From glass bottles, to cereal boxes, to medical specimens to cardboard boxes, the applications of labeling are diverse and numerous.
Labeling machinery has applications in a wide range of industries, including agriculture, chemical and laboratory, electronics, food and beverage, home and office, pharmaceuticals, and packaging. Industries like these use both individual labeling components and fully integrated labeling and packaging machinery. As in-line labeling systems, they are also a big part of conveyor systems and packaging lines.
We can trace the beginnings of the labeling industry to a few early moments and then gradual application increases. First, in the 12th century, artisans in southern Europe invented paper making. Then, in 1440 Johannes Gutenberg invented the first movable printing press. Shortly afterwards, as Renaissance universities grew and printers began to issue more books, bookmakers started putting labels on books. At the time, books were still quite expensive to make, so labels were a way of acknowledging who had paid for the book. Also, in the 1500s, merchants started attaching labels to their goods to make them easier to track and identify.
Towards the end of the 1600s, glass bottles gained popularity as wine containers. To control quality and to standardize bottle sizes, merchants from countries like The Netherlands, France and Great Britain created laws requiring wine bottle labeling. Thus, began the application of bottle labeling. In addition, during the 1700s, physicians and pharmacists (known then by names such as chemists, druggists, or apothecaries) began labeling medicines and medical containers. At this time, label makers hand-printed wine labels and medicine labels using wooden presses and handmade paper. They adhered their labels to products using glue.
During the Industrial Revolution, engineers developed a number of different machines and materials that helped expand the scope of the labeling industry. Examples of such machines and materials include the lithographic printing process (invented in 1798), the continuous paper making machine (also invented in 1798), the bottle labeler, gummed paper, and color printing (developed between 1850 and 1860).
In the 1900s, engineers invented new materials with which to adhere labels to products, making labeling even easier. Such inventions include pressure sensitive labels, self-adhesive label paper (invented in the United States in 1935) and shrink labels. In addition, they improved labeling machinery, developing labeling equipment, tools and systems such as hand-held dispensers, applicators, automatic labeling machinery, sealing machines, and fill machines.
Until the 1960s, self-adhesive labels were moisture activated. As such, they were not used on the mass scale. In the 1960s, that changed when engineers developed a variety of new types of adhesives and self-adhesive labels into the mainstream. In contrast to older adhesive labels, these were easy to put on (both manually and with machines) and easy to take off. In the 1970s, engineers developed the barcode label, which made product storage, shipment and purchasing much more organized, quick, easy, and reliable. They also developed a number of other so-called “intelligent” labels, which are small labels that store a vast amount of information that one can read electronically.
These days, labeling machinery is faster and more intuitive than ever. Thanks to advances like computer programming, label manufacturers can make labels that are more complex and detailed than ever before. As time goes on, we can expect labeling machinery to continue to be a staple of our society.
Labeling machinery may be as simple as handheld label or barcode printers, or as involved as systems that incorporate microprocessors and/or computer software. Labels may come out as stickers, tickets or tags.
Label makers are those machines that actually allow users to design their label. Users use them for sticker labeling, tag labeling, ticket labeling, and seals. Usually, they can choose graphics and/or lettering, label dimensions, and the material upon which their labels will print.
Label makers can choose from three grades of ribbon for this application: wax, wax/resin, and resin. Wax exhibits some smudge resistance and is appropriate for use with semi-gloss and matte paper labels. Wax/resin is fully smudge resistant and suitable for semi-gloss paper labels as well as some synthetic labels. Finally, resin by itself is scratch and chemical resistant. It is uniquely qualified to provide the ink for coated synthetic labels.
Label printers are the ones that physically produce labels. Printers offer a variety of compatibility options as far as printing stock goes, but it is always best to double check before printing. While some are limited to printing only on paper, others can process thermal transfer materials, metals, and foils. To work, label printers may use a number of different print mechanisms, including impact, laser, and thermal printing. Among these, thermal printing is the most common.
Thermal printers may be divided into two groups, direct thermal printers and thermal transfer printers.
Direct thermal printers print on heat-sensitive paper. As one might assume, heat-sensitive paper tends to fade as it is exposed to sunlight, chemical vapors, and direct heat. Because of this, direct thermal labels only last from six to twelve months. For this reason, direct thermal printers are only used to make short duration labels like shipping labels.
Thermal transfer printers, on the other hand, create much longer lasting labels, marked with permanent ink. Thermal transfer printers use heat to pull, or transfer, this ink from ribbon.
