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What You Need to Know About Applying Labels to Your Products


Label application techniques have been a topic of discussion since ancient times. Even the early-day Egyptians required truthful labeling of their wine. The vintner’s name, quality assessment, and date of vintage all were required, among other label contents. Of course, with labels comes the discussion of how to affix them to applicable products. Ancient Egyptians evidently used some type of glue.

In this country’s earlier days, orchard owners used labels affixed with gum to advertise their produce. By the 1930s, self-adhesive (pressure-sensitive) labels began being manufactured—leading to a more efficient labeling process.

Keeping Label Application Well in Hand

A discussion with Lightning Labels customers Danny Cash Hot Sauce, Lemongrass Spa Products and La Ishá  Natural Skin Care confirms that the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” applies to current label application techniques and technologies. While machine application use is growing, good old-fashioned affixing by hand is still a mainstay.

In 2002, Danny Cash started making hot sauce in his church kitchen in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. The do-it-yourselfer and hot sauce devotee started marketing sauces to churches, youth groups, fundraisers, schools, restaurants and event planners.

Now a major hot sauce force in Colorado, Danny Cash continues to market products under the Danny Cash name as well as private label for a variety of ventures. The firm uses both manual and machine label application methods. As relationships have grown with partners and customers needing small quantities of sauce at any given time, Danny Cash actually is trending more toward hand application.

For Lemongrass, hand application is a long-time habit. The Pine, Colorado-based manufacturer of a complete line of natural skin products for face, body and feet, launched operations from a home basement in 2001. Back then, labels were inkjet printer-generated, cut out and applied one at a time. Then, founder Heidi Leist realized that higher-quality waterproof labels were in order, which led to working with Lightning Labels.   

Three years ago, Lemongrass moved to a 3,000-plus square-foot commercial facility, where they continue to apply labels by hand—only the number of hands doing the applying has grown over the years to accommodate demand for 150 different products.

La Ishá ’s safe and effective natural skin care for women offers anti-aging, dry skin, sun damage and breast health products. The company launched in 2008, three years after founder Sharon Gnatt Epel witnessed firsthand the amazing ability of essential oils to heal chemical burns suffered by her son.

According to Epel, hand applying likely will change soon to machine application. She notes, “There are two determining factors—one is quantity, second is manpower. A small boutique company can’t afford to hire a lot of help. We’re at the stage where we’re hiring out. It’s an okay way to go until you hit the magic number “ when hand application gives way to machine-based solutions.   

Mixing & Matching Methods

Cash points out, “We do a lot by hand, and use a Primera AP362 labeling machine.” As his company processes more small orders, the majority of the labels are done by hand.

Given use of both manual and machine technologies, Cash has adopted policies to ensure consistency and quality control. He suggests defaulting to “what the machine wants do” in terms of unwind direction and other considerations, regardless of whether a particular order will be hand or machine applied.

Leist notes, “Everything is hand applied in our office, two or three people four days a week labeling all day long. Some products require two, some require one. Several hundred items are labeled every day. We’ve created a few templates using a white sheet of paper, then we lay the bottle on a table that has the template on it, and guide the individual who is labeling to the top and bottom of the label in relationship to the bottle.”

As the business has grown, Leist simply has added more people to fulfill hand labeling requirements, and in several cases has made the move from two labels to one larger label. “That’s really helped us a lot,” she says.

Leist acknowledges, “At some point in time, we’ll have to look at machine applied,” both because of cost-effectiveness and accuracy. She notes, “When you start to figure out how many people it takes to hand label, the investment [in equipment] is well worth the payoff. And quality control is a piece. The machine will be more accurate every time.”

Be Clear, Be Organized

As the hot sauce business has proliferated, Cash is focused on “keeping everything organized so we can grab an order, label it quickly, and throw the labels back on the wall. We have 500 different rolls of labels on the wall.”

Getting and staying organized is a major consideration for Leist as well. She points out that in the past it sometimes has been dicey trying to figure out adequate label quantities for a product launch. “Sometimes, we went too conservative and ran out of labels pretty quickly,” Leist says. Now, she focuses on being more accurate in projections, and aims to maintain 6-9 months worth of labels for any particular product.

Epel emphasizes the importance of providing explicit instructions about how to apply the label. She asserts, “If you wait for people to figure it out on their own, you will waste a lot of labels. Figure out guidelines for labels beforehand, all those little tricks when you’re applying them yourself, then put it in an operations manual so people can see it in black and white.”

The Jig’s Up ... & Running

Leist recommends allowing plenty of time for a prototype process to address positioning and label material issues. “Sometimes you can get into trouble with a particular material. On those rare occasions where one type of material worked better than others, Lightning Labels offered recommendations,” she points out.

Epel points out that getting labels on evenly has been a challenge. She suggests employing people with good eye-hand coordination and who have a good eye for making sure labels appear straight and meet evenly. To help, she recommends constructing a jig for consistent placement.

Cash concurs that jigs that can hold bottles are a good idea. “Draw lines, make sure they’re straight. It’s usually just fine-tuning,” he notes.

When all is said and done, successful labeling—whether by hand, by machine, or a combination of the two—hinges on consistency of method and clarity of thought.


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