How are Labels Created?

Published on February 25, 2014

A Question we often receive at Label Power: How is a printed label made? We reveal exactly how it is done.

Over the years the process of creating labels has advanced to the point that you can now print your own labels at home, but what is the actual process that takes place in order to create a label? That is the question that many of our clients ask out of intrigue.

We reveal the step by step process of how labels are created and the different options there are in creating labels including the material itself, the print method, finishing and the application.

STEP 1: Getting the Material Ready

The first step to creating a label, is to get the required material to print on. That material is called the ‘facestock’ and is the main label material itself, bellow that is the ‘liner’ material from which the label is peeled off from.

On top of the facestock, a ‘coating’ is used if it is needed for extra finish or protection such as being water proof. Bellow the facestock is an ‘adhesive layer’ which is what sticks the labels to the surface.

Generally there are two different types of adhesives for labels:

Removable Adhesive: which means that once the label has been applied, it can be removed and re-applied in most cases without damaging the label.

Permanent Adhesive: This is the most widely used type, it means that once the label has been applied, it will not remove without damaging the label.

The most important choice regarding material is the actual facestock. One of the most common stock materials is the coated paper stock, this is simply regular paper with a coating which can be normal, gloss or matte and can generally tear easily. There is also the laminated stock which is made up of joining together two layers of thin plastic, which is slightly more durable than the coated paper stock. Then there is the synthetic stock which are made up of polyolefin and silica filler which is a strong material which is water resistant, smudge free and long lasting. There are many different types of facestock, all with various purposes. Once the stock has been chosen, it is then fed through a printing machine.

STEP 2: Printing the Actual Label

Next, labels are printed with the label design and other information. This printing is usually done on large industrial printers that produce labels by the thousands or millions per day. At times they are printed straight onto the facestock, at other times they are printed onto another material which is added to the facestock. 

Types of printing methods used for labels:

Flexography: This is a common printing method using flexible printing plates made out of rubber/plastic. The plates are wrapped around a cylinder and transferred onto the label material. A plate is made for each separate colour which means it can be a pricy method.

Thermal Printing: Uses a wax based ribbon to apple the print using heat. This form of printing is water proof although is not of highest quality.

Inkjet:
Produces images directly onto the paper from digital information using fine streams of ink, usually a cost effective option for smaller runs.

Laser Printing: Uses a laser beam through a lens onto a photosensitive drum which heats up the toner and prints on the paper. These are much faster than ink jet printers and are of higher quality.

Digital Printing: Is the process of electronic documents being transferred digitally from the computer straight to print. It can automatically adjust itself to print text more sharply and fill in gaps as well as print in high quality with bright colours.

An example of label printing:


STEP 3: Cutting and Finishing

After the labels have been printed, they are inspected for quality and then they are cut or laminated. All the processes after the printing are referred to within the Industry as ‘finishing’. This may include die-cutting (cutting the labels with a metal plate), perforation (cutting in a broken dotted line), waste stripping (getting rid of the outside non-cut/non-printed areas), quality inspection and packaging and shipping.

At times a lamination procedure will take place, which is when a protective coat is added to the labels to provide an extra layer against ultra violet radiation, physical damage, moisture or chemicals. 

Throughout the label creation process and particularly during the finishing procedure, a quality inspection will take place in which a visual inspection of equipment and the functioning of equipment will be checked for faults throughout. Labels continuously undergo a rigorous quality inspection to see if they match the required specifications and print quality in terms of measurements, colours and adhesive ability.

STEP 4: Applying the Label to the Product

Finally, a step that people often forget is the process of actually sticking the label onto the product which can be harder than one might expect. This process is mostly automated and carried out by machines which are created for this purpose alone. These machines are called label ‘applicators’ that can label hundreds of products within minutes with striking accuracy and can be bought for home use as well as business use. Popular brands of these applicators are the Benchmark, PMR, Primera and Towa brands which can all be purchased right here. Manual application of a label is possible but is not recommended due to the time consumption and unreliable consistency.

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