Useful Label Terms to Know

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

A direct thermal mobile printer with direct thermal labels

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

Rolls of thermal transfer labels and thermal ribbon

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 for labels is made

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, all temperature, 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 added onto labels as they move through the manufacturing process

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 roll 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.


A die cutter cuts shapes into labels as they move down the production line

Die cutting is the process of running a piece of machinery called a die cutter over uncut label material. Label die cutting results in specific shape and size cut-outs being placed into the label.

Fanfold Labels

An industrial thermal printer and desktop thermal printer use fanfold labels

Fanfold labels are labels manufactured with a certain perforation that allows them to fold neatly into a concise stack. As they move through the printer, they re-stack themselves which makes it easier to print large amounts of labels at once. 

Since fanfold labels are not spun around a cardboard core, they do not curl, and consist of more labels per stack than a roll of labels.

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 the 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 uses toner and heat to form an image on your label.

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.

In order for it to print properly, this type of ribbon should be unrolled from the bottom and fed underneath the print head.

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.

In order for it to print properly, this type of ribbon should be placed unrolled from the top and fed over the print head.


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

Still have questions?

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