The life of a label is rarely easy, with labels enduring a ceaseless barrage of attacks.
If it’s not temperature extremes assaulting the adhesive, it’s pounding sunlight compromising the colors. If it’s not rough hands ripping away at materials, it’s moisture turning masterpieces of design into pulpy messes.
How much does label durability matter, though?
What Durable Labels Look Like by Industry
Industrial & Automotive
Industrial and automotive applications subject labels to some of the harshest conditions imaginable.
Just think about how hot a car’s engine can get … and then factor in the weather. The same vehicle buried under snow in January might sit bumper-to-bumper on a roasting highway in July.
Industrial environments are just as perilous. Moving parts generating friction and heat are everywhere. Caustic chemical solvents drip from every joint. And fast-moving industrial workers need to haul, load, handle and drive things to wherever they need to be.
Amid all these hazards, industrial and automotive labels must perform their critical roles, often involving keeping people safe by warning about dangers. Industrial and automotive labels also play regulatory roles, protecting companies from fines and lawsuits by complying with workplace safety rules and strict requirements governing colors, symbols and text.
Food & Beverage
Food and beverage products can encounter harsh conditions, as well. Temperature extremes and rough handling are common as food and beverage products journey from factories to warehouses, trucks, stores, trunks and refrigerators.
Some product labels, such as wine bottle labels, need to withstand months or even years of storage in moist cellars. (And high-end wine buyers definitely expect the product label to match the quality of the wine.)
Health & Personal Care
Health and personal care items often reside in steamy bathrooms where moisture and heat can cause paper to rip and ink to run. Other items — such as lip balm or headache medication — are purse and toiletry bag mainstays, where the jostling and squishing is nonstop.
As with food and beverage products, many consumers consider health and personal care product labels part of the overall experience of using the product. To these consumers, shoddy label quality may indicate an inferior product.
As if that wasn’t enough pressure, health and personal care labels must also impart regulatory information, such as usage instructions and active ingredients. Torn or illegible labels can risk customers’ health and safety.
Electrical & Electronics
Electrical product labels protect users from shock and protect the products themselves from damage. They also protect electronics brands from running afoul of regulators.
Regulations such as California Proposition 65 require labels to warn consumers about the health risk of product components. Another requirement, the FCC mark, indicates that the device does not electromagnetically interfere with the operation of other devices.
Regardless of the specific regulatory requirement, compliance labels should be durable labels that withstand time, rough handling, adverse environmental conditions and caustic solvents without peeling, tearing or smudging.
What Conditions Do You Need Your Durable Label to Withstand?
Let’s look at the science of why certain environmental conditions can wreak havoc on some labels.
Water dissolves the hydrogen bonds that hold the wood fibers in paper together. If you’ve ever come back to your car to find a flyer (or a parking ticket) disintegrating under the windshield wiper, you’ve observed this process in action.
On the other hand, synthetic materials such as polyethylene and polypropylene repel water (and have washable surfaces). These materials are also more durable than paper, making them good choices when conditions call for waterproof labels.
Hot and cold temperatures can weaken the adhesive bonds that connect product labels to surfaces. Fluctuating temperatures can cause the surface itself to expand and shrink, stressing the label’s integrity and tearing at the adhesive. (This can happen to any material, including wood, plastic, glass and metal.)
Vinyl is a good choice for outdoor labels that experience frequent temperature changes. Vinyl may be the most multidimensionally stable label material, meaning it can be stretched in multiple directions without cracking or peeling under the strain.
Sunlight is another destructive force with which outdoor labels must contend. Sunlight can trigger a process called photodegradation. When photodegradation occurs, the sun’s ultraviolet rays break down the chemical bonds that give pigments and dyes their color. You’ve probably noticed this effect if you’ve ever had a poster or art print hanging near a too-sunny window.
Bright colors — yellows, oranges and reds — tend to fade more quickly in the sun. So, if you want your label to remain vivid outdoors, consider cooler colors or choose fade-resistant inks. UV-blocking protective laminates are also available. For ultimate durability, you may need to consider silk screening.
The ability of an ink or coating to resist deterioration or destruction caused by friction is referred to as “abrasion resistance.” Labels that are handled frequently, rub up against other products, or are walked over (such as floor graphics), should have high levels of abrasion resistance. A clear film laminate – available in many thicknesses and aesthetics – will be your best option to protect against extreme abrasion.
3 Considerations to Help Your Label Withstand Harsh Conditions
People associate the attractiveness and durability of packaging with the quality of a product. Ripped, discolored, and peeling labels can trigger negative impressions of a brand. Brands that strive for an upscale image — makers of craft beer, fine wine, and luxury cosmetics, for example — should pay particular attention to the durability of their labels. These types of products are often display pieces.
In addition, labels often impart valuable information long after a product is purchased. Labels share ingredients and nutritional values, provide safety warnings, establish compliance with regulations, and tell brand stories.
How can you protect your label from the ravages of time, the elements and indelicate handling?
The Surface - Adhesive Equation
The ability of a label to adhere over time and to withstand the environment has to do with the complex interplay between three factors: the material the label is made of, the type of adhesive used, and the surface to which the label is applied.
There is no adhesive in existence that will hold firm to every single surface. Some adhesives work best with porous surfaces, such as wood or cardboard. Others are at home on the slick faces of glass and metal.
A mismatched adhesive and application surface can cause labels to peel — especially under adverse conditions such as heat and moisture. This is why one of the first questions your label printer will ask you is, “What do you plan to apply your label to?”
Your label printer should have expert knowledge of the adhesive properties of different materials, and even the variations within categories, such as the different types of plastic.
Label Materials Built for Toughness
If you’ve ever spilled a glass of water on important documents, you — unfortunately — know what happens to paper when it gets wet. It disintegrates.
The same principle applies to labels. Paper labels can look amazing, with a rustic, handmade quality. But when moisture is a possibility — beer bottles or shampoo, for example — paper may not be the most durable choice. Synthetic label materials such as polypropylene are much more water resistant.
If your product undergoes frequent temperature fluctuations, its surface will expand and contract. Think about a piece of playground equipment baking in the sun, for example, or outdoor machinery sitting on a frozen worksite. For this kind of environment, it’s essential to choose a flexible label material that withstand the expansion and contraction of multiple heating/cooling cycles while maintaining its appearance.
On the other hand, your product may enjoy a charmed life, experiencing few extremes in temperature or moisture. A good label printer will help you choose label material that fits your budget and your durability requirements (or lack thereof).
These Colors Don’t Run
The text and images on your label communicate critical messages — not the least of which is your brand identity. You need the ink on your label to hold up to the rigors of use and exposure.
Additional resilience can be gained by applying a protective varnish over the printed image. Even greater protection is found in the addition of a clear film laminated over the face of the label.
Your label printer will advise you on which colorfast inks and/or coatings will survive the longest in your product’s usual surroundings.
How to Ensure Label Durability: The First Step
Do you recognize a pattern here? Your most reliable safeguard against label breakdown isn’t one super-strong adhesive or a specific type of rip-proof material. It’s knowledge — specifically, the knowledge of an expert label printer.
An experienced printer will know the strengths and weaknesses of different materials, inks and adhesives, and will bring that knowledge to bear in helping you create a label that endures.
The earlier you start the conversation with a label printer, the better, though. No product or production process is the same, so plan ample time for testing and experimentation.
Do you need a label that can handle a dip in cold water, desert-like conditions, or constant pawing with grubby hands? Get in touch with us today, and we’ll walk you through your durable label options.