A Retailer's Guide to Labels and Label Rolls

A Retailer's Guide to Labels and Label Rolls

Labels are an integral part of retail establishments, especially if there are large volumes of products. They help in instantly identifying products, whether for inventory purposes, employee convenience, customer awareness, transportation or long-term identification. Nowadays, customers automatically expect labels on all products and prefer being able to learn about products without having to involve the store staff.

Manufacturers generally attach their own universal labels onto products. However, retailers typically add on their own labels for better product management, pricing, identification, and for branding purposes. Effective labels encourage customers to complete their purchase and to return for further sales.

As label printers become a common part of POS System for most retailers, their applications have increased multi-fold. Modern retailers can have in-house label printers to custom print any style of label, including barcodes and even RFID tags. With an adequate label printer and a compatible label rolls, you can print an unlimited variety of custom labels as desired.

Here is a complete guide on labels and label rolls for retailers, to help you make the most out of your labels.

Evolution of Labels

In the current 21st century, labels are everywhere, but printed labels first came on the scene in the 1700s. These initial labels were primarily used to label apothecary and medical containers, followed by wine bottles. The labels were printed using a wooden press on handmade paper, which was then glued on the product manually, resulting in a time consuming and expensive process. For coloured labels, each label had to be painted by hand.

In 1798, the paper machine was invented and the principle of lithography was developed, making label production faster and more efficient. In the 1830s, the applications of labels increased and in the 1850s the technology for colour printing improved.

Self-adhesive labels were developed in 1935 and were the start of a billion-dollar industry worldwide, gaining pace in 1960s with the mass production of self-adhesive labels. These new labels could be applied on a variety of surfaces, including plastics, cartons, wood, metals and glass. The self-adhesive labels were easier to remove if required, increasing their popularity as compared to older adhesives.

The next major milestone in the journey of labels was the development of ‘intelligent’ labels such as barcodes that gained prominence in the 1970s. Labels were able to store large amounts of data while still retaining a small size. In the 2000s, RFID (Radio-frequency identification) started finding applications in commercial labelling as the costs became affordable.

In the 1990s printers became more affordable and since then many retail establishments have setup their own in-house label printers. To support in-house label printing, specialised self-adhesive label rolls gained popularity, available in varying sizes and shapes.

Types of Labels for Retail

Labels can be classified in a variety of ways, including on the basis of the printing technology supported, the end-use application, and material of label rolls. Nevertheless, the types of labels can be broadly divided on the basis of the data that is printed on the label.

1. General Labels

General labels are the most common types of labels, where all the information is directly printed onto the stock media and can be read without the need of any device. These labels can be printed on a variety of materials, ranging from papers and plastics, to films and mixed mediums. The size of the label can vary and different colours can also be used for greater visibility or visual appeal. General labels need to be readable and have suitable clarity.

They can be used for inventory management and shipping, but are most frequently found on product descriptions so that customers can understand information about the product. Other label types, such as barcodes and RFID tags can be used in conjunction with general labels to increase the efficiency of these labels. Since all the information is printed directly onto the label, only a limited amount of details can be included. The information printed is directly proportional to the size of the label.

These labels are the easiest to use since there is no need to develop a coding and scanning system. There is also immense flexibility when it comes to design, bright colours, graphics, logos, anything can be incorporated with a general label. All label printers can be used for printing general labels, but the label rolls would vary depending on compatibility with the printer.

2. Barcodes

Barcodes, patterns of numbers and lines with differing widths, can be found on a vast majority of products nowadays. The pattern of the barcode forms a scannable code that can represent large amounts of data about the product. They are small and compact, and can be scanned quickly, much faster than manually reading a label. Barcodes are available in 1D linear formats and matrix codes or 2D formats such as QR codes. They are often printed alongside general content, so that a single label can be read manually and by scanners for more details.

Labels with barcodes are especially useful for fast checkouts inventory management since a scanner can instantly identify the product for transactions, and indicate it as sold in the inventory. Although barcodes were initially invented for grocery applications, they are well-suited for retail. Information pertaining to the product brand, size, model, type and other details can be stored with the barcode, helping keep track of sales and inventory.

Most label printers that support high-definition printing will be able to print barcodes. A dedicated barcode scanner will be needed in order to scan the barcodes, although some 2D barcodes can be scanned by smartphone cameras. Any label roll compatible with a high definition printer can be used for barcodes, although white coloured material may be more suitable for easy scanning.


RFID has gained prominence in labelling mostly over the past decade, as the costs for implementing RFID tags went down, making them more affordable for retailers. Around 69% of retailers worldwide have already adopted some form of RFID use. Large amounts of data can be stored onto these tags, which is then read by compatible readers or scanners.