Label dispensers automate or semi-automate the process of removing a pressure sensitive sticker or glued label from the webbing on which it was printed. Often, dispensers are a component of automated applicators, thereby joining the removal process with the adherence process, during which a label is sealed, compressed, or heated into place.
Automatic label applicators automatically apply printed labels onto products. Usually, they are part of a conveyor system. Manufacturers use label applicators in high volume projects. With label applicators, they can use heat sensitive labeling or pressure sensitive labeling.
Barcode labelers are designed specifically to apply precise encoded tags, or barcodes, onto products. Barcodes offer a huge amount of information using a very small space.
Bottle labelers are one of the most popular types of labeling machinery. Manufacturers use them to label all sorts of bottles, vials, and jars. These labels may offer information about ingredients, they may advertise the brand, or they may offer barcode information.
Labeling systems can be further divided into three categories: industrial models, intermediate models, and handheld models.
Industrial models include those heavy duty or large industrial label printing and applying machines that are floor mounted. These machines, which are usually made out of a sturdy metal like stainless steel, are partially to fully automated and capable of continuous processing. To increase accuracy, manufacturers may equip industrial labelers with a photoelectric sensor, photoeye, that can detect the position of products as they move through assembly.
Intermediate models also print, dispense, and apply labels, but they do so on a significantly smaller scale than their industrial counterparts. Rather than being floor mounted, users usually place these models on a table or bench. Manufacturers may program them to produce just one size and type of label, or they may program them to produce a variety of labels. In addition, they may also feature a photoeye to help with accurate labeling.
Handheld labeling machinery models are designed for home, office, and small business use. Often called personal label printers or personal label makers, this label machinery is suitable for applications where imprecise labeling is not a problem, like when price tagging. Handheld models are available for singular labeling applications as well as variable labeling applications.
Labeling equipment offers its users a wide variety of benefits, no matter their application. First, labeling systems make labeling more efficient and cuts down on the possibility of errors. Second, by using labels, both business owners and customers who have completed orders can better track shipments. In addition, labeling helps businesses better count and organize inventory. Another benefit of labeling machinery is the fact that it helps companies comply with federal labeling requirements. Automatic labeling machinery also makes it easier for businesses to switch gears quickly and keep things moving.
Design and Customization
Labeling machinery manufacturers take all customer requirements into consideration when helping them select one or designing a custom one for them. Examples of those considerations include the size and accuracy requirements of the customer application, the material upon which they will be placing their labels, and the number and variety of labels they plan to print.
In addition, they must consider the shape of that which they will label. For example, some labelers work only with flat or squared surfaces. This is fine for most boxes, but this would not be appropriate for the tamper-proof labeling of a vial or prescription pill bottle. These items instead require machines that are designed for work with curves, edges, and round and tapered surfaces. In addition, manufacturers can design labeling machinery to include horizontal or vertical wrap labeling for those large packages that must be entirely wrapped. Learn more about what an individual manufacturer offers by talking over your application with them.
Safety and Compliance Standards
Labeling machinery itself is not necessarily beholden to a lot of regulations and standards but labeling itself is. The American government has been putting out labelling standards for a long time. In 1978, for example, Underwriters Laboratories and the American National Standards Institute came out with “Standards for Safety of Marking and Labeling Systems.” The updated version of these standards details the required durability of markings and the durability of labeling when exposed to chemical, wear and tear, weather, etc. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission and the FDA both regularly publish labelling requirements per the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1967. If you are shipping your goods overseas, you also need to make sure that your labeling adheres to the standards of the country or economic unions to which you plan to send them.
Finding the Right Manufacturer
If and when you are looking for labeling machinery, you need to work with an experienced labeling equipment manufacturer who can lead you in the right direction. The right manufacturer for you is the one that is not only able to fulfill your requirements but is able to do so while respecting your budget, deadline, delivery preferences, and post-delivery preferences. Find a labeling machinery manufacturer like this by checking out those we have listed on this page. You will find them, complete with profiles, sandwiched in between this information. Before checking them out, we recommend you take some time to put together a specifications list, so that you can more divide suppliers into your “maybe” groups and your “no” groups. Once you have put your list together, check out the labeling equipment manufacturers we’ve listed, and pick out three or four to whom you’d like to speak. Then, reach out to each of them to discuss your application. After you have spoken with each of them, compare and contrast your conversations, and pick the right one for you. Good luck!