Barcodes are used to track anything from retail products to patients to even military equipment. Selecting the proper media for the application can be confusing, due the variety of material, adhesive, and size options. While a paper label may work perfectly for a standard product label, it would perform poorly in an application where you are attempting to tag an asset such as a vehicle. A more rugged plastic label would be more suitable for such an application. Moreover, sometimes labels might not be the right choice for your solution, as in the case of tracking patients with wristbands.

Media Types


When we refer to “labels” we are talking about the standard adhesive sticker-type media. All labels will have some kind of adhesive on them and are meant to apply directly to the asset. Labels are by far the most commonly used barcode media due to the simplicity to design and print, and the ease to which they are attached to the asset. Labels also come in wide range of sizes and adhesive types to fit onto almost anything in any environment.


The main difference between a tag and a label is the tag’s lack of any adhesive. Tags are also made of thicker stock than a label. One of the most common uses of tags is the clothing hang-tag. In any application where a smooth surface doesn’t exist, you can use other means like string or staples to attach a tag.Likewise, applications where you need to remove the barcode from an item without leaving adhesive residue will benefit from using a tag.


Wristbands are a very specialized option for barcoding but also the best fit for the application of tracking people. You could always use a label on someone’s clothing but this will not be a reliable option since it’ll most likely fall off. A wristband is a reliable and easy to use means to get a barcode on a person that will not fall off and handle the rigors or everyday life.

Print Longevity – Print Method

Depending on how long you need your media to last, there are 2 varying print technologies from which to choose. The print method will determine how long the actual print on the media lasts.

Direct Thermal

Direct thermal (DT) media does not use any kind of ink or ribbon to print. The media is coated with heat-sensitive layer that changes color as it is exposed to the printer’s printhead. The printhead heats up and cools down according to your barcode design which is then imprinted into the media. Because the technology prints without a ribbon, direct thermal media is noted for its simplicity and lower overall cost. Direct thermal media has a considerable shelf life,(< 1 year), but is not well suited for environments exposed to heat, long periods of direct sunlight or abrasion. The printing on direct thermal media still produces sharp images with good scan ability. For any short term application, like shipping labels, Direct Thermal is the most efficient option.

Thermal Transfer

Thermal transfer media is not thermally coated and will require using a ribbon that is matched with the specific material type. In this case, the ribbon is essentially melted onto the media in the pattern of your barcode design. While thermal transfer media does use 2 consumables and is more costly upfront, the long term benefit may result in a cost savings over a direct thermal application. The thermal transfer media is not onlyimpervious to heat and moisture, but the imagecannot be rubbed off, making the print the most durable, long-lived option. Since the color and density is determined by the ribbon and the printer’s resolution, this method produces consistent, reliable printing on every label. For any application that needs a long lasting (> 1 year) and/or durable label, tag, or wristband, thermal transfer media will provide the most bang for your buck.

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Product Description

Purchasing genuine Zebra supplies means you have access to a large selection of quality, pre-tested, supplies manufactured by a thermal industry expert, reducing your risk of noncompliance

Key Applications

Healthcare – Patient Identification, Specimen Collection, Lab Specimen Processing

Transportation and Logistics  Shipping, Pallet Labeling, Packing Lists

Retail – Shelf-labeling, Markdown, Pharmacy, Item Labeling and Tagging

Manufacturing – Product Identification, Work-in-Process, Parts Identification

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