Review: labelling technologies, which do you need?

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 28th June 2016
Labels are perfect for normal product runs and promotions, where they offer a cost-effective solution for short runs or time periods, without needing new packaging.
Labels are perfect for normal product runs and promotions, where they offer a cost-effective solution for short runs or time periods, without needing new packaging.

Labelling offers many different ways to code, mark and identify products. Labels can be used from primary to tertiary levels, on individual products, through to cartons and pallets.

As well as normal product runs, labels are also perfect to use for promotions, offering a cost-effective solution for short runs or time periods, without needing new packaging.

But with different types of labelling technologies, which is suited best to which applications?

Most people are familiar with label printer applicators (LPA) and label applicators (LA), but may not be so sure of what an “in-line labelling” system involves.


Label printer applicators (LPAs) print information onto pressure-sensitive labels then automatically apply those labels to a product. This is why they are also called “print and apply” solutions.

Next-generation LPAs, which are easy to use, can be fully networked to integration software, allowing quick changeovers and making label design and format change easy. Being integrated, the real-time line-status monitoring enables plant mangers to look up a product/barcode database, plus control barcode scanners and weighing scales (and other peripheral devices); it also opens the door for OEE reporting. (See the OEE section on our blog for more information. This overall description is a good place to start.)

Integrated software also allows LPAs to be programed without a PC on the production line; for example, to do logic programming, such as dates.


Because LPAs have excellent print quality, the barcode labels are fully compliant with all GS1 and retailer quality standards. (This article has more information on barcode quality.) LPA’s apply human-readable and barcode information to cartons or pallets, but also some primary products. They can be used on a variety of substrates, including plastics, metal (including steel) and timber. Some LPAs can also print RFID Smart Labels.


LAs are automated labelling systems that apply pre-printed pressure-sensitive labels generally onto primary products with flat surfaces. LAs save all the resources associated with manually applying labels (time, money and opportunity cost of doing something else). This is the reason they’re the perfect alternative to the manual “slap-and-ship” method, particularly for barcoding. Because they are precise, LAs give products a professional finish.

LAs apply primary labels, as well as promotional or marketing labels onto pre-labelled retail packs. They can also apply pre-printed barcode labels onto cartons or trays, and can apply multiple labels at higher speeds.


Next-generation LA’s apply human and machine-readable information. They can be used for GTIN barcodes, ingredient lists, nutritional panels, general product information and promotional labelling.


In-line labelling systems are the materials-handling addition a LA needs to accurately address the label onto the product for presentation purposes. They are integrated into the production line (hence being “in line”), and are suitable for a wide range of applications onto a variety of product shapes and sizes. In-line labelling systems can apply a variety of label-position combinations: front & back (including on round, oval and conical bottles); front, back & wrap; on tubes; and cylinders (including a full-wrap overlap).

In-line systems may need to capture, spin or turn a product to ensure the label dispensed from the LA is accurately placed on the product.

In-line labellers can be either fully automatic or semi-automatic. Semi-automatic in-line labellers are portable, and well suited to slower production lines, low volumes or short runs to label bottles, jars, tubs, cans, tubes and more.


In-line labelling systems apply human-readable and GTIN barcode information to primary products.

For guidance on the best type of labelling technology to suit your needs, speak to our experts.


* Mark Dingley is General Manager of Matthews Australasia and Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA). With 20+ years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with manufacturers and industry associations, Mark actively contributes to industry forums, magazines and the Matthews blog.