The market for outdoor products is enjoying continued growth. As a result, highly durable labels that can last as long as these products are also seeing increased use. These labels allow users to have access to product information like warranties, safety warnings, barcodes and lot numbers over the long term. The hallmark of outdoor labels is their ability to stay on products without losing colour or legibility, or becoming faded or scratched.
Outdoor Labelling Requirements
There are minimal requirements in place for outdoor labels, and they differ according to the industry. For example, companies which manufacture farm equipment will have different standards according to where the label will be placed on equipment, the underlying surface type they will be adhered to, and what kind of environmental conditions they will be expected to endure.
In general, most OEMs must consider three main factors for their outdoor labels: the surface onto which they will be attached, the level of weathering resistance, and the printing technology used to manufacture them.
Varnishing and Lamination for Protection
Printed outdoor inkjet labels can get adequate protection from all manner of weather when they are varnished or laminated. One method of protecting labels from sun, weather and chemicals is to place a transparent laminate film over the printed label. Adding this film can not only protect labels by absorbing and reflecting UV rays, but they also help to guard labels against damage from abrasion, chemicals, ozone and humidity and increase their overall durability. In addition to protecting labels from damage, varnishing and lamination can also protect light-sensitive inks from losing both colour and legibility.
Label Construction is Application-Specific
As stated previously, the requirements for outdoor labels are directly related to the situation in which they will be used. Therefore, no single testing method will work for all. Different labels will behave differently when affixed to particular substrates, as well as when they contain protective coatings. It is for this reason that the performance of a label’s components must be tested.
There are several conditioning tests which can be performed on outdoor labels. Some of the most common conditioning tests include immersing labels in cleaners or chemicals, exposing them to salt spray (for labels being used in marine environments), oven and freezer ageing, and exposure to high humidity levels. Labels are also commonly tested for their response to water resistance, climate cycling and accelerated weathering.
Because these tests vary so widely according to the construction of each label, they can be expensive, taking months to complete. This is due to the fact that their resistance to abrasion, colour retention, legibility and adhesion must also be placed under scrutiny.
Lower Costs and More Success with Suppliers
Many companies choose to partner with a label supplier to help reduce their testing costs. Doing this also increases the chance of successful condition testing. Indeed, there is no substitute for an experienced supplier with the expertise to perform multiple tests across several substrates. Suppliers can also recommend those tests and materials which will most effectively meet end-use specifications. This has the added benefit of helping label converters to innovate and produce new label products.
Partnering with suppliers who can advise about better testing and materials can also lead to increased OEM investment into expanded testing facilities.
The requirements for outdoor labels continue to evolve, resulting in label manufacturers having to meet even tougher specifications for performance. In order to achieve these, OEMS must spend more on label materials that are more specialised. However, as long as OEMs continue to keep up with their understanding of different performance variables, the durability of outdoor labels will continue to increase, as will their life and cost-effectiveness.