What is a Pressure-Sensitive Label?

rotary-loop-applicatorConventional wisdom indicates that during recessionary periods, new businesses appear at a higher rate. Terminated employees strike out on their own, determined to take control of their future. For many an entrepreneur, they are in un-chartered waters. Custom Label works daily with these heroes of industry. We are often contacted with the generic question “I’ve got a bottle and I need to put a label on it!”. Just this week I was contacted by a start-up, and the owner said “my bottler told me I need a pressure-sensitive label, whatever that is!” In this blog entry I will answer that question, and help you understand how we ended up with this product called “pressure-sensitive”.

Early Labels:
For thousands of years mankind has placed identification on containers. As modern-day printing was developed it wasn’t long before a “gummed” label was marketed. As early as the beginning of the 19th century printing presses were used to manufacture paper labels. A gum adhesive was placed on the back and dried. It could be re-wet and applied to a product. In the 1840’s, for example, “self-adhesive” stamps exploded in popularity! While they were a novelty item then, their basic construction is not far from the “lick and apply” gummed stamps from a couple decades ago.

Automatic Application: Glue-Applied
With the industrial revolution manufacturing plants sought ways to automate their production lines. Hand-applying labels was too slow to keep up. To increase output, machines were invented that could apply glue to a label and then stick it to the product. For 50 years this basic technology developed into a high-speed method for applying a non-adhesive paper label to a package. Soup cans are an example of a “Glue-applied’ or “cut and stack” label. Glue-applied labels are very inexpensive, but the application process is unreliable, has low accuracy, and significant maintenance costs.

Pressure-sensitive (PS) Labeling is born:
Seeking an alternative to glue-applied labels, many sought a self-contained label solution that did not require a glue to be applied. In 1935 Stanton Avery began manufacturing self-adhesive labels. These materials had adhesive coated on the back of the label, and could be delivered on a release-coated liner. The liner was pulled around a metal “peeler tip”, causing the labels to shoot off the applicator. If placed close to the container (as it passed by on a conveyor) the label could be accurately adhered onto the product.

PS Labeling Today:
While nearly every aspect of package labeling has changed in the past 75 years the basic concept remains the same. As a printer we purchase material from suppliers who pre-coat the adhesive and create the PS “sandwich”. The material we receive has 5 layers:

  1. Ink-receptive Coating
  2. Label Substrate
  3. Adhesive
  4. Silicone Release Agent
  5. Liner

Here is a graphic showing how a Pressure Sensitive Label is dispensed:


So do you need a pressure-sensitive label? If you are hand-applying your labels a PS label give the highest quality and aesthetics for your package. For automatic-application, your contract packager or manufacturing plant can tell you if they will be using pressure-sensitive label applicators. Or give us a call at Custom Label and we can help you figure out whether pressure-sensitive is right for you!

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