Label it!

Types of labelling machines

Each type of labelling machine is designed to fit into your life in different ways.

Personal label printers
Otherwise known as label makers, these are small handheld devices intended for use in the home, small office and small business setting. These machines do not have a high price point, and so are popular with those who don’t want to print a high volume of labels.
However, these machines print on special, often thermal, tapes which are expensive.
In the past, mechanical labelling systems worked by embossing pieces of coloured plastic embossing tape. A hammer in the shape of the letter caused an extrusion on the opposite side of the tape, and the raised plastic would discolour to white to provide visual contrast.
These types of machines have been largely displaced by electronic thermal transfer devices.
Such machines contain a built-in keyboard and display, and an integrated cartridge containing the label material (and print ribbon, if used).

Desktop label printers
Desktop printers are compact, relatively simple to operate, reliable and cost effective. These types of label printers are ideal for a wide variety of mid-volume industrial, commercial and healthcare applications. They are usually designed for light- to medium-duty use, and are quiet and affordable. They are available in direct and thermal transfer printer models, and are customisable.

Commercial label printers
Commercial label printers are used in medium-volume label printing applications, in business environments such as printers or graphic design.

Industrial label printers
These types of label prints are designed for heavy-duty, continuous use in places such as warehouses, distribution centres and factories. They are used to print vast quantities of labels, sometimes for oddly shaped components (such as the safety stickers on a child’s car seat).

Industrial portable label printers are used on location in rugged environments, such as construction sites and production floors.

How to choose a labelling device

Choosing a labelling device for your environment will depend largely on what you want to use it for. Perhaps you’d like to print out address labels, or improve your filing and workflow. Machines with advanced capabilities, such as barcoding, networking and custom printing, are more expensive than simple, handheld devices, so it is important to choose the right one for your needs.


Basic label makers have limited features in terms of label type, size or font. The more advanced the labelling machine is, the more customisation it will offer. If you plan to print different types and sizes of labels using various fonts and graphics, or if you want bespoke designs, then you will need a machine with advanced capabilities.
Other features to look out for include a print history that will store recent or frequently-used designs, and how many pages the device can print per minute. Some label makers can print barcodes, shipping tracking and laminated labels.


Label makers can be hand-held or large, static machines. In warehouse settings, portable models are useful for workers on the move. In an office environment, a labelling machine that sits on a desk will be ideal.
Labelling machines without a display screen or keyboard are not portable, and will therefore need to be plugged in to a computer to work.

Display screen and keyboard

Some label makers come with a display screen and keyboard, while others need to plug directly into a computer to take data from the machine. If you are considering a model with a screen or keyboard, make sure to look at the overall size. The keyboard must be easy to use, and if you want to see the entire label before you print it you will need a screen that does not have a limited character display.

Power source

Labelling machines run on either disposable batteries, rechargeable lithium-ion battery packs or with a power cord. If your usage is relatively low, disposable batteries are ideal. However, if you use your labelling machine frequently or want to run batch prints, then a rechargeable battery pack is more suitable. Machines may connect to a computer via USB, allowing it to charge while in use.


Labelling machines can be attached to a computer or network, either on a wired or wireless basis. If you are using desktop software to design custom labels, then a machine that plugs into your computer will be ideal. It also removes any limitations on fonts, symbols and designs. If there is only one labelling machine in an office with multiple users, then you will need a networking feature in order to improve workflow.

Print type

Label makers commonly use thermal printing, either by direct or thermal transfer. Some devices can switch between these methods.
Thermal transfer works best if you want to print in colour or if you want labels that won’t fade over time. Thermal transfer printers require the use of a carbon ribbon. This is transferred onto the substrate via heat. Ribbons can be different colours, and the printing is very crisp and durable. Thermal transfer printers can print on paper, film and even foil substrates.

Direct thermal printers require the use of heat-activated thermal papers and films, rather than a transfer ribbon. The print colour is limited to black, unless you buy treated labels that contain chromatic inks, and the printing is not as crisp or durable. Labels tend to darken with age and exposure to light. Direct thermal printing is popular in the food industry, where items are stored for short periods of time out of direct sunlight. This type of printer is ideal for labels with a limited life-span, where speed is more important than quality.


