The Ultimate Guide To Weather-Resistant & Outdoor Labels
If products are left outside, or stored in locations that experience extreme temperatures, their exposed labels may not last as long as intended. Confused where to start when choosing the right type of label for your product? This outdoor label guide will help in selecting the right inks, face stock and coatings to produce weather-resistant labels that hold up to harsh conditions.
Why Are Durable Label Materials Important For Products?
There are several reasons to consider durability when labeling items, but typically the biggest concern is in regard to warning labels. However, other labels & stickers still need to be factored in, as well.
In the U.S., warning labels must comply with 16 CFR 1500.121 and OSHA’s Hazard Communications Standard (HCS), which means that using the appropriate labeling includes making sure that any associated warning labels last the entire lifespan of the product itself (which keeps the product in compliance and resistant to harsh environments).
But, what exactly does “lifespan” entail?
Let’s say a business produces a chemical product that buyers then store in a shed or garage. After several months of exposure to heat and cold, the label peels off. Now the buyer isn’t sure what was inside the container and they don’t have the instructions or warnings on hand.
If that same container sits in the bed of a truck, it will experience heat, cold, UV light and moisture. Put it inside the cab, and it won’t get wet, but it will experience extreme heat in the summer.
So, in order for a label to last the entire lifespan of the product, a true weather-resistant label needs to take all exposure scenarios into consideration.
Keep in mind that even if the information on a product label isn’t required for safety, damage to that label can quickly make a product undesirable and unsalable. This is a major challenge for cold beverages—when they’re stored in an ice cooler and the label isn’t water-resistant, the ice and water break down the label.
Place the same container in a refrigerator, and it won’t be exposed to water, but it will still experience contraction from the cold. And, ultimately, consumers are less likely to buy products with damaged labels, and stores will throw out or return this “damaged” merchandise, even if the drink inside is still good.
Types of Damage From Harsh Environments
Storage conditions vary between products, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for product labels. Instead, be sure to consider how each of these factors affects specific use cases, and then decide which ones to focus on.
- Ultraviolet light from sunlight breaks down chemical bonds, including those that makeup pigments. Over time, this can cause the label to fade out.
- Heat can reduce the effectiveness of some adhesives, and in extreme cases, cause the label to warp.
- Water absorbs into untreated paper-based labels, making them expand. This results in wrinkling or splitting of the label, and separation between the label and the adhesive. Water also dissolves some inks, making them smear, smudge, or even drip off of the label.
- Ice does everything water can do, while also making the label contract and expand. This can warp the label and break down adhesives.
- The label may be exposed to chemicals, whether they’re inside the container or used in the vicinity of the product. For example, if you’re packaging motor oil, you don’t want a label that reacts with spilled oil.
- Abrasion is a common problem with containers that are handled multiple times or stored in a way that forces the label into contact with other surfaces.
Choosing a Resistant Ink
When choosing an ink, go for UV-resistant dyes. Using more pigment also increases the life of the ink, because, as the surface breaks down, the underlying ink will keep the print looking vivid.
Thermal transfer printing resists heat and light better than direct thermal printing. While it may add production costs to a print and apply a labeling system, it also creates a more durable label.
Face Stock and Coatings
Choosing the right face stock is key to creating a weather-resistant labeling solution, because it makes up the bulk of a pressure-sensitive label. There are several options for face stock materials, each with its advantages and disadvantages.
Standard paper labels are the most susceptible to water damage. While they’re often the most affordable solution for businesses, they are not ideal for exposure to outdoor or harsh environments.
Direct thermal transfer paper is required for thermal transfer printing. However, the same chemical reaction that allows thermal printing is also triggered by heat and light, causing the label to turn black over time.
Semi-gloss and high-gloss paper are shiny because they have a protective laminate coating. This coating makes semi-gloss/high-gloss labels more resistant to UV light, environmental damage, tearing and abrasion. And, since this protective layer is on top of the print itself, it protects the ink.
However, this protective layer also prevents the user from adding any additional print to the label once it’s applied.
Industrial vinyl is extremely UV resistant, strong, and flexible, making it the best choice for dealing with extreme temperatures. It’s also the longest-lasting: when properly prepared, this material can survive up to a decade of outdoor exposure. Unfortunately, it’s also the most expensive option.
Destructible vinyl has multiple layers that are nearly impossible to remove in one piece, making them a good choice for tamper-proof labels. However, this layered construction is also less durable than single-layer vinyl.
Polyester labels can withstand extreme temperatures but have low UV resistance. They’re typically available in either matte or glossy finishes, much like vinyl labels.
Polypropylene isn’t as durable as vinyl, but it’s highly resistant to solvents and oils. It also repels water.
While polypropylene can stand up to a lot, its simple structure makes it degrade rapidly when exposed to direct sunlight.
There are dozens of pressure-sensitive adhesives on the market, so discussing performance parameters with a trusted label manufacturer is key. Don’t simply take the environment into account. Also consider the materials/products that the labels will be used on.
Also, remember that every adhesive is different. A highly permeable glue that keeps paper labels on a cardboard box will have trouble keeping a vinyl label on a metal pail. Likewise, viscosity and elasticity have to be balanced so that the glue can wrap around the container and stay put while it dries.
How Does Label Application Fit With Finding a Durable Label Material?
Even the best materials in the world won’t keep labels in place unless those labels are applied correctly.
At CTM Labeling, we offer an endless variety of label applicator options, because we know that every business is different! For instance, our pail labeler combines a 360a labeler or 3600a-PA print and apply labeler with a large vacuum grid (which keeps large labels from warping while being applied to round containers).
We also make a labeling machine built specifically for bottles. This conveyor is designed to capture product within close-space vertical rollers, which helps to stabilize the product at high belt speeds and ensure a consistent label application quality without the need of long pitch spacing (typically required for extended length labels).
Have a small round container? Our versatile tabletop wrap labeler allows the worker handling final QC to load passing containers by hand, and a large infeed magazine keeps the machine fed as loading fluctuates.
Get a Labeling System or Label Printer Applicator That Works With Your Products
For labels that are going up against harsh environments, it’s not enough to simply create a high-quality label for the product; that label needs to incorporate the right material to ensure that it can resist even the harshest conditions.
No matter what you’re packaging or where your products are used, CTM Labeling Systems can provide your company with labeling machines that are up to the task at hand. Our local distributors will help you set up labeling stations that work with your custom labels, and ultimately ensure accurate and durable application.