How to Select the Right Barcode Label? – Essential Tips

How to choose the right barcode label

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Choosing the right barcode label for your business isn’t just about picking a size or material; it’s a decision that can affect your operations’ efficiency, accuracy, and smooth running. With the vast array of options on the market—ranging from different materials and adhesives to various sizes—navigating through these choices to find the perfect fit for your needs can be overwhelming. 

This article aims to simplify the selection process by providing practical advice and focusing on the key considerations that should guide your choice. By understanding these critical factors, you can make an informed decision that meets your current needs and anticipates future requirements, ensuring your business operates smoothly and efficiently.

To get started, it’s essential to understand the basics of barcode and labelling. Our articles on What is a Barcode?, Barcode Types, and What is Labelling? will come in handy.

Surface Considerations

Four product surfaces and correct labels for them

When selecting a barcode label, the type of surface it will adhere to is a key factor. Different materials require specific adhesives to ensure the label sticks properly and stays readable. 

Here’s a quick guide to help you match the label to your product’s surface:

  • Glass: Polyester labels are ideal for glass surfaces that often encounter condensation and temperature changes. Polyester labels have a strong adhesive that can handle moisture and fluctuating temperatures, ensuring the label stays in place and remains legible.
  • Plastic: Plastic surfaces pose a challenge due to their smooth texture, which can cause labels to peel off easily. Polypropylene labels are recommended for plastic as they are designed with adhesives that adhere well to smooth surfaces, providing durability and resistance to peeling.
  • Metal: Metal surfaces, especially those exposed to outdoor conditions, necessitate labels that can endure temperature variations and potential corrosion. Aluminium labels are suited for metal surfaces as they are durable, resistant to harsh conditions, and capable of withstanding temperature changes without degrading.
  • Cardboard: Cardboard is a porous material that requires a label that can slightly penetrate the surface for a secure hold. Paper labels are suitable for cardboard surfaces. Their adhesive bonds well with the fibrous texture, ensuring the label adheres firmly and remains intact.

Remember, the texture, porosity, and even the surface shape (flat or curved) play a significant role in your choice. For example, a label for a curved metal surface, like a pipe, must be flexible and have a strong adhesive to prevent peeling.

Material Selection

The material of your barcode label is just as important as the adhesive. It must match the environment where it will be used and what it will go through. Here’s a breakdown of common materials and where they work best:

  • Paper: This is a go-to for many because it’s cost-effective and works well for indoor use, like in retail or warehouses. It’s not great for wet or outdoor environments, though.
  • Polyester: If you need something tougher, polyester labels resist water, oils, and chemicals. They’re perfect for products that might get exposed to harsh conditions.
  • Polypropylene: Similar to polyester but usually a bit cheaper, polypropylene labels are also resistant to water and chemicals. They’re a good middle ground for durability and cost.
  • Vinyl: Vinyl labels can withstand the toughest environments. They’re great for outdoor use and resist UV light, harsh weather, and even abrasions.

Adhesive Type

Four types of adhesives

The type of adhesive on your barcode label determines how well it sticks to the surface and under what conditions it can remain intact. Here’s a rundown of the main adhesive types and their best uses:

  • Permanent Adhesives: These create a strong bond that’s difficult to break. They’re ideal for labels that need to stay put for the long haul, such as on assets or products that travel through harsh conditions. However, they’re not great if you need to remove the label without residue.
  • Removable Adhesives: Ideal for temporary labelling needs, such as price tags on retail products or information labels on rental equipment, these adhesives allow for easy removal without damaging the item or leaving behind any sticky residue. They offer a clean solution for products where labels must be removed cleanly and efficiently.
  • Repositionable Adhesives: Repositionable adhesives allow for adjustments following application, improving label placement reliability. If the label isn’t placed correctly on the first attempt, you can peel it off and reapply it. This feature is handy for applications where precise placement is essential but difficult to achieve initially, such as in intricate electronic components or during the initial setup of a retail display.
  • Freezer-Grade Adhesives: These adhesives are designed to withstand cold environments and keep the label in place even in freezing conditions. They’re essential for products stored in cold storage or transported in chilly environments.

