An automatic label applicator applying a wrap-around label to a bottle.

The Most Commonly Used Types of Label Applicators

How many types of label applicators are there? Well, if you take into account every option, there are hundreds! Which ones are the most common? That depends largely on what you’re packaging and the size of your business.

Knowing how and where each type of label printer and applicator is used can help you narrow down your choices when you’re looking for new equipment. Here’s a breakdown of each applicator type based on how and where they apply labels.

Let’s Start Simple: Adhesive Options for Labeling Machines

The market is dominated by four ways of adhering product labels to containers. Each method has limits on label materials and compatible packaging.

Wet Glue Product Labels

Paper labels are applied using an adhesive that is liquid at room temperature. This type of application is mostly used for rigid, round containers, like drink bottles and canned food. Wet glue works well in high-moisture environments.

Hot Melt Glue Labels

Paper labels are applied using an adhesive that must be heated to become liquid. This application is best suited for wrap-around labeling on boxes.

Shrink Wrap Product Labels

Instead of using adhesive, this method wraps the container in heat-shrink plastic. The container slides through a tube of plastic label material and then a heated tunnel shrinks the plastic. This makes the label conform to the container’s surface.

This type of labeling is great for odd-shaped containers, and it covers more surface area than other application types. However, designs must compensate for shrinking, and the equipment is expensive. Shrink wrapping is mostly limited to large-scale beverage labeling.

Pressure Sensitive Product Labels

With pressure sensitive labels, the label applicator pushes or blows a pre-coated label onto the container. This adhesive is flexible enough to wet out on contact, requiring no additional processing.

Pressure sensitive labeling offers maximum flexibility, allowing manufacturers to choose from a range of face stocks, coatings and adhesives that fit almost any application. This flexibility makes it the most popular option for labeling.

Classifying Label Solutions By Automation

If you’re trying to decipher the difference between labeling solutions, it’s important to understand the differences in how they operate.

Manual Label Applicators

Manual labelers have to be loaded and run by hand. For example, a manual bottle label applicator holds the bottle in a cradle. Turning the crank or working a foot pedal spins the bottle and the label spindle, wiping a label onto the bottle.

Semi-Automatic Labelers

Semi-automatic labelers are hand-loaded, but the labeling process is automated. Labeling is activated manually with a switch or automatically with a sensor that detects containers.

For example, our tabletop wrap labeler lets the user load vials into a magazine. A star wheel picks up vials from this magazine and passes them onto the applicator.

Automatic Labeling Machines

Automatic label applicators load and label automatically. These machines can be fed directly from a conveyor belt. Depending on the type of container, the machine may need to orient the container for accurate label positioning. Electric label applicators like these are typically operated by a touch screen that controls the machine and shows project specs.

Choosing between these types of label applicator machines mostly depends on the size of the operation. While a hobbyist or small business can start with a manual labeler, it doesn’t take long for a semi-automatic labeler to make financial sense.

A heavy-duty, high-speed applicator is nearly guaranteed to be worth buying once production requirements start increasing. It often delivers a good return on investment sooner, as it frees up workers while eliminating loss caused by human error.

Classifying Types of Label Applicators by Application Method

There are several ways that a pressure sensitive label machine can apply labels to containers.

Wipe On Application

The wipe on application process peels the label off of the label backing and rolls it onto the surface of the container. This is the simplest and most common option. It works well on flat surfaces but it doesn’t work on all containers.

Wrap Around Labeling

Wrap around labeling is a form of wipe-on application that controls the position of the container. For example, a bottle labeling machine usually spins the bottle past the applicator, moving the bottle and label in sync for fast, accurate application.

Tamp Application

With tamp application, the label is applied to a tamp. The loaded arm extends, pressing the tamper label roll onto the container’s surface. This works well for flat and semi-flat surfaces.

Air-Blow Labeling

In this instance, a fan holds the label in place. When the container is in position, a blast of air pushes the label onto the container. Air-blow application is mostly used on uneven surfaces.

Tamp-Blow Label Application

Tamp-blow combines a tamp with an air-blow platform. Once the tamp is in position, the label is applied with a blast of air. This works well for odd-shaped and hard-to-reach areas.

Categorizing Label Applicators by Label Position

The shape of your containers combined with your label placement determines the best type of labeling method.

Wrap Labels

These labels wrap around the container. This is a popular option for cylindrical containers, but it also works on boxes.

Front Back Labels

Two label applicators positioned opposite of one another apply labels simultaneously on the front and the back of your container.

Top Bottom Labels

These labels need two applicators. One applies the top label, while the other applies the bottom label. Both labels are applied simultaneously. This is a popular option for fast box labeling.

Cover Labels

These are a single label applied over another label. Cover labels are used to hide incorrect information or add new information, as required. For example, you may need to add different ingredient information to a food product being shipped to another country.

Some machines can be configured for more than one position, or even apply multiple labels using several methods. For example, we make a dual action tamp that can apply two labels on a single product, such as a label on the leading panel and side panel of a case, with an option to choose to apply either or both.

The Two Types of Print and Apply Labeling

A print and apply labeler uses a print engine to add text and graphics to individual labels. This is useful for adding unique identifiers to each container, including bar codes, shipping addresses, lot numbers and best-by dates.

Inkjet print engines support two print methods. Direct thermal printing works like a receipt printer. The elements of the print head heat thermal paper, leaving behind black marks. This works well for information only needed for short-term use, like delivery addresses.

Over time, thermal paper fades and turns black, making the print unreadable. Thermal transfer heats an ink ribbon. This melts the ink, transferring it to the surface of the label. This is more expensive than direct thermal printing, but the print lasts longer.

We Have the Label Applicators You Need for Your Products

Are you looking for a better way to label your products? Contact CTM Labeling Systems, and we’ll set you up with your local distributor. They’ll work with you to find the right label applicator to fit your product needs and your production environment. Our wide range of machines are designed for everything from small vials to industrial pails (and everything in between)!