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How to Select the Right Bar Code Printer Media

Selecting the right media for your bar code label printer shouldn’t be a secondary thought.  In many cases, your supplier will offer suggestions on approved brands that will work well with the model of printer you’ve purchased, and it’s highly suggested that you follow their direction.  Any printer manufacturer will tell you that the printer is only as good as the media you put into it.

Since it’s likely that you’ll be putting a lot of thought into the type of printer and model, it seems only fair to do the same when it comes to the label media.  To achieve maximum uptime, you’ll want to break down your requirements into 3 areas:

  1. What type of printer are you using? Direct thermal and thermal transfer are the two most popular technologies for labeling today (laser, dot matrix and inkjet are other print technologies, but not as popular for label printing for a variety of reasons).  Each is very different, requiring completely different label media.
  2. What is your environment like? Is it cold storage? Outdoor equipment rental? Warehouse inventory in the southeastern US? These are all aspects of your environment that determine what type of label would work best.
  3. What is the expected life of each label? Label material and adhesive are considerations that needs to be made if, for example, you are adhering the labels to an item that will be exposed to the elements, or a chemical wash.

Because bar code labeling has become mainstream, there are a wide variety of media types now to address the needs of each application.  The materials used are carefully tested to maintain print quality, overall label durability, and is put through the rigors of conditions such as:

  • Heat and cold
  • Moisture
  • Chemical exposure

To ensure that the label meets your expectations, you’ll need to examine the life cycle of the item being labeled and determine the level of durability you require.  This will not only give you assurance that the label will remain attached to the item throughout its necessary life, but that the bar code will be readable as well. This includes odd shaped or odd-sized items that need to be labeled, like blood bags, for example.  By investing in the right label media, you can also extend the life of your printer.

Marrying up the Print Technology to the Label
Once the requirements have been identified for the application, the next step is to match the type of label media to the technology of the printer that will be printing the bar code labels. If the media chosen is not a good match for the technology, the result may be poor print quality, damage to the printhead (the most expensive part in the printer), and unnecessary repair costs.  Poor print quality can lead to hard-to-read bar codes, which can cause bottlenecks in the supply chain and the possibility of customer charge-backs.

Media Material
Both paper and synthetic labels are available for use with both direct thermal and thermal transfer printers.  Depending on the application, you’ll need to consider which material will be most durable.  Part of the design of the label includes aspects such as:

  • Environmental considerations
  • Tear resistance
  • Aggressive adhesives
  • Moisture and heat resistance

If your application takes place outdoors or in harsh manufacturing environments, then this will be an important requirement to note.

Different Types of Bar Code Printer Media
Bar Code Labels:  Paper and synthetic labels for use with both direct thermal and thermal transfer printers.
Thermal Transfer Ribbons
: Great for applications where items will be used in direct sunlight or chemical contact due to it’s durability.
Direct Thermal Media: Does not require a ribbon to print, making it convenient when confidentiality is critical. However, direct thermal media fades quickly in heat and direct sunlight, so this media is better suited for short-lived used such as food product labeling and parcel delivery.

Honeywell offers a portfolio of media products under the Duratherm™ brand, which gives users the opportunity to match performance to the specific application needs.   Learn more about Duratherm labels here.

Other Types of Media:

Wristbands – Wristbands are used for patient identification in hospitals to reduce errors. The bands are highly resistant to hand sanitizers and other common exposures in this environment.

RFID Labels – Smart Labels combine the most current UHF inlays with a variety of thermal printable materials to offer a broad selection of products for a wide range of applications.

Customized Solutions
Some applications require special sizes, liners and even adhesives.  This is not unusual, and many label suppliers are able to provide exactly what you need.  Rely on their expertise to guide you on the best solution based on the rigors of your application (including operating temperature, necessary life of the label and what type of material the bar code label will be adhering to).

Examples of specialized applications include:

  • Clean rooms
  • Chemical baths
  • Environments where high humidity is present
  • Extreme heat or cold temperatures (outdoors, etc.)

Pre-Printed Labels
If you have special labeling requirements, or lack access to on-demand printing capabilities in-house, then working with a provider to pre-print labels for you is a good way to ensure compliant labeling.  These are often used in the following areas:

  • Retro-reflective rack labels
  • Labels for harsh environments
  • Serialized product and asset identification labels and tags

No matter what type of label you need, the first step is meeting with a label expert that can help you find just the right bar code label media you need that will keep you in compliance and keep your label printer working optimally.


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