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Printing labels yourself: what do I need?

  • Flexible and on-demand: An in-house label printer allows labels to be printed directly on-site and with variable data when there is an acute need.

  • Versatile: Self-printed labels offer numerous application possibilities, for example in the sales, warehouse and logistics areas.

  • Printing equipment for every need: each printing device and process offers specific advantages, from print quality to cost savings.

  • Up-to-Date: Thanks to modern design software, labels with information such as consecutive numbering, database entries and QR and barcodes are particularly easy to design.


Labels may be a simple invention, but it is hard to imagine life without them. After all, the adhesive labels are used everywhere where identification is important and necessary - and thus ensure order and safety.

What information the labels carry depends entirely on the area of application. In addition, the exact data is often only known when the need for labelling arises. Therefore, it is common practice in many situations to print labels yourself, for example in the sales, storage and transport areas of many companies.

 

WHAT DO I HAVE TO CONSIDER IF I WANT TO PRINT LABELS MYSELF?

Modern label printers are compact, easy to operate and increasingly affordable. This makes it easier than ever to print labels yourself - at least as long as the labelling aspect is in the foreground and there are no high demands on aesthetics and haptics.

Nevertheless, there are some important things to consider beforehand. For example, the planned area of application for the label, the properties of the surfaces to be covered and various legal regulations provide information about which label materials and printing processes are available. Here are a few examples:

 

The application area

Shipping, storage and transport labels, for example, are only used for a limited time. The material and the print on the label, therefore, do not have to be particularly durable. Paper and single-colour printing are therefore usually sufficient, even if the colour slowly fades over time.

Labels used for hazard identification , for example, on the other hand, should be much more resistant, especially to scratching, moisture and lubricants. Plastic is clearly superior to paper in this respect. In addition, multicolored printing ensures better perception due to the signal effect of bright colours.

Legal regulations

For certain applications of labels, there are legal regulations that must be complied with. One example of this is the HACCP standards for food labels – these include guidelines for preventing the migration of label material and printing ink.

 

The properties of the target surfaces

Labels can only do their job if they adhere securely to the surface for which they are intended. However, every surface material has special properties, whether paper, wood, glass, metal or plastic.

When selecting materials, these must be taken into account in that factors such as the

 
  • Curvature,
  • Flexibility,
  • Surface texture,
  • Temperature (as for refrigerated goods) and
  • the absorbency


of the target surfaces influence the adhesive strength of the label. There is also the question of whether the label should be permanently adhesive or removable without leaving residue.

 

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED FOR LABEL PRINTING?

To be able to print labels yourself, you first need the right equipment, most importantly a label printer and suitable labels that are compatible with it. Depending on the printing process and application, additional printing accessories such as ribbons or ink cartridges may also be necessary, as well as the use of special design software.

 

Label printer: inkjet or thermal printer?

Basically, there are different types of printers to choose from when it comes to printing labels yourself. Which device is best suited, depends largely on the requirements that the printed labels must meet. Depending on the printing process, the results can vary considerably. Particular attention is paid to the print quality and the durability of the imprint.

Inkjet printers, as we know them from our desks in the office and at home, are also available in compact label printer format. This means that although inkjet printers are generally suitable for label printing, they are only worthwhile under certain conditions.

A major advantage of inkjet printing is that it achieves a very sharp print image in all colours of the CMYK palette. In addition, the colours fade only very slowly when exposed to light. The print quality is therefore high, but it does come at a price.

Thermal printers: A distinction is made here between two printing processes:

 
  • the direct thermal printing
  • the thermal transfer printing,


and both are thermal printing processes that use a temperature-sensitive material and a hot print head called a thermal comb.


In direct thermal printing a special thermal paper is heated selectively with the aid of the print head so that the colour changes at the heated points. No other materials such as ink ribbons, cartridges or toner are required.

Numbers, letters, grids and other simple motifs can be printed cost-effectively in this way, albeit only in one color. The imprint is also sensitive to light and heat and fades over time. This process is therefore mainly used for printing labels with a short service life:

 
  • Address and shipping labels for letter and parcel shipments

  • Price labels

  • Luggage labels

  • Labels for scales

  • Barcode labels



 

In thermal transfer printing , on the other hand, ink is transferred from a thermosensitive ribbon - the thermal transfer film - to a label material to be printed by the heat effect of the print head.

Printing is also monochrome, but a much better print image can be achieved than with direct thermal printing. Plastic labels can also be

printed, which have a much longer shelf life than their paper counterparts. Typical applications include the marking of:
 

  • Electrical devices and machines (e.g. type plates, warning notices)

  • Shipped goods (e.g. for product identification and tracking)

  • Foods (including frozen goods)

  • Components and construction equipment

  • Inventory and work equipment in laboratories

  • Storage and transport goods (e.g. pallets)

Important: Only a few thermal printers are capable of performing both thermal printing processes. When purchasing, it is therefore important to note whether the device supports direct printing, transfer printing or both processes.

In addition, thermal printers are available in various designs: Office printers are inexpensive and score points above all for their compact format. If, on the other hand, the focus is on performance, industrial printers for warehouses, sales and logistics are convincing with particularly high printing speeds.
 

Printable labels: paper, plastic or thermal paper?

Labels for inkjet printing are usually made of paper. Alternatively, labels made of certain plastics can also be provided with colourful ink, lettering and motifs using inkjet printing. One example of this is labels made of specially coated polyester film. However, the water-resistance and durability of the print depend to a large extent on the ink used.

Labels for direct thermal printing are always made of paper. The choice of materials for thermal labels is therefore extremely limited. Concerning the papers, however, there is some freedom of choice with regard to grammage, colour and pre-treatment.



 

Labels for thermal transfer printing can be made of both paper and plastic. Plastic labels have the advantage that they are more robust and more resistant to moisture, oils, chemicals and temperature fluctuations – in other words, much higher quality and longer-lasting than conventional paper labels.

In addition to the label material, however, thermal transfer printing requires ink ribbons made of wax, resin or wax-resin. Here, there are also significant differences in quality:

 


Blank vs. preprinted labels: Regardless of the respective printing process and label material, there is usually the option of choosing between unprinted blank labels or labels with preprint. This means, for example, that thermal labels that can only be printed in one colour can also be designed in a visually appealing way - variable data is then simply added to them on site.

Software for label design

There is a wide variety of software for designing labels. A program designed specifically for label printing is not always used for this purpose. Labels that contain only sequential numbering, product designation or item number can even be designed with conventional word processing programs.

However, this is more difficult if, for example, QR or barcodes are to be generated and scaled. In such cases, it is advisable to use special graphics software for labels that has the corresponding functions. Programs that enable the integration of databases are also particularly helpful and time-saving.


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