What is a Label?

Labels are die-cut stickers or tags that ID, describe, and track information. They function as simple, ubiquitous tools used to illustrate critical information, provide guidance, and insights into the nature of materials, products, branding, and packaging. Examples we see around us daily of custom labels include food and drug labels, safety labels, branding labels, sterilization labels, etc. While a completed label appears simple in makeup, the construction of the label is far more complex than meets the eye. Consisting of several unique layers, customers must choose carefully as each choice significantly affects how the label will look and ultimately perform. Below, we will cover the basics of labels and how each can impact your product’s configuration and performance.



Topcoats are protective layers designed to shield the label from the environment while providing an attractive finish. The most common topcoats come in the form of varnishes and laminates.

  • Varnishes are resin-dissolved liquids that form a shiny transparent film when dry that offers weather and UV protection.
  • Laminates are transparent films that cover the face stock of the label, offering superior protection against UV, moisture, chemicals, or rough handling.


Ink is a solution containing at least one colorant, such as a dye or pigment, a carrier fluid, and a binder used to color surfaces to produce images, texts, or designs.

  • Water-based inks are generally the most environmentally friendly and affordable option, with mild to no odor. However, some inks, like dyes, are more prone to UV and water fading. Water-based pigments are more susceptible to rub and scratch failures.
  • Solvent-based inks are often superior for durability or when an aqueous option is impossible for a given application. Solvents do not require topcoats. However, solvent inks can emit significantly more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than aqueous inks, resulting in solid odors and being less environmentally friendly.
  • Specialty inks are subsets of the ink archetypes used in particular applications, including UV inks, zero scratch resistance, indicators, taggants, etc.


Choosing the right face stock is critical, affecting print and image quality. The face stock is the host surface text, and images are printed onto and are the primary construction component, giving labels their structure, size, and shape. The face stock is primary paper or synthetic.

  • Paper is a classic and inexpensive option for most general applications. Often used on clothing tags and jars, paper is a good choice if a label does not require exceptional durability.
  • Synthetic films are preferable for harsh elements or long-term use. Classic face stock films boast better flexibility and strength, including vinyl, polypropylene, polyethylene, and polyethylene terephthalate. Each type contains numerous subsets with different attributes based on molecular weights, plasticity, price points, durability, and eco-friendliness.


Adhesion is the propensity for two substances to stick to one another. Of all of the layers of labels, the adhesive may have the most significant number of options and conditions to consider when choosing the appropriate adhesive. For example: What are the environmental conditions? What binder type? Is the adhesive compatible with the face stock and liner? What are the VOC and outgassing levels of the adhesive? What surface type is the label applied (high or low surface energy)? Does the application require permanence, clean removability, or repositioning?

  • Permanent typically means the label cannot be removed without damaging the label or surface.
  • Removable adhesives allow labels to be removed intact without leaving residue or a light ring where the label used to be present. This allows for reusing without needing major recleaning.
  • Repositionable is an adhesive that can be removed and reapplied multiple times over its life timeline without fail.

Release Liner

Like face stocks, liners are produced from various papers, plastics, and recyclables. A release liner’s role in the labels includes:

  • Providing a base and protecting the integrity of the adhesive coating.
  • Carrying the label construction throughout the manufacturing process.
  • Carrying a silicone coating that releases the face stock and adhesive together lets the label come off the liner cleanly.
  • Serve as the base for any die-cutting procedure post-construction.

Cores (For Rolls Only)

The core is the ring used in the center of a roll for support to wind up die-cut materials. Core rings are primarily made of rigid cardboard or plastic, each serving different roles.

  • Cardboard cores are the industry standard. Paper-based cores are significantly more cost-effective, practical, and environmentally sustainable. However, cardboard cores can flake and cause tiny dust particles, making them unsuitable for cleanroom applications.
  • Plastic cores are primarily utilized in medical and cleanroom applications. Plastic cores protect against contamination from dust and debris often associated with cardboard cores. Generally, plastic cores are made from either high-impact polystyrene (HIPS), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS).

Chemical Indicators for Sterilization

Chemical indicators for sterilization labels incorporate chemical indicators to visually confirm the sterilization process completion. These labels go on to sterilization packaging, including pouches, wraps, or containers, to indicate appropriate sterilization processing conditions. Our integrated chemical indicator labels undergo distinct color changes when exposed to specific sterilization parameters, such as temperature, irradiation, gas, etc. The change in color or appearance indicates that the sterilization process has occurred and the contents within the packaging are sterile. CleanMark’s chemical indicators for sterilization labels provide a quick and convenient visual indication of sterilization process completion, allowing you to identify whether the packaged items are sterile easily.

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