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Voluntary Protection Program

Safety Labels & Signs Label Materials

You can have THE BEST label printer, but if it does not have the supplies required to make the labels and signs needed to support your VPP efforts, it is nothing more than a paperweight. Evaluating the supplies available for a label printer is an important step before making a label printer purchase.

The following provides an overview of the more commonly used types of labeling supplies that might be used as a part of a VPP. Ideally a label printer that has all of these types of supplies available would be best. For example, although you may not currently see a need for phosphorescent tapes (glow-in-the-dark), a few years from now a need for emergency information that glows in the dark may become apparent.

Industrial Grade Vinyl

The most commonly used label material is indoor/outdoor industrial grade vinyl. Vinyl is available in a variety of thickness', widths, colors and with various types of adhesives.

Average Outdoor Life: You should look for machines that use vinyl tapes with a minimum average outdoor life of five years. This does not mean all your labels are guaranteed to last at least five years. Depending on environmental conditions, some labels may have a shorter life and some will have a longer life. However, a five year average outdoor life is a good rating that will give you excellent labels.

Tape Thickness: The thicker the tape, the sturdier the label will be. However, there is a trade off. The thicker the tape is, the less flexible it will be. For most labels a 3.0 mil vinyl will provide sturdy labels. However, if you need to label curved or irregular surfaces, then using a thinner 2.0 mil vinyl will give better results. On curved surfaces the 3.0 mil labels will try to straighten out, causing them to possibly come unstuck. Look for a label printer that has both 3.0 mil and 2.0 mil vinyl tapes available.

Tape Widths: Except for a few specialized machines, the maximum tape width used by industrial label printers is typically four inches. But not all printers can use four inch tapes. Many desktop printers with built-in keyboards have a maximum tape width of 1-1/2 to two inches. If you're looking at handheld printers, then you are typically looking at maximum tape widths of one to 1-1/2 inches.

There is no need to purchase a larger machine than what you need, but purchasing a machine that is too small will end up ultimately costing you more money because of the time lost when larger size labels are needed. Evaluate the labeling needs throughout your facility to determine what the maximum size will be for the labels you'll need to make.

When evaluating your labeling needs, also determine what the smallest size label will be. There is also a limit to how small of a supply is available for each label printer.

If you have a wide range of label size needs, for example you need labels that are just 1/8" wide, and you need labels that are 4" wide, then you'll need to consider purchasing two label printers. This size range is beyond the capabilities of any one printer. In this case a handheld printer to make the small labels, and a desktop machine to print the larger labels is usually a good combination that provides versatility and convenience.

Vinyl tape colors

Tape Colors: Label color is a critical part of communication, in particular when it comes to safety related labels and signs. The color of a label can convey the message much sooner than the text on the label. We can see a certain color label and immediately associate a message--such as danger, warning or caution--with that color. Be sure that the label printer you purchase has vinyl tapes available in all of the key colors for safety--such as white, yellow, red and orange. You also want to be sure that the proper colors are available for color coding piping, valves, equipment and processes. Plus you'll want colors available that are not safety, equipment or process related that you can use for color coding tools, hard hats, vehicles and locations in your facility.

Tape Adhesives: There are a variety of adhesive types available. For most applications you'll want a permanent adhesive. If you'll be applying labels at low temperatures, be sure that tapes with a low temperature permanent adhesive are available. Tapes with a lighter adhesive, allowing the labels to be repositioned, are also available.

Repositionable Labels

Repositionable labels can be applied, then removed and applied in another location, then removed and applied again in another location. They are like Post-It Notes, but for industrial labels. Repositionable labels use a lighter adhesive that does not make a permanent bond, allowing them to be removed and reapplied many times. Repositionable labels are excellent for labeling a warehouse or shelves that are used for temporary storage of materials or supplies.

Low Temperature Labels

Low temperature labels were created for the cold storage industry to allow labeling in freezers, but they can be used anywhere labels need to be applied at low temperatures. Low temperature labels have a special adhesive that remains flexible at low temperatures, which allows it to bond and permanently attach the label.

Die-Cut Labels

Example of a die-cut label

Die-cut labels are labels cut into a specific shape, most commonly a rectangle with rounded corners, and supplied on a paper backing. Die-cut labels are commonly used to make labels that have a preprinted header such as DANGER or WARNING. Die-cut labels are also commonly used to make preformatted labels such as RTK and arc flash labels.

The advantage of die-cut labels are that they provide an economical way to make a multi-color label using a monochrome printer. The colored areas are preprinted on the label. The information is then added to the label, by filling in the blanks on the label, using your label printer.

Reflective Labels

Reflective labels are excellent for low light areas and when labels need to be viewed from a distance. They are also used when labels need to be highly visible.

glow in the dark labels and signs

Phosphorescent Labels

Phosphorescent labels glow in the dark, providing emergency information during a power failure or blackout. They are excellent for this type of application because they are fail-safe. No battery or other source of power is needed. If it gets dark, the labels will glow, displaying their message. Phosphorescent label tapes can also be used to mark walkways, stairways, doors and the locations of emergency equipment.

Be sure to purchase a label printer that has phosphorescent supplies available that will provide an 8-10 hour life. (Glow for 8-10 hours.)

Wire & Cable Labels

Wire and cable labeling is often not considered when selecting a label printer, and eventually a second "wire labeling" printer is purchase. However, you can get full wire and cable labeling capabilities in a general purpose labeler such as the DuraLabel PRO. There are two types of wire and cable labels:

Polyolefin Shrink Tube - the labeling machine prints on the tubing while it is pressed flat. It is then open up into a tube; slipped over the end of the wire; and heat is used to shrink it to a tight fit. Shrink tubes provide a durable, permanent label.

Wire labels - using shrink tube labels

Self-Laminating Wire Wraps - A wire wrap has an opaque portion on which information is printed and a long, clear "tail". The label is applied to a cable and the clear tail wrapped around the cable so it comes around and covers the printed portion of the label. This protects the label and makes it durable.


Ribbons are an important component of labels. There are two basic types of ribbons that can be used with thermal transfer printers: standard industrial ribbons and chemical resistant ribbons. Chemical resistant ribbons provide the greatest label durability, but they can not be used with all materials. For example, polyolefin shrink tubing can only be printed with a standard industrial ribbon.

Chemical resistant ribbons can be used with vinyl tapes, and will result in labels that are UV, water, weather and chemical resistant.

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society - Homeland Security Safety Symbols

U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Law Guide, Occupational and Safety Health Act of 1970.

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