The Cause of Curling Labels

There is little more frustrating than being ready to apply your labels to your products or parcels, only to find that they are no longer sticking as they should. Although you may think that the label sheet is the problem, you may be surprised at the real cause.


When inkjet and other label types curl, it’s usually because of changes in the levels of moisture. But there is also something else. In the case of integrated labels, the label’s paper doesn’t lose or gain moisture at the same rate as its silicone layer does. With one tending to shrink and expand at a faster rate than the other, curling is the result.

But what could be causing the moisture? It’s in how and where the labels have been or are being stored. A damp and cold warehouse, for example, is a label’s worst enemy. But when labels are removed from that warehouse and placed inside a warm and dry vehicle or office, the problem becomes that much worse.

Worse still are labels stored in a cold environment which are then transferred directly to the laser printers in a printing house. These printers typically run at up to 200 degrees, and the sudden increase in heat can render many types of labels unusable.

The Good News

Although moisture can do a lot of damage, the good news is that it’s completely preventable. The easiest way to prevent moisture damage and unusable labels is to ensure they’re properly stored. Ideally, labels should be stored between 10 and 25°C, with humidity being no less than 35%, and no more than 65%.

Of course, no one can guarantee these kinds of temperatures and humidity levels, let alone have the capability for the continuous measurement of humidity and temperature. But if labels can be stored in as close to the above temperatures as possible, it can prevent labels from curling.

Acclimation Matters

Giving labels time to adjust to temperatures before moving or printing on them is another way to prevent curling. Any labels that you plan on printing should be placed into the printing environment at least 48 hours before printing. Shrink-wrapped labels should sit for 24 hours with their box lids on, and an additional 24 hours with their lids off. This will allow for the gradual and complete acclimation of paper, silicone and adhesive to temperature.

Label Quality

The quality of the labels you buy can also contribute to their potential for curling. There are many types of labels on the market, but if you are getting your labels printed by a company, the best advice is to ask them about the kinds of labels they use. They will likely use a brand name that’s guaranteed to be of consistent quality, eliminating all of the guesswork for you.

If going it on your own, it’s important to know what to look for when choosing the best labels for your application.

Label Specifications

To begin with, the paper your labels are created with is the first thing to think about. Your labels should be printed on as dry a paper stock as possible, such as 90 gsm pre-print laser bond paper. The drier the paper stock, the less likely curling is to be, and the more consistent a print you will get.

If using integrated labels, you must ensure that the silicone backing is as high in quality as possible. The best backing will be thick and strong, as well as being moisture-resistant. Similarly, the adhesive on your labels should have some kind of guarantee to stick the first time, and for the long term.

The best place to get advice about your labels is from those who have lots of experience in dealing with them. Talking to experts can save you a lot of time and money.

Laminate Thickness and your Printed Materials

Any printed piece which has added protection from moisture and stains with a bonded plastic film has been through the lamination process. There are many reasons to laminate something; sometimes, an item needs to be difficult to impossible to bend. Other times, it’s used to emphasise the clarity of an image or increase colour vibrancy.

Lamination Thickness Matters

Laminate for printed materials is available in thicknesses measured in mil. A mil is a unit of measurement that’s equal to 1/1000th of an inch. The thinnest common laminate is the 1.5mil, followed by three mils, five mils, and ten mils. The sturdier product you desire, the thicker the laminate you will choose. However, it’s important to know that different thicknesses are best for certain items. The rigidity of laminate will change with its thickness, and the price will change as well.

Folders, Business Cards and Manual Covers

The thinnest lamination available, 1.5 mils, is best for anything that will be printed on heavy paper, such as a flash card or book cover. As well, this thin and affordable laminate can be ideal for situations where a printed piece will only be used temporarily, such as a seasonal menu or map. Inkjet labels and decals are also perfect candidates for this label type.

Posters and Book Pages

A thickness of three mil laminate is the best choice where protection is required, but where an item will need to be folded easily, such as a bi or tri-fold menu for a restaurant. Maps can benefit from three mil laminate, as can manual pages.

Charts, Passes, Bookmarks

The five mil laminate offers a moderate degree of sturdiness to printed materials that are used frequently. These materials can be anything from diagrams to instruction and safety manuals. A five mil thickness is commonly seen on menus, and even on memo boards. The one caveat with using this thickness of laminate for folded materials is that its sturdiness can cause them to be difficult to keep closed.

Badges and Tags

Any items needing long-term protection and a lot of rigidity will benefit from laminate in a ten mil thickness. This laminate is a great choice for ID badges, tags and many other items that are not meant to be folded whatsoever. It is also the ideal laminate for any items which will ‘live’ in environments that are damp, greasy or dirty.

