When buying labels, you might see references to “pressure sensitive labels.” But what are pressure sensitive labels, exactly?
As it turns out, pressure sensitive labels are what most people think of when they think of labels. They get their designation from their mode of application: Pressure sensitive labels are backed with adhesives that form a bond between the label material and the application surface when pressure is applied.
In other words, pressure sensitive labels are the kind of label you “stick” on without adding glue or solvent or applying heat.
Why Are Pressure Sensitive Labels So Common?
From product labels to industrial safety warnings, campaign stickers to promotional giveaways, pressure sensitive labels dominate the label landscape.
Pressure sensitive labels are the go-to choice for countless label applications for four main reasons:
- Pressure sensitive labels are easy to work with, combining everything required for a functional label within a single package: liner, adhesive, face stock, ink and top coat.
- Pressure sensitive labels are available with an immense variety of face stock materials. Want a natural look with an unbleached, recycled paper face stock? Or maybe your label needs to withstand harsh conditions, like cold or wet. Whatever your label needs, there’s a pressure-sensitive label face stock that will do the job perfectly.
- Pressure sensitive labels are also available with an immense variety of adhesives. When Dr. Horace Gray invented pressure sensitive surgical tape way back in 1845, he used a rudimentary mixture of rubber, pine gum and turpentine. Nowadays, pressure sensitive label adhesives are scientifically formulated to perform specific roles under specific environmental conditions.
- Pressure sensitive labels are relatively cost-effective. With ubiquity comes affordability. Most label printers are well-stocked with a wide range of pressure sensitive label options. Practically any face stock material can be incorporated into a pressure sensitive label.
Related Reading: The Cost of Custom Product Labels: What Impacts Pricing?
How Pressure Sensitive Labels Are Applied
One reason to choose pressure sensitive labels is that they work with nearly any application setup. Pressure sensitive labels are as easy to apply by hand — simply remove the liner and press firmly — as they are to use with the sophisticated application machinery typically found in high-speed filling lines.
Smaller desktop label application devices, labeling guns, and dispenser boxes also accept pressure sensitive labels.
Pressure Sensitive Labels vs Wet Glue Labels
We should mention that while pressure sensitive labels are by far the most popular label option, they are not the only game in town. Alternatives such as wet glue labels exist.
With wet glue labels, the label material is coated with an adhesive during the application process. Despite the extra step, applying wet glue labels can be almost as speedy as applying pressure sensitive labels — provided you have the proper equipment.
Nevertheless, using wet glue labels means choosing and purchasing the adhesive separately from the other label components, an added complication and expense many companies would prefer to avoid. (There are a few scenarios for which wet glue labels may be better than pressure sensitive labels. An experienced expert label printer can help you weigh the variables and make the right decision.)
Pressure sensitive labels can do almost any job wet glue labels (or any other alternative) can perform. Moreover, when you choose pressure sensitive labels, you know somebody else has already done the work of determining which face stock works with which adhesive, which application surface, under which conditions and so on. By contrast, wet glue labels may require a longer period of trial and error as you test label components to find the right combination.
Are Pressure Sensitive Labels Recyclable?
More and more companies and their customers are getting serious about sustainability, especially when it comes to product packaging. (Product packaging accounts for over 28% of the nation’s municipal solid waste stream.)
Eco-conscious brands are understandably concerned about the recyclability of pressure sensitive labels. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer.
Pressure sensitive label adhesive is known to accumulate in conventional recycling equipment, gumming up the works and potentially contaminating the final product. However, small amounts of adhesive and non-recyclable material typically burn away during the recycling process. And the good news? Advances in adhesive and face stock combinations are happening every day, expanding your options for a more sustainable pressure sensitive label. (Your label partner should be equipped to provide you with these new and innovative options.)
Of course, labels are just one aspect to consider when assessing your product packaging’s overall recyclability. If your product packaging is not recyclable (or better yet, reusable), it’s unlikely your customers will remove the label and recycle it separately.
If you are concerned about how pressure sensitive labels will affect your product’s sustainability, ask your label printer about recycling-compatible label adhesives (such as the ones the U.S. Postal Service uses). You might also consider reducing your label’s size – and therefore its need for adhesive – to reduce the burden on recycling infrastructure.
Two Common Misconceptions About Pressure Sensitive Labels
In this article, we’ve established that pressure sensitive labels are an excellent choice for nearly any label application. Pressure sensitive labels are flexible, affordable and easy to apply — but that doesn’t mean you can mistreat your pressure sensitive labels without impacting their performance.
First of all, “pressure” means pressure. You can’t just slap on a pressure sensitive label and expect it to hold. A certain amount of gentle and consistent force must be applied around the entire label surface.
Second, it’s important to recognize that no adhesive will last indefinitely in storage, especially not under adverse conditions. Over time, heat, humidity, dust, and dirt will degrade just about any label adhesive. So, if you plan on storing your pressure sensitive labels for an extended period, prepare a clean, dry location with a suitable ambient temperature.
The right label printer can help you ensure the longest life from your pressure sensitive labels and help you decide whether pressure sensitive labels are the best choice for your label application.
How can you find a label printer whose expertise you can rely on? Start by asking the right questions. Launch your label printer search on the right foot with your copy of our free guide, “10 Questions to Ask When Evaluating a Custom Label Printer.”