How to Choose the Right Barcode Label

Barcode labels are important supplies that enable accurate inventory and asset management and tracking for many industries, from healthcare and IT to construction, education, retail and beyond.
barcode label

Barcode labels are important supplies that enable accurate inventory and asset management and tracking for many industries, from healthcare and IT to construction, education, retail and beyond.

But which barcode label is right for your organization’s purpose? There are several types of barcode labels, which mainly differ based on barcode printer compatibility and the label’s durability and adhesion properties. Selecting the wrong type of label can prove costly and annoying if you’ve chosen a product that is incompatible with your business needs or your barcode printer. There are a few important considerations that must be looked at in order to choose the right label for the job – keep reading to determine the most important barcode label selection criteria.

Barcode Label Printer Compatibility

Thermal barcode printing technology is the most reliable and widely used option to print barcode labels. There are two different types of thermal barcode printers: direct thermal and thermal transfer. Both print high-resolution barcodes but deliver fundamentally different results and are selected based on the intended use.

Direct Thermal

Direct thermal printing uses a specialized type of ink, as opposed to ink ribbons, to print barcodes. Ink gets applied to the barcode label then the printer head heats up, using the temperature change to make the ink visible. With heat serving as the only catalyst for the chemical change, the resulting label will not hold up to extremely hot conditions, moisture or sunlight. Direct thermal printers offer a high-resolution barcode label best suited for short-term solutions, such as packing labels.

This goes to show that your barcode label choice and characteristics is directly affected by your barcode printer and vice versa.

Thermal Transfer

With thermal transfer printing, the printer heats a high-carbon ribbon containing ink to melt the ink onto the barcode label.

Thermal transfer printing creates more durable label products than the direct thermal method, ideal for long-term uses that require a label that can withstand hard conditions. Barcode labels printed via a thermal transfer printer will be resistant to smudging, scratching, moisture, excessive temperatures and sunlight. Without using such a printing method, a barcode label will most likely deteriorate over time, causing errors and misreads.

Evaluating Barcode Label Material Types

Each type of barcode label material has pros and cons that dictate its intended, ideal purpose. Note that in the case of thermal transfer printing, the barcode label you chose must be matched to its correct ribbon type. Failure to do so can result in inability to print or label smearing. Here’s a closer look at barcode label materials and their matching thermal transfer ribbons.

Paper Barcode Labels

Paper labels paired with wax ribbon printing materials can last a long time under the right conditions, and are best suited for indoor uses. The labels are best applied to a smooth, dry surface and be stored without exposure to extreme temperature and humidity conditions, liquids and sunlight. Paper barcode labels can tear and degrade easily. In most cases, paper barcode labels are easy to scan and won’t fade or rub off easily.

Paper barcode labels are commonly found on parts, inventory and assets that are stored indoors, such as on file folders and product labels.

Polypropylene Barcode Labels

A polypropylene barcode label is a synthetic option that can withstand harsher conditions than paper barcode labels. Printing polypropylene labels with a wax/resin printer ribbon provides a high-quality result that can come in a clear or matte finish.

Barcode labels made with polypropylene and wax/resin ribbon are weather, scratch and tear-resistant, and in some cases, chemical and oil-resistant as well. Polypropylene labels are best for non-flexible materials. And while they’re water-resistant, polypropylene labels are not waterproof. If your products will be squeezed or stretched, and submerged in water or continually exposed to humid/wet conditions, this barcode label is not the ideal choice.

These labels have a lifespan of six months to two years. They cost twice to three times the price of standard paper barcode label materials.

You’ll most commonly find polypropylene barcode labels on the following products.

  • Barrels
  • Floors
  • Baggage
  • Retail shelves
  • Pallets and cartons
  • Electronics
  • Machinery

Polyester Barcode Labels

Labels made of polyester and printed with resin ribbon are the most durable option. A polyester barcode label is able to hold up to extreme temperatures. Polyester barcode labels are commonly used for outdoor applications. They are abrasion, chemical, water and weather resistant.

Polyester barcode labels produce durable, easy-to-scan barcodes. You can print barcode labels made from polyester in matte or white depending on the look you need.

Polyester labels are used on materials, assets and inventory that routinely experience harsher or extreme conditions. These include but aren’t limited to:

Polyester is the most expensive label material due to its ability to hold up well in almost any environment. Selecting the right materials for your barcode label ultimately saves you time and money.

Evaluating Barcode Label Adhesive Types

Another important consideration that should help guide your barcode label type choice is your adhesive requirements, which are affected by the environment and surface requirements. The type of label adhesion should be chosen based on the operating and storage environment, which can be impacted by the presence of moisture and extreme temperatures. In addition, the adhesive durability should also be chosen based on the nature of the labeled item and its surface requirements.

Following are the three most common types of barcode label adhesive options: permanent, removable and high tack.


This is the most common label adhesive type. As the name implies, it’s meant to keep the barcode label on its product. Permanent adhesive bonds to the product surface and cannot be easily removed. It’s commonly used on wood, plastic, metal and glass.


Removable adhesive is commonly used for temporary labeling such as products or promotional materials. Removable barcode labels can be removed without causing damage to the product or material.

However, if left on for too long or exposed to extreme heat, removable adhesive can cure and leave residue or marks behind when removed.

High Tack

High tack adhesive is a stronger type of permanent adhesion designed to keep labels in place even when the surface is not uniform or clean. These labels are not meant to be removed and last a long time on their surfaces.

Companies use high tack adhesive where other adhesives don’t work. Fabrics or building materials that have different textures use high tack adhesives.

Consult with an Expert at BarcodeShack

Gaining an understanding of barcode printer options, label materials and adhesive choices is important to select the right barcode label for you. This blog is a great starting point to outlining and determining how your requirements and environment can guide your choice.

In order to make sure you’re getting the right barcode label material and adhesive for your business, consult our experts at BarcodeShack. Schedule a free consultation today to see how we can help you find the right fit for your barcode labeling needs.


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