Durable labels play a key role in maintaining safety during the handling and transportation of hazardous materials. 

Sometimes called “drum labels”, “chemical labels”, or “hazard labels”, durable labels provide critical information that notifies personnel of the dangers within the containers they are handling. They do this by displaying strategic colors, symbols, and statements that alert them. 

Durable labels are different from standard labeling applications as they must be resistant enough to withstand contact with harsh chemicals, extreme temperature changes, transportation, and storage conditions.

In our previous article, we discussed some of the most common agencies that regulate durable labels and broke down the details of their standards and regulations. 

In this article, we’re taking a look at the specific label components needed to print durable labels and their applications in the industries that utilize them.

What is a Durable Label?

As mentioned previously, a durable label is a label applied to containers holding potentially or known hazardous chemicals, materials, and waste. These labels are pressure sensitive and adhesive coated so they stick properly to the containers they are applied to without the risk of falling off. 

The purpose of these indestructible labels is to classify dangerous materials for easy identification, and to display warnings or instructions for those handling or transporting the products to ensure overall safety. They act as a safety system that assists with chemical making, distributing, and supplying, while enabling companies to effectively organize and update their inventory. 

These labels can include words, pictures, or both, whatever is necessary to identify the contents and their importance.

Durable Label Materials 

As we mentioned in our previous article, durable labels are made with non-paper, synthetic materials in order to be long-lasting and guarantee they won’t be damaged during their use. There are several different types of synthetic materials that can be used that we’ve listed below:

Polypropylene (BOPP)

Polypropylene (BOPP) is the least expensive of the synthetic materials. It has moderate tear resistance, is weatherproof for outdoor use, and handles well against heat and cold. The typical lifespan of polypropylene labels is anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, depending on the application.

Polyethylene (PE)

Polyethylene (PE) is a material with more conformability than others, more so than polypropylene (BOPP) and polyester (PET) but less than vinyl. Polyethylene labels also have a high stretch strength, making them extremely flexible for applications that require squeezing, such as tubes or other plastic bottles.

Polyester (PET)

Polyester (PET) is a stronger synthetic material. It has an outdoor durability that can last upwards of 5 years, and has a better protection against water. Applications in pharmaceutical environments should use polyester labels as they have the best resistance to chemicals versus polypropylene (BOPP) or polyethylene (PE), as well as having a high heat resistance. Polyester is stiff, which makes it easy to apply, although it won’t conform to surface areas with a sharp bend or tight radius. It is the most expensive synthetic material to use.


Vinyl material is the most conforming material. This makes it the best choice for outdoor applications as it has an extensive outdoor resistance, around 5 years, and it does not fade as fast under UV light. However, this material can be pretty expensive depending on the type of vinyl used.

GHS & UL Durable Label Compliance 

An important component of durable labels that needs to be discussed is the GHS.

The GHS (Globally Harmonized System) provides important labeling criteria. Adopted and revised by OSHA in 2012, GHS was created to achieve universal classification standards of hazardous materials by providing sufficient information that is labeled onto chemical drums or containers being handled or purchased by companies. 

GHS labels must follow strict regulations and guidelines in order to ensure a safe work environment for employees and personnel. GHS labels must include six standard elements:

  1. Product Identifier
  2. Supplier Information
  3. Hazard Statement
  4. Precautionary Statement
  5. Signal Word (i.e. “Danger” or “Warning”)
  6. Pictograms

Because this information is universal, the same chemical type deriving from different suppliers across the country will all have the same information printed on their labels. 

Not all durable labels follow GHS guidelines. While companies that use GHS labels comply with labeling standards, some can be used simply for product information or marketing purposes. 

Companies not needing to follow GHS compliance guidelines can personalize or customize them to meet their specific needs.

British Standard BS 5609 

A container ship along a port transports supplies and goods.

GHS labels are required to include specific information and follow rigorous guidelines. One example of this is the British Standard BS 5609. 

BS 5609 is a set of specific criteria for labels being applied to dangerous goods in marine environments. It is an important certification standard. These labels undergo testing to ensure maximum protection, like being submerged in saltwater for several months at a time, as well as face exposure to sunlight, extreme temperature changes, wind, and more. 

This testing is to ensure labels are capable of remaining effective after coming in contact with negative environments for long periods of time. For example, if a container is lost during transit, whoever finds it will know that the contents are hazardous and be able to contact the appropriate supplier. This would not be possible if the label was not resistant enough to survive extreme maritime conditions.

UL Labels 

UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is a certification company in North America that has been around since 1894. They are experts in safety science, and any product with a UL mark means it has been tested and certified to their specific standards. Common UL labels applications are products that deal with electrical hazards.

Though it is not a requirement by federal law, it assures customers that products with this label have gone through rigorous safety assessments and specifications. 

Durable Label Applications

At their core, durable labels are called such because they must have the stability to endure long-term applications with exposure to materials that can cause them to be ineffective if they are not made with the proper materials. Ineffective labels can be very dangerous in the environments where hazardous goods are commonly found.

While sometimes called drum labels because they are often applied to oil drums, they can also be applied to canisters, barrels, bins, cylinders, or any container that holds hazardous materials.

Below are some examples of industries where these labels can be found:


Industrial settings, like factories and warehouses, commonly handle and store chemicals that can be deemed hazardous. Some common application surfaces are drums, totes, and gas cylinders, each of which requires specific label sizes to properly adhere to the different container shapes. Labels in these environments can come in contact with oils or corrosive chemicals, and must endure both outdoor and indoor environments year round.

