Medical labels - the deciding points

03rd October 2017 - Fine Cut

Maintaining a traceable product or sample chain is of high importance within the medical sector and part of this is the labelling of medical equipment, ancillary parts, sample bottles, vials and other plastic ware.  The volume of label products on the market today can sometimes be overwhelming and lead to some confusion when choosing a label, this is a decision that should not be rushed or compromised due to information overload. 

What do you want?

Our informal short form guide for labelling within the medical sector should assist you in making a considered and balanced choice based upon your actual requirements. The first point to consider when deciding which label products to use is knowing what you require from a label. It could be that the most important thing to you is based upon the durability of the label, it maybe that you require a label that has excellent adhesive properties, it may even be a combination of the both. You may require serial numbers, barcodes, batch numbers or even colour coding, all of which are important factors to beginning to understand exactly what it is you need. 

Label Material -The essentials

Once you have this basic understanding of your requirement you can then begin to build other requirements to the format of the medical label, dimensions, colours and materials. Again, this is a vast challenge as there are multiple materials and print processes our there all clouding your judgement. During this article, we can guide you to making a decision based upon your requirements and your environment. 

When choosing a material, you will need to consider the environment that the label is to be used in and whether there are to be contaminants within this environment. A good example is that you would generally not use a paper label in a situation where the product the label is adhered to receives regular cleaning (IPA wipes) or similar. The normal recommendation would be to use a synthetic material or have a laminated top layer on the label. This option will protect the print and prolong the life of the label. Imagine a product label with part of the barcode missing or a serial number or batch code with a digit missing, the traceability would be compromised and the label would be redundant. 

Another thing to consider is how the product will be used and whether this would influence the performance of the label. Is the product being used outdoors or indoors? Will there be much handling of the product? Does the product get stored within an extreme environment? (Clean room, Cold storage, hospital), this needs to be part of the decision process when choosing the label. 

Maybe the label will receive lots of handling. so, consider using either lamination of the label or under surface printing to offer excellent resistance to smudging and general contaminants such as moisture, dust and cleaning. If possible contemplate using a recess to house the label, again this will prolong the life of the label and so keep the chain of traceability for the product.  

Adhesive Performance

When it comes to the adhesive there are numerous choices and factors that will affect the performance the main factor here is to choose an adhesive that suits both the product surface and the way in which you want to use the label. If you have a product that is smooth and flat and slightly porous then most adhesives are going to perform with an acceptable level of permanence. If you have a product that has a curve or irregular shape or something that has an oily residue on the surface then pick a high tack adhesive. Don’t choose a high tack adhesive if you are looking to fit it to a complex surface which may contain cut outs or angular areas as it will stick very quickly and be difficult to remove. This removal could damage both the product surface and label so if you are unsure it is always recommended that you test the adhesive prior to application of the label. 

There are also instances when products need to have little or no adhesive residue left on the surface of the product, especially within the clinical sectors, for this there are specialist adhesives that have a light coating of adhesive these are called “peelable” or “removable” both which are suitable and work on a wide range of surfaces. (especially glass). Again it is recommended to test all adhesives before you make a final decision to ensure it provides the level of adhesion you require. 

Print requirements

Fixed or variable data can come in many formats and colours so again knowing which best suits your requirements is essential as there is no such thing as a standard font or a standard colour. Data can be printed as text, corporate logos, barcodes and 2D matrix codes all using recognised industry standard codes.  Do you require a pantone colour, RGB or CMYK, it all sounds Greek and technical but in the print world these are important factors and if you know which you require it will ensure you receive a product matching your corporate or personal preference first time. 

The format in which the data is supplied also aids in the initial stages and brings a recommendation and product together more professionally, supplying a drawing as a vector file (AI or EPS) will enable your exact design requirements to be interpreted into a print ready file. This will speed up the artwork and thus bring our product to you more efficiently. 

All decided

So, we know the material and adhesive, the colours are agreed and we have the preferred file format all ready for the print process. So how do we supply this to you, flat sheets, rolls or cut as singles, this is another thing to consider so that you have a product supplied to you that fits with your way of working. The medical industry has many potential hold ups waiting around the corner but hopefully if you follow this simple guide of “knowing what you want from a label” the label will not be one of the hold ups, it should be a simple and seamless process which if followed will assist you in making the correct choices at an early stage.  

What do I want? Recap.

Firstly, consider how the product is going to be used, its environment, where the label is to be applied and the type of surface the label is applied to, could you fit the label into a recess or onto a flat area. Do you require a high tack permanent adhesive or an easy move peelable adhesive. What resistance is required against contaminants, abrasion or general wear and tear, will the label be used indoors or outdoors? Do you require variable data to be printed or a corporate logo matched to a specific colour?  If you follow all of these small stages and consider your requirements in full you should have an easy passage when choosing a product label. 

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