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How to choose between paper and polyester for barcode labels


The short answer

- If the label is going to be attached to an asset use polyester.
- If it is going to be used to identify a location, use polyester.
- If it is going to be exposed to the elements, rain and wind, use polyester.
- If it is going to be exposed to solvents, including fuel, use a mylar overlay.
- If it is going to be handled repeatedly, use a mylar overlay.
In most other cases, use paper.

If still unsure, drop us an email, and we give advice. For free. No charge. But we might also offer to print labels for you. Or to supply blank stock. Or offer to sell you a printer. And even offer the most software appropriate for your specific application.

Polyester Stock

Most of our applications use polyester stock, thermal transfer, pre-printed. These labels are used for asset management, for tracking IT equipment, laboratory equipment and furniture. They are used for inspections, including fire prevention equipment. They are used for tracking laboratory samples, and evidence, providing chain of custody.

In most cases label size is typically 1.5 to two inches wide and half an inch to one inch tall. Label contents are usually on three lines. The top line is an identifier, often company or departmental name. The middle line is the barcode, typically a one dimension symbology, usually code 128. The third line is the barcode content in human readable format.

Where a UIC (Unique Identification Code) is used, we recommend pre-printed labels. Where SKU based tracking is used, demand printing is often required. This means that label contents are not known in advance, and pre-printing is not usually an option. Pre-printed labels are generally supplied in rolls of one thousand.  Lead time is a few days.

Paper Stock

The primary advantage of paper stock is low price. The disadvantage is that the labels are less robust, more prone to damage. Paper is appropriate for low value items, or items that have a short life. Paper stock is more appropriate for demand printing.

The process can be as simple as page printing with a laser printer, particularly appropriate for large volumes where many items need to have the same label. Page printing with a standard laser printer becomes wasteful when small quantities are required. The smallest economic quantity is determined by the page size. Demand printers using paper stock in roll format are available.

Paper stock may be appropriate for some file tracking, though if the file is likely to have a long life, polyester may be justified. In either case, we recommend pre-printed labels for file identification. A separate label can be used if file content information is required.

Just to further confuse the situation around file tracking, we would strongly recommend that RFID  (Radio Frequency Identification) labelling be considered.


For valuable items, or items with a long "tracked" life, use polyester, and where possible, pre-printed labels. For low value, high quantity items, paper may be a more economical option. If low volume is required, use a demand label printer with appropriate software.

The above brief description is intended to provide an introductory overview for those not already familiar with these systems. We are happy to answer any questions you may have about a specific application that you may be considering.

If you found this useful, you might also want to review:

an introduction to barcode technology

an introduction to RFID

mobile data collectors

consulting services: barcodes and their applications


SageData is based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

We design, supply and support systems built around RFID, Barcodes and Handheld computers.

For further information, or for advice and assistance with your application, contact Doreen Garvin or Trinity Joseph.

Click here to reach SageData by email.

To reach us by phone:
from outside Ottawa, dial 1-888-838-1067
from Ottawa, dial 613-225-4404

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