Stocking Up on Face Stocks

When most people think about labels, what they first “see” is the face stock – the material or substrate the labels are made of. Beneath that face stock come the adhesive and then the liner, aka carrier. A label’s face stock typically makes the first impression. Depending on the type of material the face stock is made from, the label can have a smooth, matte finish or a shiny/glossy eye-catching appearance. Much more than for aesthetic purposes however, choosing the right label material—as well as the right adhesive—are critical to the end-use application and the conditions that the label must withstand. Additionally, the label substrate often determines how the labels can be printed – that is to say, what printing technologies can be used. For applications that demand high quality, high resolution printing, you have to take into considerations the material’s overall surface quality.

Feeling educated? Speak to a label expert today!

Label DiagramAsk Yourself the Right Questions

To help narrow your search for the proper face stock, try answering these three basic questions first:

1. What are the conditions the face stock must withstand?

Understanding the end-use of the label is critical to knowing how specialized the material needs to be. Common indoor applications may be easily solved by a paper or plastic face stock, but what if your labels are going to be exposed to outdoor conditions? A special substrate, such as polyester, may be more appropriate. Extreme temperatures, weather, sunlight, grime, chemicals, and water are all external conditions to consider when looking for labels. In some cases where there are extra-rigorous conditions, it may be wise to consider adding an over laminate to protect the face stock and print.

2. Are color and transparency important?

Most face stocks are white to allow for easy-to-read printing with good contrast that facilitates barcode scanning. However, some plastic and polyester label materials also come in clear and metallized silver finishes, giving you the opportunity for either a “no-label” look or a metal tag-like impression.

Of course, you can often change the color of your label by simply having it tinted with what we call a flood coat ink. Whether attempting to create a more eye-catching image or to color-code for quick inventory identification, it’s important to consider which material color will work best.

3. What type of printing method and/or ink system will be used?

Label materials vary extensively depending on which printing technology is going to be used.  For instance, digital printing with thermal transfer printers is perfect for variable information, whereas if you need a large number of multi-colored product labels with static information, you may want to use a more cost-effective method such as flexographic printing. For thermal transfer printing, you will also have to find the right ribbon to print on the face stock, because the ink formulas vary to compensate for the various qualities of face sheets. You need to verify which substrates are compatible with the printing method you choose.

Paper, Plastic, Polyimide, Shoot!

Label face stocks are grouped into two basic categories: Paper and Films.  Films can be further broken down to include polyester, plastics like polypropylene, polyethylene, and vinyl as well as high-temperature specialty products such as Polyimide. The following chart categorizes face stocks, but it is by no means complete.  It is designed to give you a general sense of which type of material may be most suitable for you. You may discover, after describing your label application to our Label Experts, that they may recommend another type of substrate.

Paper Plastic Vinyl Polyester Polyimide
Common Uses Indoor use,
shipping & packaging
Shelf & Bins,
Freezer storage
Window decals
& bumper stickers
Outdoor applications,
machinery
PCB circuit boards
& electronics
Print Technology DT, TT, LZ, FX, IJ DT, TT, FX, IJ TT, LZ, FX, IJ TT, LZ, FX, IJ TT, FX, IJ
Chemical Resistance Low Medium Medium High High
Temperature Resistance Low Medium Medium High Highest
UV Resistance Low Medium Medium High High
Conformability Low Medium – High High Low – Medium Low – Medium
Cost  Low Medium Medium High Highest

Printing Technologies: Direct Thermal (DT), Thermal Transfer (TT), Laser (LZ), Flexographic (FX), Inkjet (IJ)

Electronic Imaging Materials