Self-adhesive labels, which may be pre-printed or not, can employ all the types of variable information print available today: the direct thermal, thermal transfer, inkjet (including flatbed), and laser print processes. They will often combine alphanumeric (product name or code) identifiers, for reading with the human eye, with digital identifiers such as barcodes.
The simple one-dimensional barcode has been joined today by two-dimensional barcodes and, based on the 2D technology, even three-dimensional barcodes. Self-adhesive labels can accommodate even the most advanced barcode technologies – even those associated with today’s product authentication technologies.
It is the mature direct thermal technology, which creates images using heat on a heat-sensitive substrate, primarily serves the retail market, particularly for catchweigh food labelling. It offers ease and reliability of use for short-life applications, and delivers relatively low-cost quality barcodes at reasonable print speeds. These characteristics also make direct thermal an obvious choice for transit product identification and tracking labels, eg for parcel distribution, as well as for outer case and pallet markings.
It is worth noting that, traditionally, Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been used in thermal papers as the standard image developer – but current concerns around its possible toxicity have led the manufacturers of self-adhesive thermal labelstocks to offer non-BPA alternatives for sensitive applications.
Thermal transfer, using ink ribbons with a thermal printhead, is one of the
most flexible variable information print technologies, due to the variety of ribbons and printable receiver label materials (many UL approved) available, and its ability to print in colour. It is primarily used in industrial applications. Inkjet print is now making inroads in the functional label market – with sell-by dates and other identifiers often added during the reel-to-reel printing of primary product labels for packaged foods on modular presses, which can include a digital print unit.
The actual application of a label to a pack may be accomplished, according to the application concerned, manually, or with a hand-operated labeller.
All in all, the self-adhesive label offers an unmatched flexibility and versatility in both straightforward day-to-day catchweigh labelling, and in advanced arenas such as ‘smart’ RFID labels and track-and-trace and tamper-evidence.
Self-adhesive label converters around Europe, and their labelstock suppliers, are both an excellent source of information on the extensive opportunities available to brand owners and other companies transporting goods across increasingly-wide geographies.
Whether variable information print label volumes are large or small; simple or complex; and whichever imaging processes they utilise; it is worth talking to a self-adhesive label converter to learn how any specific labelling challenge can, successfully and cost-effectively, be met today.
by Jules Lejeune, Managing Director FINAT
Functional self-adhesive labels for the food and beverage market