Although the concept of RFID and barcodes are similar, RFID can store a lot more information. Also, the tags can be scanned from a distance, without even facing the front of the label, unlike barcodes which have to be scanned by facing the pattern. RFID tag labels are useful for inventory management and during transactions at the POS.

Many modern printers have capabilities for RFID and can print and encode tags as desired. Barcode scanners are also available that can scan barcodes as well as RFID tags. Additionally, these tags can be used for employee management, access management and to prevent theft. By setting up a scanner at the store exit, any RFID tag not removed at the POS system can trigger an alarm.

Applications of Labels for Retailers

Labels are immensely versatile and can be adapted to any use. If you visit any retail store, depending on the store size you will most likely come across hundreds of labels. The basic premise is to convey information, and that can be for the staff of the store for management purposes, or for the customers. Labels can be used for any combination of information, identification, warning, or advertising purposes.

With a label printer and adequate label rolls, you can freely experiment and devise your own applications for labels. Some of the main applications of labels for retailers are:

  • Inventory Management

Inventory management is an important aspect for every retailer. By keeping accurate track of existing inventory and sales, you can plan ordering further suppliers and avoid being out of stock of popular items and over stocking less popular products. With labels, you can easily identify which products are stores in your inventory, especially if there are large packages of items. Having adequate labels outside of large packages can let you know what is inside without having to manually check each individual package.

- Also Read: All You Need to Know About Skus And Inventory Management

Although any type of label can be used for inventory management, barcodes and RFID tags are popular and are combined with general labels. With a barcode or RFID tag, you can scan and identify products without having to read the full label. Since inventory is accessed primarily by store staff and is not seen directly by consumers, scannable labels are preferable, while keeping overall label sizes small. The same labels can be scanned at the POS system, and automatically adjusted against the overall inventory so you have a real-time overview of currently stocked items.

Using labels for inventory management offers several benefits. With an up-to-date inventory system, you can know at any given point of time, what products you have in stock. If you have large storage spaces or multiple storage areas, labelling can help you find products quickly. By having a well-labelled inventory system, you can reduce business costs by enabling you to make more accurate informed decisions for purchasing new assets. Employee productivity is increased with a labelled inventory system as it reduces the time required to manually update inventory. Therefore, employees get more free time to cater to other business needs and to personally help customers, thereby increasing your sales and profits.

Suitable Label Rolls

Label rolls for inventory management typically have strong adhesives so that the labels do not fall off during storage or transportation. Depending upon where you store the inventory and the ambient conditions, you can opt for weather-proof and heat resistant labels. Since inventory management focuses on barcodes or RFID tags, the label size can be kept relatively smaller.

  • Product Description

A primary purpose for the development of labels was for product descriptions. Product labels serve multiple purposes; they identify the product, market it, separate it from competition, give instructional details, warnings, ingredients, prices, brand details, instructions, and uses. General labels are generally used for product descriptions, so that customers can easily read and understand the details. Barcodes and RFID tags are often attached to product description general labels for inventory management and transactional purposes.

Depending upon the specific product, the label details will vary. For certain items, such as pre-packaged goods, food items, cosmetics, chemicals, and imported goods, the government will also have additional parameters that need to be met. Garments typically have labels with care and treatment labels, size identification labels, and details of the materials used.

Apart from providing the basic information required for consumers, there is immense flexibility in custom labels. Store branding can be included in the label, you can include logos, bright colours, a mix of small and large lettering, and use different sized labels. New labels can be used for fresh stock, or you can group the labels according to product category. Multiple labels of different sizes can also be used for a single product, by layering them on top of each other.

When planning for product description labels and finalising the design, always consider what the consumer would like to know about the product. The label can be a strong advocate for your brand, and help you seal conversions without any manual interference. They should be able to provide answers to all the initial questions a customer may have about the product. For larger stores, you can also consider setting up an independent barcode scanner system that can convey greater details about an item when its barcode is scanned.

Suitable Label Rolls

Label rolls for product descriptions should be of good quality so that the final labels are long-lasting and can support good quality and high definition prints. Based on the product material, you can experiment with different materials such as papers, films, and plastics, transparent and coloured backings.

  • Promotions

The competition amongst retailers is growing day by day, making promotions and campaigns a necessity to stand out from the crowd and to catch and retain the interest of customers. The purpose of promotional labels is to be eye-catching, encourage sales and support branding. General labels with big, bold and often colourful designs are used for promotions. Barcodes or RFID tags are also often incorporated into promotional labels to help track the success of the promotion. These promotional labels are useful whether you are running targeted promotions, launching a new campaign, introducing new products, testing a new market, or preparing for a new event.

Promotional labels are generally designed to be attached on top of the existing product label. They have less information than general labels, but larger fonts for a greater impact. Promotional labels contain information such as discounted price, original price, last day of sales, amount of discount. For larger sales, or if you are short on time, generic promotional labels indicating the sale and discount can be instantly attached to all desired products.

