Labelling environments: Challenges and solutions

26th September 2014 - Fine Cut

One of the first questions we always ask when working with a new customer is where the label we have been asked to produce will eventually end up.

The answers - as you might expect - are varied, and while this may seem like a routine query, the information gathered as a result can have significant ramifications on the design process.

But why is the environment the label is going to be exposed to so important? Put simply, it probably represents the greatest threat to the label's longevity.

Identifying what those risks are and how they can subsequently be neutralised is therefore essential. So, what are some of the common challenging environments that we have to consider and how do we go about ensuring they don't affect the quality of the end product?

Sun exposure

One of the main threats to come from the sun are UV rays, which can bleach a label and effectively make the print disappear, rendering it useless.

To counteract this, we use UV-protected materials - polyester is a typical case, because it has a UV application.

Another consideration when designing for a product that will end up being used in environments where prolonged exposure to the sun is an issue -  the desert, for example - is whether or not the adhesive will be able to cope with high temperatures. Some adhesives have ranges from -100 to +400 degrees C, so it's simply a case of picking the right one for the job.

Bacteria

For labels that are intended to be used in hospitals or in the catering sector, it's understandable that there has to be some thought given to the ability of the product to keep itself as free from bacteria as possible.

This is particularly relevant in the former area, as there are strict regulation around the prevention of infections like C. difficile, which are caused as a result of the buildup of bacteria. 

The focus on cleanliness to this degree means products need to have a antimicrobial quality to them, as this stops germs from collecting onto the labels and spreading. However, as well as fulfilling this function, we also have to think about how the product is going to withstand the strain of being consistently deep-cleaned.

Oil and grease

This is generally not so much of a problem, as most of the labels we produce are sub-surface print. However, what does need to be considered here is whether oil or grease is present at the time the label is being applied to a surface.

When this happens, it's important the surface is a clean, dry environment, so if it's in a kitchen, for example, the surface needs to be wiped down with an alcohol-based solution and dried off before the application process.

Cryogenics

We commonly encounter this environment in the medical sector, when deep-freezing is involved. Things go cold very quickly and, as a result, materials can become brittle, so you need to think about using more flexible materials.

One example would be to choose polyester over polycarbonates in a cryogenic situation, as polycarbonates will become brittle and likely snap, while polyester would be a better product to work with.

Salt water

As you can probably imagine, a salt water environment - which we would come across when designing labels to be used on offshore oil rigs, for example - is completely different to one in the open air.

In addition to the corrosive effect that salt water can have on metals (think about how much of a shorter time it takes for a car to rust when its regularly parked on the seafront compared to one that spends more time inland), there are also other external attacks the label is likely to experience - from barnacles, for instance.

Similarly, it might be the case you need a special adhesive that is suitable to be used in deep-sea environments. 

Experience and support

Not only have the team at Fine Cut accrued years of experience in the industry - meaning we are already aware of many of the risks associated with different environments - but when we're not sure, we also have an extensive network of support to advise us on the best way forward.

We regularly speak to a variety of contacts to get their input, ranging from suppliers and manufacturers to other customers and even competitors to ensure our products won't let you down. 

Posted by Simon Tourle

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