-1005 or email

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