Labels 101: Choosing the Right Laminate

September 23, 2015 | Dave Washburn

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laminateUnderstanding labels is vital knowledge. A label is more than an effective brand ambassador. When used for critical information, a label’s failure in legibility, colorfastness or adhesion can create significant financial loss and even the risk of injury.

This is the final installment of our six-part “Labels 101: Five Key Elements of Effective Labels” series. You can revisit the first five posts in this series by clicking here or by exploring the links at the bottom of this article.

Extra protection for demanding applications

Some labels have it easy. They’re used indoors, kept away from moisture and chemicals, and aren’t expected to last very long. Other labels must survive the elements outdoors for years or are used indoors and exposed to moisture and cleaning solvents. This is when a laminate can help.

A label laminate is a clear layer of material added above the printed substrate. The laminate provides extra protection against UV exposure, moisture, chemicals, and abrasion. Under the right circumstances, using a laminate is an investment that can pay for itself many times over. A laminate can also be used to enhance the appearance of a label or provide a tamper-evident finish.

Not all laminates are created equal

Laminates come in a variety of materials, usually in a satin, matte or gloss finish. They can also vary in thickness, ranging from 1 mil for most applications, up to 2-3 mils for maximum protection against abrasion and wear. Below is a list of the most common laminate materials and their basic properties.

  • Polyester is the most widely used laminate and is available in many different thicknesses.
  • Polycarbonate is harder than polyester but does not have the same range of thickness as polyester.
  • Polypropylene is usually the least expensive but also the least durable, making it ideal for indoor uses.
  • Vinyl provides the premium protection, especially at 2-3 mil thicknesses.

A laminate’s adhesive properties

Laminates also have adhesive which adheres to the substrates they protect. Laminate adhesives must withstand the same environmental parameters as substrate adhesives. The type of adhesive required will depend on the label’s environmental conditions. Consult with your label supplier for the best results.

When durability is a must

The laminate on some labels, such as those used for equipment approved by regulatory agencies, must withstand extended durability testing. These tests can include 24-hour water submersion, 24 to 48-hour bake tests at 300°F, abrasion testing with a stone wheel and extended exposure to UV light. Even the loss of the dot on an “i” can be a failure in some of these tests. Ask your label supplier to provide test data when your labels are subject to regulatory compliance.

Eco-friendly options

Some laminates can be recycled. But laminates are used to extend durability, so it is counterproductive to look for biodegradable material—especially when the product on which the label is affixed is not biodegradable.

Making the right choice

The cost of laminates can vary widely, but the right laminate can save money while providing extended durability.  In some instances, a less expensive option like a varnish or aqueous coating can be used in place of a laminate. Consult with your label supplier to determine the best fit for your needs. Laminate is just one part of the formula for creating the right label. This “Labels 101” series provides valuable insights on other label components:

Selecting the right laminate, and other label components, is a complex process with many interdependencies that requires in-depth product knowledge.  Partner with an experienced label supplier to make the right choices for your specific needs. A good label partner will also review your current label program to ensure the right balance between performance and cost.

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