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3 Methods for Barcoding Tubes and Vials: Which is Best for Your Lab?

Diagnostics & Discovery | 3 May 2018

Posted by Jeff Denton

How to Barcode Tubes and Vials: Best Practices for Your Lab

As a leader in barcode and labeling solutions, we are often asked “What are the different methods of barcoding tubes and vials?” What you may not realize is there are actually various approaches; it all depends on the environment, volume, and processes of your company. Below we’ve outlined the pros and cons to a few different tube and vial labeling methods: labeling by hand, label automation, and outsourcing your barcoding of tubes and vials.

Pros & Cons barcoding tubes and vials (2)


Click here to view our solutions & products guide for laboratory labeling >

1. Labeling by handLabeling by hand

To label tubes and vials by hand is always an option. To accomplish this, you simply need either pre-printed label stock, or a printer, label stock materials, plus a workforce. This method of labeling is suitable for low volume or inconsistent lab operations that do not require complete precision of placement or guaranteed consistency. If your barcode labeling process doesn’t require variable information, labels can be pre-printed by your supplier and sent to you with nothing more to do than manually apply them.

If your lab is just starting up, it is possible your volumes are inconsistent and you are working to control costs; in that case, manual labeling could be the best solution for you. With this option, costs are minimized, and processes are kept simple. Additionally, if the information needed on your labels includes variable data such as the date or lot codes, manual labeling may be the most efficient way for your lab to label its labware. This proves that with this labeling method, flexibility is optimized; you can manually swap out label stock, utilize the same printer for other needs, and determine your batch size based on current needs.

While manual labeling is commonly utilized in many niches of the healthcare space, there are a few drawbacks. Obviously, with manual labeling there is a human workforce involved. With this comes possible inconsistencies and errors. Tubes and vials are often homes to human samples and specimens, and the manual labeling process could be compromising the integrity of your samples and their respective information. Additionally, if your lab makes the decision to label by hand, employees are then responsible for keeping inventory of all necessary materials like labels and ribbon, and maintaining a printer which can be more costly if errors or inconsistencies are to occur. Labeling by hand can also pose other challenge as Standard Operating Procedure often requires employees to wear gloves, which labels are prone to sticking to and can make for inefficient labeling practices.

For some labs, the option to hand label might not even be available because labels may not hold up to long term cryo storage or harsh chemicals. In these cases, direct or ceramic marking would need to be done via either an in-house operation or outsourcing program. It is important to discuss the expectations of your barcodes with your supplier prior to settling on any labeling method.

2. Label Automation

Another option for barcoding your tubes and vials is via label automation; label automation has become a more prevalent means of barcoding as it increases efficiencies in the lab.There is a broad range of label automation methods; there are standalone applicators that reside on a lab benchtop, and more customized equipment that can be integrated into a larger workflow process.

As mentioned above, there are a range of options for label automation. One of the label applicators that Computype provides is the Flex Tube Pro.

This product automatically sorts, orients, dispenses, and labels tubes and vials precisely allowing for easy changeovers and increased throughput. If your process utilizes other automatic workflows, precise label placement is important for later on, when the barcodes are automatically scanned for accurate identification. If barcodes are not precisely and correctly placed, the integrity of the samples can be compromised, creating the potential for backlogs. Automated labeling is the most beneficial option for a few cases:

  • High volume applications: With high volume applications, label automation can expedite the process and enable a higher throughput rate. This increases efficiency, and makes the labeling of your tubes and vials part of your existing process.

  • Larger automated processes: As mentioned above, automation is becoming more widely used in the healthcare industry. If your process is already utilizing automatic processes or looking to move towards automation, many of these systems can be easily integrated, further promoting this shift, and ensuring consistent scan rates throughout your process.

  • Label placement consistency is critical: This is common in healthcare, when human samples and specimens are being held in tubes and vials. Conserving the integrity of a sample is always the priority, and label placement accuracy and consistency further promotes that initiative.

As with any method of labeling, label automation does have its drawbacks. Typically, this shift in process will include capital expenditure, although ROI can be easily justified. Additionally, although less space for manual labor is needed with the implementation of automation, you will need to plan for the real estate needed to house an automatic applicator within your lab. This is not necessarily a drawback, however it needs to be planned for. 

3. OutsourcingOutsourced Labware

Certain label and labware suppliers have outsourcing programs where they will take care of the procurement, tare weighing, and labeling of your tubes and vials to accommodate your barcode and labeling specifications. This solution enables you to be completely hands-off when it comes to labeling, and leaves you to focus on more valuable laboratory processes. This option is ideal for applications that require a more long-term barcoding solution than a label itself; for instance, samples that need to be stored within harsh environments for long periods of time.

Here at Computype, we offer READY Labware Services, a program in which we procure labware, determine the best method for identification based on your unique specifications, mark the tubes and vials, and then send them your way (or send them directly to your customer!). This is the ultimate option for time and labor savings. The READY Labware Service program removes the need to store supplies associated with labels, labeling, and labware.

READY Labware Services goes beyond a label, too. With this program, there are various options for marking your tubes and vials regarding the method, the material it is being marked with, and also wide ranges of color options to further promote the correct identification of your samples. Outsourcing can also include labeling options that are more permanent and resilient than a traditional label.

As with all options, there are drawbacks. Although an outsourcing program provides flexibility, time, space, and manual labor savings, the option of outsourcing takes direct control over labeling away from your lab as you are not in-house to oversee the process. This is why it is important to work with a label manufacturer that you trust, and will collaborate with you to ensure they are accommodating to your specifications.


As you can see, there are various options for labeling your tubes and vials for your lab. Labeling by hand, integrating label automation into your lab, or outsourcing your labeling are all viable options, and could be beneficial options for your lab. Computype has the resources to accommodate all of these options, and can also help you determine the best option to suit your goals and processes. If you would like to request a free consultation, click here

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Jeff Denton

Based in Ohio, USA, Jeff Denton is Computype’s Senior Product Manager for the READY Labware Services portfolio. He has been in the barcoding industry for 15 years, and has ample experience in procurement and product management. Contact Jeff to learn more about our READY Labware Services outsourced barcoding program and our labware identification capabilities.