Saving on Lamination Cost

You can save on the cost of your laminated materials by choosing thicker paper to print them on. For example, a heavy paper like cardstock can be chosen, and then the item can be laminated with a thinner film. In order to ensure your chosen thickness will work with the stock you’re using, you can consult your printer as you keep in mind the following tips.

Mind the Corners

When a really durable piece is desired, the best combination can be a heavy paper and laminates of a higher thickness. However, as good as this can be for making a permanent and protected piece, it can also result in the corners being sharp. However, these can be rounded. Many of these print runs will deliver pieces as they were printed and laminated; with square corners. These corners can be left as is if the lamination is thinner. But another thing to consider is what the pieces will be used for. In the case of flash cards which will be handled by children, it’s best to round the corners so as to prevent injury.

Regardless of the materials you are printing, it’s a good idea to first consult with your printer to ensure that you’ve chosen the best laminate thickness for your needs. A printer will be able to tell you what thickness is best for the materials you are printing, as well as which printing method will suit your project best.

CYMK and Spot Colour in Offset Printing

CMYK, or four colour printing is the most commonly-used method of transferring ink to print media. Where offset printing is concerned, the CYMK process is vital. This is because, in order for an image to be printed in this manner, it must be separated into four colours. However, there are also instances where special colours such as those produced by the Pantone brand are more feasible.

How Colours are Separated

After it’s been sent to a printing company, an image’s four colours are separated into channels with computer software. When the image reaches the prepress department, each colour’s artwork is identified, and then rasterised individually. Then each rasterised image is transferred to a printing plate. Each plate will contain only those parts of the image which correspond to the colour being printed. So for example, the cyan plate will only contain the spots of the image which are cyan in colour, the magenta plate the magenta portions of the image, and so on. This ‘computer to plate’ technique involves the use of a recorder which transfers the image on the computer to the offset printing plates.

How Offset Printing Works

The process of offset printing relies on the hydrophilic and lipophilic properties of the printing plate to apply ink to printed materials. Each offset printing plate contains areas which absorb ink and water. The parts which absorb ink, or the lipophilic areas occupy space on the plate with areas that are hydrophilic, or which absorb water. The ink-absorbing areas will transfer to the next stage, which is a rubber blanket, where the water-absorbent areas will not. The blanket is then pressed onto the media being printed. The cyan, magenta, yellow and black colours are layered onto the printing substrate to create a complete image.

Process Colour, Explained

If you’ve ever heard the term ‘process colour’ and wondered what it was, wonder no more. Process colour is what the combination of CMYK colours creates during the offset printing process. Process colour is defined either by number or in some other format.

Should a colour need to be exact, a more specialised brand such as Pantone will need to be applied. Pantone is a popular choice for businesses who want to have their colours included on various materials without losing shade accuracy. Standardised brands like Pantone ensure that a colour will look the same whether it’s been printed on glossy business cards or matte security labels.

Sometimes, a company will supply its own colour guide consisting of their custom colours. This makes it much easier for printers to reproduce them. Colours can be created by combining just the cyan, magenta, yellow and black shades, but this usually insufficient for the production of requested colours.

Multi-Colour Printing

Where more than four colours are needed, and special colours required for the uniformity throughout a range of printed products for a business, the multicolour printing process is employed. This process involves the set-up for five channels of colour or more, depending on how many special colours are required.

Typically, there are several instances which call for the multicolour printing process. When colours are needed that fall outside the range of CYMK, special colours can come to the rescue. Companies needing booklets or catalogues printed will also benefit from the use of special colours, as these allow for colour consistency on each page. Even a slight variation in colour balance can give pages an inconsistent appearance.

Another case for special colours is when large areas require smooth coverage, such as a sign or billboard. This will allow for colour consistency regardless of the distance from which the sign is viewed.

Print at Home vs. Professional Printing

It is an age-old question: should you print your labels at home or send them to a professional? Whilst it may be tempting to design and print your labels from home, you may want to give it some thought before you do.

Think about what you’re selling

Professional printing isn’t always necessary. For example, if your child is planning to run a lemonade stand or provide a car washing service during the summer, it’s highly unlikely that professionally-printed labels will be necessary. However, if you are running a business, the requirements can be quite different.

Any business that wants to elevate or maintain its professional image would do well to outsource their printing of inkjet labels to a company that specialises in this.

Which is Cheaper?

