Thermal, liner, adhesive – there are an abundance of terms in the labeling industry.

But what do they mean?

It can be confusing to hear terms in an industry you aren’t quite familiar with, but knowing what they are will be beneficial to you and your business. 

In this article, we’re breaking down common terms and phrases found within the labeling industry so you can have a better understanding of the materials, techniques, and equipment being used.

Direct Thermal

Direct thermal is a material that has ink embedded within the label. Heat from the print head causes a chemical reaction that brings the ink to the surface as it prints.

No ribbons are required when using direct thermal labels, which are best for short term applications.

Thermal Transfer

Thermal transfer is a label material that requires a heat-sensitive carbon ribbon to print. As the ribbon and label pass through the print head, the heat from the print head transfers the ink directly onto the face of the paper, resulting in text and images.

Thermal transfer is best used for both short and long term applications. These labels are available in both paper and synthetic materials, such as polypropylene.


Application refers to the what, where, and how a label is being affixed to a surface area:

  • What – What is the label being placed on: consumer goods (external use) or a pallet or case (internal use)?
  • Where  – Where on the case is the label being applied? Where in your facility (warehouse, blast freezer, etc) will the label be stored?
  • How – How is the label applied, by hand or machine?

Application can also refer to specific environments or industries and businesses that a label will be used in. These factors determine what kind of label you will require. Labels with a finish, such as matte or gloss, or a certain adhesive, such as removable or freezer, depend on your application.


Adhesive is a substance that binds two objects together. It is the sticky material on the back of a label that bonds the label to its application.

Adhesive can be permanent, general purpose, freezer, and removable.


Tack goes hand in hand with adhesive. It is essentially the initial level of stickiness on the label.

The higher the tack, the stickier the label is when first applied. 

Wet-Out Time

Wet-out time refers to the amount of time it takes for the label to fully bond with or adhere to the surface it has been applied to.

Products being placed into low temperature environments must allow for a longer wet-out time or they run the risk of the label adhesive not maintaining its effectiveness.


Silicone is a substance that is applied to the release liner to make the removal of your label easier.


Lamination is the process of combining together the release liner, silicone, adhesive, and face sheet. Lamination combines all of the parts of your label together to attach your release liner and label.


Also called “perf”, perforation refers to a row of small holes punched into the liner in between each label. This allows for the labels to be torn off easily once printed. Labels can be either perforated or non-perforated, depending on how they are being applied.


This refers to the process of taking label laminate and running it through a die-cutting machine that converts the large laminate rolls to the specific label shapes and sizes that end users of the product require.

Fanfold Labels

An industrial thermal printer and desktop thermal printer use fanfold labels

Fanfold labels are manufactured with a special “hinge” perforation that allows them to fold neatly into a concise stack. As they move through the printer, they restack themselves, which makes it easier to print large amounts of labels at once. These labels are quite versatile, as they can be used in both industrial (3″ core) and desktop (1″core) printers.

Removable Labels

Removable labels have a special adhesive that creates a bond to the application surface but can still be removed with minimal adhesive residue left behind. The application surface won’t be harmed nor should your label tear.

Laser Labels

A desktop laser printer prints out laser labels onto a sheet

Laser labels are labels that can only be printed in laser printers, which use toner and heat to form an image on the label. These labels come in sheets and are loaded into office printers similar to loading normal copier paper. These labels are ideal for low volumes, as they are not nearly as efficient as using thermal labels. 

Thermal Ribbon

Ribbon is a critical component of Thermal Transfer (TT) printing. When heated, the ribbon will transfer ink onto whatever substrate you are using. There are several types of thermal ribbon available. Some options include: wax, wax/resin, resin, and near edge. Ribbon can be wound around the cardboard core with the ink on either the outside or inside of the roll. The ribbon you will need depends on the printer you are using and application for your labels.

Coated-Side Out

An image of a thermal ribbon wound coated side out

Coated side out is a term that refers to the placement of the ink on a ribbon. Coated side out means the ribbon has been wound out around the core so the ink is on the outside of the ribbon.

Coated-Side In

An image of a thermal ribbon is wound coated side in

Coated side in is a term that refers to the placement of the ink on a ribbon. Coated side means the ribbon has been wound in around the core so the ink is on the inside of the ribbon.


Hopefully, this article clears up some confusion and gives you some more insight into label industry terms.

Still have questions?

Check out our other blog articles or gives us a call at 1-800-875-7000.