When a company is planning a barcode label strategy, they often put a lot of thought into what barcode font to use (e.g., 2D or 1D, Codabar, Code 3 of 9) and what information should appear on the label. However, as the following stories relate, often not as much thought is put into the label media and the printer type.

Running Cold

Many years ago I visited a research lab that had made a valiant effort to catalog a couple of thousand samples they had in -80°F freezers, their first step towards implementing a LIMS. With the help of a few college interns, they inventoried their entire collection and used a spreadsheet to record the identity of each sample and where it was stored. From this they then produced several thousand attractive barcode labels. By the end of summer they were finished labelling inventory. When the researcher came to review the work a few months later he opened the freezer to a ticker-tape parade of barcode labels: the label stock the interns used were normal address labels purchased from the local office supply store, certainly not designed for storage at -80°F.

Running Hot

At the other range of the temperature spectrum is another lab I visited that had recently implemented a LIMS along with carefully designed labels with all the right information. However, these carefully crafted labels were attached to crucibles that were then heated to around 200°F  for a typical loss on drying assay. As a lot of label printers use a  direct thermal mechanism, the 100 plus degrees of the oven quickly turned each label to a small black rectangle, an interesting phenomenon but not very useful for tracking. When heat is involved, choose a thermal transfer type printer.

So the moral of the story is that the media and printer type are just as important as the content of the label. The typical laboratory is a harsh environment for labels with solvents, acids, extremes of hot and cold, and more.  A good looking label with all the right information is not much use if it falls off or is printed with disappearing ink.

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