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Hidden Costs of Using Cheap Barcode Labels and Supplies

Businesses are continuously looking for ways to cut costs and boost efficiency, especially as labor and operating expenses are rising. Yet, one area that they often overlook when slashing costs is printing barcode labels.

Barcode label printing can seem like a simple proposition. However, many businesses tend to choose to use the most affordable option they can find. It’s understandable because it’s a reoccurring expense that will eventually surpass the cost of printers.

However, choosing cheap barcode labels and supplies is a short-term cost-saving strategy almost always creates much higher long-term costs. Not all labels are made equal. There is a wide number of labeling options available with sizes, adhesives, and materials that fit a vast range of environments.

In this blog, we will cover the importance of choosing the right rather than cheap barcode labels, supplies, and equipment. We’ll also review the impact they have on your efficiency and bottom line.

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The Importance of Avoiding Cheap Barcode Labels and Supplies
Using the wrong or cheap barcode labels and supplies for your use case can cause several problems. Labels can fall off, fade, or get scratched and smudged in your operating environment.

Cheap barcode labels and supplies are typically made with more abrasive materials that cause premature printhead wear. Cheap barcode labels, ribbons, tags, supplies, and hardware tend to output inconsistent, poor image quality. Re-printing and using darker colors cause damaging buildup on your printheads.

Moreover, low-quality labels tend to yield barcodes that are difficult for scanners to read. As a result, you’ll experience slower scanning and more errors.

As a leading supplier of printing and labeling solutions for over 40 years, AB&R has seen many of these issues first-hand. We have helped thousands of companies solve printing and labeling issues that were ultimately the result of using the wrong labels. These solutions helped our customers slash costs in the long run.

Our label solutions begin with a questionnaire that hones in on your business’s unique needs. It helps us find out details such as the surface the label will be affixed to, the intended use case, and more.

This approach prevents various issues that interrupt your processes, such as poor print quality, inefficient label adhesion, and low durability. In addition, it also minimizes the amount of printer servicing and repair you need to do.

The first step to improving your label printing performance and reducing costs is to research your printer options and their effect on label quality. To start seeing the bigger picture and taking steps to improve your label printing costs and performance, make sure you understand:

Printer types,
The importance of printer quality, and
How these factors affect your results.

The Importance of Printer Type and Quality

Direct Thermal vs. Thermal Transfer Printers

Direct thermal printers are ideal for labeling applications that require a shorter lifespan, such as printing labels for office use or shipping. They don’t use ink, toner, or ribbon. Instead, they create the image directly on a paper label. Because of this, the image has limited durability.

However, if you need a long-lasting, durable label image, you need to use a thermal transfer printer. It will also ensure that your labels can withstand extreme temperatures, abrasion, moisture, or chemicals.

Thermal transfer printers use the thermal printhead to apply heat to an ink ribbon. This bonds ink onto the label, creating a durable label image.

Combined with specialized label materials and adhesives, this process ensures your barcode labels remain readable, scannable, and securely adhered. Even if exposed to extreme conditions, they won’t fade or fall off. Moreover, you won’t waste time reprinting labels or having to track down assets that turn up missing because of a compromised label.

Once we’ve identified which barcode printer option works best for you, we will need to choose a suitable label. Then, you’ll need to match it with the correct thermal transfer ribbon. Here’s a quick look at thermal transfer ribbons and some key application factors to consider when choosing a label.


RELATED: Direct Thermal Printer or Thermal Transfer Printer

Thermal Transfer Ribbons
Thermal transfer ribbons are made with specialized ink formulations designed to match specific label materials and provide the best printing quality and durability.

When specifying ribbons, we work closely with our partners at Zebra. They provide over 5,000 combinations of ribbons and matching label supplies to deliver outstanding results for virtually any use case. Here’s a quick overview of the ribbon types we offer:

Wax Ribbons are for applications with little to no exposure to weak chemicals and/or moderate abrasion.
Wax/Resin Ribbons are for moderate chemical exposure and/or exposure to moderate abrasion, or where UL/cUL approval is required.
Resin Ribbons are for moderate chemical exposure and/or exposure to excessive abrasion, and UL/cUL approval.

Application Factors

1. Label Lifespan
Direct thermal paper labels are suitable for products that have a short shelf life and don’t need resistance to chemicals, moisture, and abrasion. Otherwise, you will need thermal transfer labels, and we can help you find the right fit from hundreds of Zebra options.

2. Surfaces
Different materials and adhesives are required to affix barcode labels to curved or unusual surfaces. So, it is important to consider the surface you are labeling when exploring your options.

3. Extreme Temperatures
First, it’s important to understand the difference between application temperature and service temperature. Application temperature is the temperature at which you apply your label. Service temperature is the temperature range when your label is in use.

Standard label materials perform well when the application temperature is a minimum of 25 °F and service temperature ranges from -65° F to 200° F. If you’re labeling outside these ranges, you need to use thermal transfer printing and labels. You probably also need a permanent or specialty adhesive.

4. Abrasion Resistance
If your label needs resistance to rubbing or scratching, you’ll want to use a ribbon with higher resin content.

5. Chemical and Moisture Resistance
If your label will be exposed to moderate chemicals, including water, use thermal transfer printing and labels. In the case of harsh and extreme chemicals, a high-durability resin ribbon will ensure print durability.

6. Indoor/Outdoor Use
It’s best to use a thermal transfer synthetic label if your label will be regularly exposed to the outdoors. This is particularly important if your label will be exposed to sun, rain, or snow.

7. Print Speed, Darkness, and Dots Per Inch (DPI)
Certain label materials and ribbons affect printing speed, and some combinations require higher print darkness and/or higher dots per inch. For proper printing, synthetic barcode labels may also be necessary.

Get Expert Help to Reduce Your Barcode Label Costs and Improve Labeling Results
A lot goes into choosing the right combination of certified barcode labels and supplies. But the good news is that you don’t need to find it alone. AB&R’s label specialists have decades of experience and can guide you to the right label for your environment. So, you can focus on running your business and serving your customers.

The right barcode printer and label combination set you up for success. That’s why AB&R trusts Zebra Technologies’ full suite of printing solutions to deliver the perfect solution to print, apply, scan, and track with confidence.

Contact us today for a review of your barcode label system. Our team will evaluate your current system and identify ways to improve your barcode printing processes.