Industrial Identification: Should You Use Plastic Labels or Metal Plates?
Consider the drawbacks and benefits of plastic labels and metal plates before deciding on one. Or, better yet, consult a specialist.
The smallest details sometimes have the biggest impact. And that's certainly the case when it comes to labeling.
The right label will provide a secure, reliable, and professional way for your product to be identified throughout its lifespan. The wrong one will fall off or become unreadable, making product tracking impossible, inconvenience your customers, and create a time-consuming and costly problem for you to solve.
Benefits of Good Industrial Labeling
- Better organization on shelves and in storage areas
- Meet regulatory requirements
- Prevent theft and resale of company products
- Helps employees acclimate more quickly
- Enhanced quality control
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Increased traceability
Choosing the Right Label
Simply opting for the most durable label materials can be overkill. you can find is often overkill. An over-specified solution might not be right either, as it will quickly eat into your profit margins.
If you’re just beginning your research into labeling options, here is an overview of the benefits and drawbacks of metal plates and plastic labels for use in industrial environments.
In the case of metal plates (name plates, rating plates, data plates), the product information is usually embossed, marked, or etched onto the metal surface (known as the substrate). This results in an exceptionally durable label that is well suited to many industrial environments.
Because of this, metal plates have become standard across many trades, including construction, aerospace, and automotive.
Metals commonly used for labeling include:
- Aluminum (durable, lightweight, malleable, and cost-effective)
- Anodized aluminum (even more durable, resists corrosion and abrasion)
- Stainless steel (can withstand mechanical impact, resists corrosion, and tolerate temperature extremes and seawater)
- Brass (aesthetically appealing, won't create sparks, and has natural antibacterial properties)
- Many industry specifications require metal plates
- Sub-surface printing is essentially permanent and resists most adverse conditions (chemicals, abrasion, oils, weathering)
- Exceptionally difficult to remove, especially when screwed or riveted into place
- Can boost the prestige and perceived quality of the product
- Unparalleled tolerance to high temperatures (up to 500°C / 932°F)
- Some metals (like anodized aluminum) are a cost effective option
- The overall cost of plates (including engraving and affixing) is relatively high
- Colored inks are prone to fading in sunlight
- Plates are still vulnerable in certain environments (e.g. marine)
- Print has to be added at the point of manufacture for it to be permanent
- Engraved lettering can attract dirt and become hard to read over time or in certain lights
Plastic labels are an increasingly popular option, in part because they are a more affordable option when produced in bulk. Plastic is a flexible and durable that can be used even in harsh environments.
- Polycarbonate (lightweight, easy to cut, ideal for applications requiring functional elements such as touch control)
- Polyester (thin, difficult to tear, resistant to cleaning chemicals)
- Vinyl (lightweight, flexible, and affordable)
- Less expensive than metal plates
- Resistant to fluctuating temperatures (up to 388°C / 730°F for certain materials), weathering, chemicals, and frequent handling
- Quick and easy to apply
- Easier to clean
- Flexibility for labeling lightly curved surfaces
- Versatile options for specific needs, such as RFID tags or tamper-evident labels
- Incorrectly specified adhesives may not tolerate moisture, weathering, or frequent handling
- Lower temperature limits than metal plates
- May not withstand repeated or long-term exposure to exceptionally harsh environments
Other Factors to Consider
While the environment your label will be in is a major consideration, there are other factors to take into account when selecting the right material. For instance:
- Industry labeling regulations affecting your consumer (e.g., MILSpec, REACH, RoHS)
- Whether barcoding would be advantageous for traceability
- The surface your label will be attached to
- Security or anti-counterfeiting measures
- Whether data will be added post-production (such as serial numbers or product codes)
To some extent, any of these requirements can be met by both metal and plastic labels. Depending on your exact application. However, you may find that the necessity of one particular feature makes either metal or plastic a better option for your labels.