Label Size and Shape

The dimensions and form of your barcode label are crucial for ensuring it fits your product and remains scannable and informative. Here’s how to consider the best size and shape for your needs:

  • Size: The label must be large enough to accommodate your barcode and any additional information, such as product name, price, and expiration date, without cramping. It should also be adequate for the scanning distance. However, balancing size with the available space on your product or packaging is essential.
  • Shape: The label’s shape should complement the attached item. For cylindrical products, a longer, narrower label wraps around smoothly. Square or rectangular labels work well on flat surfaces, ensuring the entire barcode is easily scannable without bending or folding.

When considering size and shape, think about:

  1. The product’s surface area available for labelling.
  2. The distance from which you’ll be scanning the barcode.
  3. The aesthetic and practical aspects of the label’s visibility on the product.


Durability is critical in selecting barcode labels, especially for items that encounter harsh conditions or require long-term identification. The label’s resilience against environmental challenges ensures its readability and functionality over time. 

Here’s what to consider for durability:

  • Resistance to Elements: Labels must withstand exposure to water, UV light, chemicals, and extreme temperatures. For outdoor equipment or products exposed to harsh conditions, materials like polyester and vinyl, known for their durability, are preferable.
  • Abrasion Resistance: In environments where physical wear is a concern, such as manufacturing floors or shipping containers, labels need to resist abrasion. Durable labels maintain their integrity, ensuring barcodes remain scannable.
  • Adhesive Longevity: The adhesive’s ability to maintain a strong bond over time, despite environmental or chemical exposures, is vital. Choosing the right adhesive type based on the application ensures the label stays in place.

Compliance and Industry Standards

Adhering to compliance and industry standards is essential when selecting barcode labels, particularly in regulated sectors like healthcare, food and beverage, and international trade. These standards ensure labels meet specific readability, durability, and format requirements, facilitating seamless operations and interoperability across different systems and jurisdictions. 

Key points to consider include:

  • Readability Standards: Certain industries require barcodes to be readable by various scanners and systems. This ensures that information about the product can be easily accessed and understood, regardless of where or by whom it is being scanned.
  • Durability Requirements: In industries where products are exposed to harsh conditions, such as chemicals, extreme temperatures, or rough handling, labels must remain legible and intact. Compliance with durability standards ensures that labels can withstand these conditions without degrading.
  • Format and Data Content: Some sectors have specific requirements for what information must be included on a barcode label and how it is formatted. For example, the healthcare sector often requires the inclusion of a National Drug Code (NDC) on medication labels, while the food and beverage industry needs nutritional information and allergen warnings clearly displayed. Ensuring your labels comply with these sector-specific requirements is crucial for operational efficiency and legal compliance.
  • Global Standards: Compliance with global standards like GS1 is important for international businesses. These standards facilitate the global interoperability of barcodes, ensuring products can be tracked and managed across international supply chains.

For those diving deeper into specific regulatory fields, we’ve compiled a list of articles for comprehensive guidance:

  • Allergen Labelling Compliance: Grasp the criticality of disclosing allergens in food products to comply with laws and safeguard consumers. 
  • Labelling of Alcoholic Beverages: Delve into the distinct labelling criteria for alcoholic beverages, from volume and alcohol content to health advisories. 
  • Country of Origin Labelling: Understand the significance of accurately declaring a product’s origin, crucial for consumer awareness and legal compliance. 
  • GHS Label Requirements: Examine the Global Harmonized System (GHS) standards for chemical labelling aimed at a consistent conveyance of safety information. 

Barcode Label Printer Compatibility

Selecting the ideal barcode label necessitates thoroughly evaluating its compatibility with your barcode label printer. This crucial step significantly influences your tracking system’s legibility, durability, and overall effectiveness. 

Here are refined considerations to ensure optimal compatibility. 

Printer Technology

Various print technologies, such as inkjet, laser, and thermal, are available for barcode labels, each with its own advantages. However, thermal printing technology stands out as the best choice due to its efficiency, reliability, and high-quality output.

Thermal printing is divided into two main types: direct thermal printers and thermal transfer printers

Direct thermal printers create images directly on heat-sensitive label material, making them suitable for temporary applications like shipping labels. They’re cost-effective since they don’t require ink, toner, or ribbons. 

In contrast, thermal transfer printers use a heated ribbon to transfer ink onto the label, offering durable prints resistant to environmental factors. This makes them ideal for labels needing longevity and exposure resistance, such as inventory and outdoor applications. 

Consider reading our guide, Direct Thermal vs Thermal Transfer Printers, for a comprehensive comparison between direct thermal and thermal transfer print technology. 