For greater customer engagement, you can also include QR codes on promotional labels. As most smartphones can scan QR codes, it is a useful way of showing details about a product directly to the customer. A QR code is also likely to spark the curiosity of customers, and encourage them to scan the code. Promotional labels can also be used as coupons within the store, announcing specific discounts without actually marking the product.

Suitable Label Rolls

For promotional labels, you can use a variety of fun sizes and shapes, and try out coloured label rolls. With a coloured label roll, you get a big impact while also saving money on coloured ink. Label rolls in the form of tags are a great option, since they have coloured backgrounds with certain areas white for printing. Tags are available with pre-punched holes for easier attachment and even come with printed messages such as ‘Sale price’ and a blank spot to fill in the details. The self-adhesives are less strong, so that the promotional labels can be removed easily when the promotions end.

  • Security and Anti-Theft Protection

Theft is an unfortunate part of retail sales, whether it is pilfering by employees or shoplifting by customers. Labels can also act as a security measure. By setting up a remote scanner near the exits of your store, any items with an active tag can trigger an alarm when they are taken past the exit gate. RFID tags are ideal for security purposes since they can be scanned from distances of 20 feet, without even facing the product directly.

By incorporating an RFID system with your standard product description labels, or on the labels of high value products, you can track their movement effectively. When a purchase is made, the RFID tag can be deactivated, allowing it to pass through the gates without any alarm. While previously large plastic tags were used for theft protection, security labels are discreet, faster to deactivate and overall easier to manage.

Security labels can be attached separately to desired products, or incorporated with the general product labels. In comparison to other labels, the tags and stock material used for security labels tends to be more expensive. If you have a limited budget, you can attach the security labels to selected items or during sales when there are a lot of people in the store. With a larger budget, you can combine the product description and security label into one, and apply on all desired products.

Suitable Label Rolls

Security label rolls require dedicated label rolls that are compatible with RFID coding. The size would depend on the amount of information you want to print on the label, and whether you want to use it as the product description label. Before purchasing label rolls, confirm that your label printer has RFID encoding capabilities.

  • Shipping Labels (Also known as Freight labels)

Retail stores typically don’t have many shipping needs since customers purchase products directly from the store. However, the home-delivery model is gaining rapid popularity, especially with the massive growth of eCommerce websites. Shipping services are an excellent way to expand your reach, increase sales, and boost revenues.

Offering home delivery services from your retail store is an easy way to expand your local reach and increase sales within your existing customer group. Even without setting up an eCommerce site, you can use offline pamphlets or other forms of communication to setup a home delivery system. For an eCommerce site, there are plenty of top platforms available, such as Magento, BigCommerce and Shopify where you can expand your retail business. Many eCommerce platforms also integrate with retail POS systems, so that you can manage all your inventory effectively.

Whether you opt for home delivery services or an eCommerce site, any delivery of any product will require shipping labels. With an existing label printing setup, you can conveniently print out shipping labels. Freight labels can be customised and instantly printed, simplifying the delivery process. Public postal services, dedicated delivery personnel or third-party delivery service can all be used to complete home deliveries effectively, accurately and quickly.

Suitable Label Rolls

There are dedicated label rolls available for shipping and freight purposes. The labels are generally large so that all shipping related information can be included and have extra strength adhesives, designed to stay on during the hectic shipping process. These labels are durable and long lasting, and are available in a variety of sizes and colours, to suit different package sizes.

Types of Label Printers

Traditional printers, including those with inkjet and laser technologies can be used to print labels. There are specialised label rolls available for inkjet and laser printers, including in the form of A4 sheets to suit standard printers. However, considering the large-scale applications of labels for a retail store, having a specialised label printer is ideal for optimum effectiveness.

Dedicated label printers typically use thermal printing technologies, since inkjet and laser printers tend to be expensive for bulk printing. The printing technology used has a major impact on the quality, durability, and cost of the labels. There are two types of thermal printers that are used for label printing:

1. Direct Thermal Label Printers: Direct Thermal Label printer use heat to transfer the desired content onto specially temperature treated paper, without the need for any ribbons or ink. Any type of content can be printed, including texts, barcodes and graphics, however, the resulting labels are heat-sensitive and prone to fading. They are fast and cost-effective, but can only be printed in monochromatic colours.

2. Thermal Transfer Label Printers: Thermal Transfer Printer use special ribbons that transfer pigment to the label roll when heat is applied through the printhead. Any content or design can be printed including high density images. The labels are brighter, long lasting and support the use of multiple colours, but the costs are higher.