The more features your labelling machine has, the more it will cost.
When buying a machine, consider not only your business’ current needs, but its future needs to. It may be more cost effective to buy an advanced machine from the outset than to purchase a basic one now and an advanced one later.
The type of printing the machine does will also affect overall cost. Direct thermal printers are low-cost to operate because ribbon is not required.

When buying a labelling machine, you will need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What applications will the machine be needed for?
  • Will you use blank or pre-printed labels?
  • Will you need customisation features?
  • How long will the label need to last?
  • What type of surface will the labels be put onto?
  • What is your budget?
  • Does the brand you’ve chosen have a good reputation for quality?
  • What do you expect in terms of customer service and technical support?

Types of labels

Labels help all of us keep track of things, whether in the office environment or at home.
Different types of labels are created for specific purposes, and labels also differ in terms of materials, lifespan and adherence.

You should choose labels that are best suited to your needs and your budget.

  • Pressure-sensitive labels – these labels are applied by pressing down firmly on them so they stick to the surface. They typically have a release liner that protects the adhesive until it is pulled off. The release liner makes handling the label before application easier.
    There are three different types of pressure-sensitive adhesive labels:

    • Permanent adhesive labels – once fixed to a surface, such as a box or disc, the label cannot be removed without ripping. The glue on some permanent labels takes a while to set, allowing for the label to be adjusted if necessary. This type of label is ideal for mailing.
    • Peelable adhesive labels – these are removable labels which can be transferred from one surface to another. They usually leave a sticky residue behind.
    • Ultra-peelable labels – these labels can be removed without any sticky residue remaining. However, once removed it is hard to get these types of labels to stick to another surface.

Depending on which labels get used the most, it is a good idea to have a variety of extras on hand to use on everyday items:

  • Address/shipping labels – these typically come as blank labels in sheet form for mailing, and rolls for thermal labels.
  • Return address labels – these can be bought pre-printed, as the return address is typically the office address being shipped from. Extras can always be printed onto blank label sheets.
  • Inkjet labels – these types of labels are used in inkjet printers. They are typically blank labels on a label sheet and are often used for mailing labels or name tags. They generally print in black.
  • Laser labels – these labels are used in a laser printer. They are superior to inkjet-printed labels due to the fact that it won’t run or smudge, and they can be printed in colour.
  • CD/DVD labels – these labels are made to be put onto a CD or DVD. They are designed to fit around the central hole in disc.

Label materials

Office labels are made from many different types of materials. These include paper, plastic and thermal transfer, and the right type of label needs to be selected for the job at hand.

Litho labels – this is one of the most common types of labelling materials. It will stick to almost any surface, and can be removed from hard surfaces using water.

Latex labels – these are generally more flexible than litho labels and can fit around curves easily. They are permanent, waterproof and smudge resistant.

Plastic labels – these labels are made of vinyl, acetate and other kinds of plastics. They offer good strength and flexibility. However, they require special printing equipment as conventional ink does not adhere to them well.

Foil labels – these are made of aluminium foil. They come in bright or matte finishes.

Thermal labels – lettering is applied to a thermal label through the use of heat. These labels are sensitive to light and temperature fluctuations, and fade or darken over time.

Thermal transfer labels – these labels are similar to thermal labels, but they can be used in proximity to heat sources. They are also more durable and do not fade over time.

How labels are packaged

Office labels come in a variety of different counts, including individual labels, rolls and sheets. When purchasing labels, make sure to get those that fit the printing device or the labelling machine you have. If you’re unsure, check your user manual.

Individual labels come in packages to be used as needed for small jobs that do not require a high number of labels to be printed at one time.

Label rolls are fed into a machine that prints them out as needed. This is the most common type of thermal label available.

A label sheet can be ordered pre-printed, or can be printed on as needed. They are most commonly used for mailing and return labels. They resemble stickers when peeled off the sheet.

Storing office labels

Your office label stock should be stored in a cool, dry place. If labels are exposed to direct sunlight or excessive heat or damp, they may curl at the edges, stick together in the printer or discolour. The colour on printed labels may fade or darken to the point that they become illegible.

Designate a suitable storage spot in a storage closet to promote the longevity of your labels.

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