Choosing between direct thermal and thermal transfer printers depends on your specific needs, including the required durability of the labels and the environmental conditions they’ll face. 

Material and Adhesive Compatibility

The success of the printing process and the label’s performance significantly depend on the compatibility of label materials and adhesives with your chosen printer. 

Additionally, the label’s adhesive must be compatible with the printer’s operational temperature range to prevent issues like label peeling, curling, or printer jams, which can disrupt the printing process and affect label quality.

Resolution and Detail Requirements

The complexity and density of your barcode design dictate the print resolution capabilities of your printer. Barcodes that feature high levels of detail or are compressed into minimal space demand printers capable of high-resolution output to capture every nuance accurately, ensuring the barcodes are scannable and legible.

Such precision becomes particularly vital for labelling smaller items or barcodes that encapsulate extensive data within limited confines, guaranteeing their readability and successful scanning.

For optimal clarity and scanning efficacy, it is advisable to use printers with a minimum print resolution of 203 DPI for barcode labels. This level of detail supports the accurate reproduction of barcodes, ensuring seamless scanning and readability across various applications.

Label Lifespan Considerations

Considering the longevity of your barcode labels is essential for sustaining the effectiveness and dependability of your inventory and tracking operations. The durability of a label is determined by various factors, including exposure to environmental conditions, frequency of handling, the material of the label, and the quality of the print.

For labels subjected to rigorous environments or extensive handling, opting for resilient materials coupled with superior printing methods, such as thermal transfer printing, is imperative. This combination ensures that labels remain both readable and securely attached over time.

Businesses can finely tune their label selection process by thoughtfully assessing these elements. This approach allows for a strategic balance between cost efficiency and performance, tailoring choices to meet specific operational requirements. Consequently, this strategy promotes the seamless functionality of tracking systems, minimising the need for frequent label replacements or the risk of operational interruptions.

The Bottom Line

Selecting the correct barcode label is a critical decision that significantly affects your business’s operational success and efficiency. With various barcode label types available, each suited to different environmental conditions, surfaces, and operational requirements, it’s vital to carefully evaluate each factor discussed in this article. 

Making an informed choice ensures that your barcode labels meet your specific needs, enhancing tracking accuracy and inventory management. When selecting and designing barcode labels, remember that the goal is to optimise your operations for maximum efficiency and reliability. 

We trust that this guide has provided you with a clearer understanding of the critical considerations for selecting barcode labels, setting you on the path to successful barcode implementation.

Thanks for reading!

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does Barcode Label Colour Impact Scanning Accuracy and Readability?

The colour contrast between the barcode and the label background significantly affects scanning accuracy. High contrast, typically black bars on a white background, ensures optimal readability. Low contrast can lead to scanning errors or failures. 

For deeper insights into optimising your barcode designs and avoiding common pitfalls, explore our articles on Mistakes to Avoid When Designing Barcodes and Best Practices for Barcode and Label Designing.

What Role Does Barcode Density Play in Label Selection and Design?

Barcode density, referring to the amount of data within a given space, influences label size and barcode type selection. 

High-density barcodes require labels large enough to accommodate the detailed pattern without compromising scalability. This often necessitates precise printing capabilities and careful design to avoid data loss.

To learn more about barcode density, check out our dedicated guide, What is Barcode Density? 

Can the Orientation of a Barcode on a Label Affect Its Scanability?

Yes, the orientation of a barcode can impact scalability. 

Horizontal (picket fence) orientation generally allows easier scanning across various devices. Vertical (ladder) orientation may save space but require specific scanner adjustments for consistent readability.

How Do I Choose Between 1D and 2D Barcodes for My Labels?

The choice between 1D and 2D barcodes depends on the information capacity needed and the scanning technology available. 

1D barcodes are suitable for simple, numerical data, offering broad compatibility. 2D barcodes, including text and URLs, hold more information and are ideal for applications requiring detailed data in a compact space. Refer to our 1D vs 2D Barcode article to learn more. 

What Are the Best Practices for Testing Barcode Label Durability Before Full-Scale Implementation?

Best practices include conducting environmental stress tests, such as exposing labels to extreme temperatures, moisture, and sunlight, and performing abrasion resistance tests. These tests help assess how well labels maintain legibility and adhesion under challenging conditions, ensuring they meet the required durability standards.

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