If you are planning on purchasing a new label printer, then there are several aspects to consider. Examine the possible applications of labels in your business, and identify what kinds of labels you would need. How many labels would you need and how fast would you need them? What is the expected label size? What kind of clarity and definition should the labels have? Analysing your label requirement can help you choose the best label printer for your retail business. With the vast range of label printers available, there is a suitable printer for every budget.

Selecting the Right Label Rolls

Label rolls are the raw stock materials upon which the labels are printed by the label printer. They are commonly sold in roll format for easier use and storage, although sheet forms are also available. Label rolls are available in a vast range of sizes, materials, and finishes. Choosing the right label rolls is imperative if you want to get the best quality labels from your label printer.

When selecting a label roll, there are two main criteria to focus on: the label should be compatible with your printer and suit your end-use application. Here are the aspects you should consider selecting a label roll:

1. Printer Compatibility

The compatibility between the label printer and the label rolls is essential. If you already have a label printer, check its specifications, the size of labels it can print on and the printing technology used. If you are planning on purchasing a new label printer, analyse your labelling needs and then find printers that can meet your requirements. Label roll and printer compatibility depends on:

  • Printing Technology: First and foremost, you need to check which printing technology is used by your printer. There is a fundamental difference between direct thermal and thermal transfer printing, and their label rolls are distinct. Heat-treated direct thermal labels roll are not suited for thermal transfer printing and thermal transfer labels roll are not compatible with direct thermal printing. Similarly, inkjet and laser printers will also have their own specialised label rolls. A mismatch of label roll and printing technologies can result in poor quality prints, or even no prints at all.
  • Label Roll Size: Every printer that can print on label rolls will have certain label roll core sizes that it supports. Depending upon your printer, there can be one or more compatible core sizes. The core sizes range from 19 mm to 76 mm, and it is important to choose the right size for your printer. A core size too small can result in the label roll moving during printing, giving uneven and shabby prints. If the label roll core size is too big, it might not even fit in the printer. The right sized label roll will fit perfectly, have no movement, and will support accurate and fast printing.

2. End-Use Application

The increase in versatility and flexibility of labels has been supported by the vast range of label rolls offered in the market. There are dedicated label rolls available for retail purposes, shipping, label tags, outdoor labels and more. Within retail, there are multiple applications of labels. Depending upon demand, you can have different types of label rolls available on-hand so that you can switch them as desired. These label rolls are available in direct thermal, thermal transfer and inkjet printing technology capabilities. Always confirm the printer compatibility before checking the end-use applications.

When selecting a label roll based on its end-use application, consider the following:

  • Label Size: Unlike the label roll core size which is dependent on the printer, the label size refers to the measurements of each individual label. There are a vast number of label sizes and shapes available. A single label roll can have anywhere between 400 to 4,000 labels depending upon the size. Plan out the amount of information and details you want on the final label to estimate the label size required. For example, product description labels would need to be large, while barcode labels can be smaller.
  • Label Material: The material used for the label roll will have a big impact on the final label, including its appearance, adhesive capabilities and overall durability. Popular label roll materials include paper, foil, plastics, and combination materials, but paper and plastics are the most common. Adhesive capabilities include permanent, semi-permanent, removable and freezer-grad adhesives. For printing RFID tags, there are dedicated label rolls with chips that support coding. The label material is available in different colours and with finishes such as glossy, matte and regular. Label rolls with partial prints or selected colouring are a great way to get eye-catching labels while saving on printer ink costs.
  • Durability Required: Nowadays, there are labels that are immensely long-lasting and durable, with characteristics such as being weatherproof, waterproof, dust-proof, and freezer safe. Accordingly, you should think about the durability requirements from your labels. Exceptionally durable labels tend to come at a higher cost, and are typically not essential for most retail applications. Consider the longevity of the products, the environment where they are stores and displayed, and the duration of an average sales cycle. It might be possible that a simple heat resistant label roll can suit your needs.

Always remember to purchase your label rolls from a reliable seller, so that you get good quality labels.


Labels are a powerful tool for retailers and can be used in a variety of different ways. They improve visibility, convey information, help with branding, reduce pressure on staff, and make management easier. General labels, barcodes and RFID tags are all commonly used by retailers worldwide. Standard applications of labels in a retail environment include product descriptions, promotions, inventory management, and security.

The right combination of a label printer and label roll is all that you need to produce large volumes of custom labels. An in-house labelling setup offers significantly greater flexibility and cost savings as compared to ordering pre-printed custom labels. If you expand your brand into home-delivery or eCommerce, a labelling system can help you manage deliveries.

Here at POS Plaza, you can find an extensive range of label rolls to suit any kind of label printer and application. We also offer label printers and consumables such as thermal transfer ribbon and printer ink, so that you can easily setup your own labelling system. Reach out to our team to discuss your labelling and POS needs.

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