How to Choose the Right Barcode Label

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Posted Sep 29, 2018, 8:52:09 PM by DecisionPoint Team & filed under removable labels, thermal printer consumables, creating quality bar codes, price label printing, ensure barcodes are readable, mobile printer shelf labeling, permanent bar code, synthetic thermal media, high density bar codes, choosing barcode labels

If you’re printing a barcode label, there are thousands of label types to choose from. But you can quickly narrow down your choices and find the right label by understanding the following key factors.

Direct Thermal vs. Thermal Transfer

Direct thermal printing is designed for applications that require a shorter lifespan, such as printing labels for office use or shipping.

Direct thermal printing doesn’t use ink, toner, or ribbon; instead, it creates the image directly on a paper label. This means the image has limited durability.

If you need a long-lasting and durable label image and/or protection against temperatures, abrasion, or chemicals, you need to use thermal transfer.

Thermal transfer uses a thermal printhead to apply heat to a printer ribbon. This melts ink onto the label, forming a much more durable image.

This process, combined with specialized label materials, can meet demanding application and environmental requirements. But, you need to choose the right label and match it with the correct thermal transfer ribbon.

Thermal Transfer Ribbons

Wax Ribbons are for applications with 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 when UL/cUL approval is required.

Resin Ribbons are for harsh to extreme chemical exposure and/or exposure to excessive abrasion, and when UL/cUL approval is required.

Application Factors

Label Lifespan

If 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 almost certainly required.


Different materials and adhesives may be required to adhere labels to curved or unusual surfaces.

Extreme Temperatures

Application temperature is the temperature at which you apply your label. Service temperature is the range of temperatures that your label is exposed to while it is in use.

Standard label materials perform well when the application temperature is a minimum of 25°F, and service temperature ranges from -65°F to 200°F.

If you’re labeling outside these ranges, you need to use thermal transfer printing and labels, and probably a specialty adhesive.

Abrasion Resistance

If your label needs resistance to rubbing or scratching, use a ribbon with higher resin content.

Applicator Use

If you’ll be using a label applicator, the label must be cut differently so it peels off properly from the liner. Perforations aren’t recommended because they alter label stiffness, making it difficult to release from the liner.

Chemical Resistance

If your label will be exposed to moderate to extreme chemicals, use thermal transfer printing and labels. In the case of harsh and extreme chemicals, a high-durability resin ribbon is also recommended.

Indoor/Outdoor Use

If your label will be regularly exposed to outdoor conditions such as sun, rain, or snow, it’s best to use a thermal transfer synthetic label.

Print Speed, Darkness, and Dots Per Inch (DPI)

Certain label materials and ribbons will cause printing to be slower or faster, and some combinations will require higher print darkness and/or higher DPI. Synthetic labels may also be needed for proper printing. Keep these factors in mind and ask your label provider what you can expect.

Getting Help with Choosing Your Label

These guidelines should help you narrow down the barcode labels you’ll need to consider. But if you’d like to get expert advice, download our Zebra label and supplies selector guide, and contact our team at DecisionPoint for assistance.

We’ll walk you through the selection process and make sure you choose the right label, materials, and ribbon for your application.

Contact us at 949-465-0065 or email us for a free consultation and recommendation.

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