Permanent Labels vs. Removable Labels: Why Label Adhesives Matter

By Kevin Crimmins on April 27, 2018

Permanent Labels vs. Removable Labels: Why Label Adhesives Matter

There’s a lot more to ”stickiness” than first meets the eye. The type of adhesive used in a label can be the deciding factor in whether the label performs the way you want or whether it turns into a sticky (or not sticky enough) situation.   

Believe it or not, there is a science to choosing the right label adhesive. The chemistry of an adhesive will react differently to the chemistry of different types of surfaces.

These different reactions can impact your brand in profound ways. How? Consider the removable label. Have you ever struggled to take a label off something like a vase or a drinking glass, only to have a bunch of gunk left behind? You scratch at it with your fingernail, get a damp cloth and scrub furiously, perhaps even soak it in a sink full of soapy water, and still there is a section of that goo that just won’t budge.

Here’s the thing: That frustrating experience was 100% avoidable had the company spent a little more time with their label printer choosing the proper adhesive.  

When it comes to label adhesive types, three options are available: removable, repositionable, and permanent. Let’s dive into what you need to know about each.

Removable? When?

So, you need a removable label? That simple request is often actually not simple at all. Allow us to demonstrate with a story:

Imagine you want to put a label on a tree. You’d like the label to be easily applied to the rough, uneven bark of the tree. You’d also like the label last for years, even in the wind, rain, and sun. And finally, you’d like the label to remove cleanly, without residue.

That’s asking for quite a lot from that label! Now, this is an extreme example, but it illustrates that many factors must be considered when creating a removable label.  

Timeframe for Removal

First, it’s important to know the length of time you need the label to be removable. Will the label be applied once and left alone until it’s removed, or will you need to be able to remove and reapply the label if it’s accidentally applied askew? In a situation like this, you don’t actually need a removable label – you need a repositionable label (more on those later).

It’s interesting to note about 99% of adhesives build up strength over time. For some adhesives, that time may be relatively short – for example, there is a short span of time between when a label is placed on an apple and when the customer removes it. For other adhesives, the time frame is much longer, such as in the case of labels placed on cookware, decorative items, or other non-perishable items that may need to sit on a store shelf for several months but still need to be easily removed when purchased by a consumer.

Of course, the more expensive the item, the more this matters. If your product has a lower value, it might not make sense to spend the extra money on a removable adhesive. In this instance, perhaps you don’t mind if your customer has to scratch off a little adhesive.

Choice of Face Stock

Have you ever struggled to remove paper residue left behind when the label is removed?

This occurs when the wrong face stock has been selected. If a label is made from a weak paper but a strong adhesive, paper residue will usually be left behind. Most of us have had the frustrating experience of trying to peel endless tiny bits of price tag off a present before wrapping it.

A film label might be cleanly removable from a surface where the same adhesive on a paper label stock would have resulted in a mess of shredded paper and adhesive being left behind. That is because the film might be strong enough to pull the adhesive along with it when removed, while the paper might lack that kind of internal strength.

When A Removable Label Might be Best

A few common scenarios that warrant removable labels include:

  • Produce: When a label is applied to food, it must be able to be removed cleanly from the surface of the food. No one wants to eat adhesive left behind on tomatoes or pears!
  • Product labels and price tags: Nothing spoils a picture frame, a nice piece of china or a handsome notebook like a “removable” label that leaves behind a sticky outline of its former self. However, you may need the label to stay put for weeks or months of shelf-time.
  • Patient charts or other medical information: Because information in healthcare settings is frequently updated, removable labels make it easy to stay organized and up-to-date.
  • Car maintenance record decals: These stickers need to remain intact for several months and be able to survive numerous washes before they are removed.

Repositionable Labels

Repositionable labels often use an acrylic adhesive that can be easily removed and reapplied for a brief period of time after application. This helps ensure that human error when applying the label by hand does not result in a completely botched product. The ability to reposition these labels is a function of the chemistry of acrylic adhesives and the process the adhesive goes through to achieve a bond with the application surface.

When purchasing any labels, we recommend testing the adhesive/facestock combination on your application surface for 72 hours. This becomes especially important when repositionability is required, so you can see how easily it is removed and reapplied. This will save you from selecting a label that is not suited to your purposes.

Permanent Labels

Do you expect your label to stay for the long haul? Then you guessed it, you probably need a permanent label. As with removable and repositionable labels, there are still many factors to consider when making your selection, including:

  • Will the label be outdoors and exposed to the elements, such as on heavy machinery or outdoor signage?
  • Will your label be handled often?
  • Will it come into contact with cleaning products or other solvents?
  • What is the lifespan of the product, and how long does the label need to last?
  • What temperatures will the label be exposed to, both during application and in use? For example, will the label be applied to a beverage container that might be immersed in ice, or will the label spend most of its life in standard room temperature conditions?

By being informed about the different label adhesive options available, you’ll be able to make the confident and correct choice for your next label project. When in doubt, The Label Printers is here to help answer any questions you have. We’re happy to guide you toward choosing the right label for your next launch.


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Tags: Understanding Labels, Sustainability