A common belief is that printing at home comes in at a much lower cost. The truth is that there is far less of a difference between the cost of printing at home and getting your labels printed by a company than you may have initially thought. In fact, there is a only about 7 pence difference between printing on an office laser printer and professional digital printing, and only about 3 pence difference between office printing and professional lithographic printing.

The good news is that the higher the number of labels you get professionally printed, the lower your final cost is likely to be.

The Time Factor

One thing to consider is the length of time it will take to print the labels you need. Using a home printer may take less time, as you are the only person using it. However, the office laser printer may take a bit longer. Getting your printing completed by a company will likely take longer, as a company will have a number of clients needing printing done.

Another consideration is the type of printing chosen. For example, lithographic printing can require up to 3 days to complete. This is because lithographic printing requires the making of a plate. This plate will transfer your label text from the ink rollers it uses to your labels. Many say that the quality of labels and other materials printed using the lithographic process is worth the waiting time required.


Professional printers know about the ideal paper and ink type to use for each project, because it’s what they do each and every day. It’s this sort of expertise that can end up saving you much time and frustration, especially when you need your labels to be printed immediately. There’s little that can be more stressful than not printing often, then all of a sudden needing to produce a professional product in a small time frame with a limited amount of knowledge.

What’s your Competition Doing?

Your labels and other printed materials will say a lot about your business. A good way to help you decide about whether or not to choose professional printing is to look at what your competitors are doing. If they are having their materials printed professionally and you are not, see if you can get a copy of their material. When you do, take a good look at both. Can you see a difference between them? If your competitor’s material looks more professional, it might be time to change things up and begin comparing printers in your area.


Once you’ve decided on professional printing and have narrowed your list, asking for samples is the next step. This will tell you without a doubt which company is best for your label printing and other requirements.

You may find that the samples you receive vary widely. However, they provide a tangible means by which you can compare the quality offered by each company.

The Softer Side of Print Finishing Methods

Where you wish to give printed materials a quality look and feel, the soft touch print finish is usually the best way to do so. The terms ‘soft touch’, ‘soft feel’ and ‘velvet finish’ are usually used to describe any method of print finishing which produces a soft feel to materials. This kind of finish can be applied to virtually any material and used for any purpose, including brochures, book covers, and even product inkjet labels.

The feel of soft touch finish is a distinctive one, and its descriptions are as large in number as the many individuals who have touched it. To some, the soft touch finish is similar to suede. Others describe it as having a similar feel to velvet. Whatever the description used, a common opinion among most is that the soft touch finish is very noticeable on both the visual and tactile levels.

Soft Touch Application Methods

The soft touch finish can be applied as a film or as a coating.

Soft touch film is matte plastic which has been specially textured to provide a soft feel. The film is applied in such a way as to bond it to the material being printed. Soft touch film can be applied wet, or via thermo-lamination. Wet lamination sees the film being stretched over the material being printed using transparent glue. Heat and pressure are then applied to bond the film to the surface.

The process by which the material being printed is applied as a coating is called thermo-lamination. Using heat-activated glue, this kind of lamination bonds the coating to the surface of the material via the combination of the melting of the glue and pressure.

The soft touch print finish has no glare due to its low amount of light reflection. Because of this non-glare surface, any images which exist on inkjet labels or other printed material take on a harmonious appearance. This type of finish also tends to provide materials with a simple, yet elegant look.

Does One Cost more than the Other?

Most commonly, the soft touch laminate option tends to cost more than the coating. However, if the product being printed requires additional durability, soft touch laminate can provide it.

Reconciling cost with Usage

A soft touch finish can certainly impress. However, when the product being printed will have temporary use, such as a brochure advertising a special event, there may be more ideal choices available. Before deciding on a print finish, it can help to look at what needs to be printed and decide how much of its existing information is permanent.

For example, even if a brochure is advertising an upcoming event hosted by a business, it may contain information such as hours of operation, menus or a calendar containing more than one upcoming event. Where any of these are the case, it can be beneficial to use the soft touch coating so that printed information can withstand the test of time and wear due to travelling from pocket to home.

A More Durable Alternative

Where it’s suspected that materials will endure a lot of impact, another finish called anti-scuff may be the more practical choice. This type of finish offers the same matte quality as a soft touch, but with added durability to protect against damage. Another benefit of the anti-scuff finish is that it prevents documents and labels from curling at their corners, which can lead to creasing.

When advice is needed about which print finish is best for your materials, the best person to speak to is one well-versed in the world of print finishes: your professional printer. Not only are they likely to have several kinds of print finishes available, but they will also be able to communicate the benefits of each one.