Laboratory & Pharmaceutical

Durable labels are necessary for laboratory environments

Laboratory locations where compounds, solvents, and chemicals are being designed utilize robust labels, especially for new products that have unknown hazards and need to be properly named and identified. Any dangerous goods being transported to or from labs or pharmaceutical companies must also be properly labeled to ensure they are not mishandled. 

Labels in these environments are being applied to glass, such as beakers and vials, and plastic, such as blood bags and IV bags. For products being placed in cryogenic climates, indestructible label materials and adhesives are a must to endure the well below freezing temperatures.

Shipping & Transportation

When hazardous materials are being transported, labels are subject to specific requirements. Constant movement due to handling plus temperature changes in both outdoor and indoor environments mean labels must be prepared to handle demanding conditions. 

As containers are moved during shipping, it is crucial that they are not jostled, dropped, or mishandled, as damaged containers could leak or spill chemicals and cause harm to those handling and transporting them. This is why indestructible labels are imperative for these types of applications. 

For example, if a container is damaged during transportation, the chemicals inside could leak onto the label and damage it so the contents of the label are no longer legible. This would create a hazardous condition for the personnel who handle the container next.

Durable Label & Printer Requirements

It is important for users looking to print their own labels to consider several factors. Because of the stringent demands with testing, labels must be exceptionally resistant. This means they are printed on materials capable of being weatherproof, enduring abrasions, and coming in contact with chemicals, oils, or water. 

Labels and printers must be certified for these types of applications. Some examples of this are BS 5609, the British maritime standard adopted for hazardous cargo in maritime environments, and UL, the label certification for use on consumer and industrial products

Several different print options, like label material and printers, can be utilized for those printing their own products, each with their own benefits. Below are several print technology options for these users.

If printing your own isn’t an option, pre-printed labels can be purchased.

Thermal Transfer 

Thermal transfer technology uses carbon-based, thermal ribbons to print long lasting text and images on labels.

Thermal Transfer Labels 

Thermal transfer is an optimal choice for printing on synthetic label materials, such as polyester, polypropylene, or vinyl, which adds to a label’s overall effectiveness.

When paired with a more robust ribbon material, like wax resin or resin, thermal transfer labels are capable of withstanding applications in all forms of weather, such as heat, cold, and moisture, and fade less in sunlight. Color ribbons can be used for visual recognition, and topcoat finishes can add an extra layer of protection to thermal transfer labels.

Thermal transfer labels are more scratch-resistant and less susceptible to fading, making them a great choice for long term use, especially on products being transported or in storage.

Need to find thermal transfer labels and ribbon for your durable labels? Visit smithcorona.com or call at 1-800-875-7000 to order your labels.

Thermal Transfer Printers 

Thermal transfer labels are printed on thermal printers with the use of a ribbon. Depending on the daily print volume, these printers can be either desktop or industrial. Desktop thermal printers use 1” core and fanfold labels while industrial printers use 3” core and fanfold labels.

Some popular brands of thermal printers that use thermal ribbon are Zebra, Datamax, Sato, and Intermec.


Laser technology uses toner to print on labels. When heated, toner powder melts onto the substrate material, creating text and images which can be in black or color.

Laser Sheet Labels 

Laser sheet labels are printed on sheets instead of rolls. These sheet labels can be paper or synthetic materials, like polypropylene, polyester, and vinyl, which help produce heavy-duty labels perfect for industrial and chemical applications.

Laser sheets are beneficial for printing durable labels because they can print more than 8” wide. They are typically large to accommodate all of the necessary information and pictures. A label size like 8.5” x 11” would benefit the application of larger containers, making the information easily accessible for visibility.

Laser Printers

Laser printers can work well on multiple media types, including some synthetic materials if the printer settings are adjusted properly.

While standard color laser printers are able to produce strong labels, it is recommended that they are utilized for more domestic shipping and workplace labeling as they may not hold up well in maritime environments. However, one of their benefits is that they can easily produce the required multi-color pictograms necessary for GHS labels.


An Epson inkjet printer with a 3" core roll

Inkjet technology uses ink in liquid form. Miniscule droplets of colored ink are propelled onto material substrates during the printing process, creating vibrant text and images.

Inkjet Labels 

Many label specific inkjet printers use 3” core roll labels, but some are able to utilize fanfold labels as well. For example, the Epson C831 inkjet label printer is a fanfold printer capable of printing multi color labels.

While inkjet labels can be printed with either dye or pigment inks, pigment-based helps produce a more sturdy label when combined with synthetic materials, helping labels to be water, UV light, and tear-resistant. Although it is not as vibrant as its dye-based counterpart, pigment ink is preferred for extreme durability, including those needing to meet the BS 5609 certification. 

The colors produced by pigment-based ink are necessary for images, symbols, and pictograms displayed as warnings or instructions.

Looking for durable labels?

Inkjet Printers 

Inkjet printers can be small for home or office use, or large for label specific prints. Most operate by using 4 color ink cartridges: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. They are capable of printing large volumes of labels at high speeds while maintaining high print quality and resolution. 

Some popular brands of inkjet printers, like Primera, Epson, and QuickLabel, have multiple printer models capable of producing enduring labels for industrial environment applications. For example, the Primera XL2000 and the Primera LX 910 inkjet printers are able to both print with pigment-based ink to produce colorful labels that are GHS certified.

Another printer, the EpsonC7500G, produces durable GHS and BS5609 certified labels that are both water-resistant and chemical-resistant, can withstand exposure to UV light, and are protected against smudges, scratches, and tearing.


The world of durable labels is extensive, but for good reason. These industrial labels help reduce accidents and make the overall work environment a safer place. Hopefully, despite all of the details and information they require, these articles have cleared up some confusion and brought awareness to their relevance in label applications for you or your business.