Everything You Need to Know About  Labeling for Cryogenic Storage Part 1: Cryo-Labels

Everything You Need to Know About  Labeling for Cryogenic Storage Part 1: Cryo-Labels

Research & Diagnostics, Labware Marking | 7 November 2019

Posted by Dave Harris

Everything You Need to Know About  Labeling for Cryogenic Storage Part 1: Cryo-Labels

Being able to identify samples is critical—without an identity a sample loses all integrity. Loss of sample integrity can lead to waste in several forms: physical waste if that sample becomes unusable, wasted time in the form of workflow interruptions and wasted budget if the sample was valuable.

When samples go into cryogenic storage, their integrity is especially at risk. The extreme temperatures and frost take quite a toll on the average label, which is where cryogenic labels come in handy. However, there’s a lot more to ensuring the safety of your sample identities than picking up just any old cryogenic labels.

This is the first post in a four part series to guide you through the process of making the right cryo-labeling decision for your lab, biobank, or compound storage facility. We aim to cover everything you’ll ever need to know about the cryogenic labeling process from what cryo-labels are to how you can pick the best solution for your needs.

For now, let’s start with the basics on cryogenic labels, how to prepare them, where you can find them and how you can apply them.

What are Cryo-labels?

Cryo or cryogenic labels are labels that have been specially engineered to withstand cryogenic conditions. The face material and adhesive are created and paired specifically to remain intact when stored under extremely cold temperatures for an extended period of time.

If your lab is storing samples under cryogenic conditions it’s incredibly important cryo-labels are being used since they were engineered specifically for that purpose. When labels that aren’t engineered for purpose are used you risk labels falling off the container, ultimately leading to a loss of sample integrity.

Additionally, you’ll need to consider which stage(s) of cryo storage your samples will be undergoing. There are multiple stages: deep freeze which can go as low as -80 C, vapor phase which can be as low as -120 C and liquid nitrogen storage which can reach temperatures as low as -196 C. Most cryo labels are engineered with a specific cryo storage stage in mind, so you’ll want to ensure you’re choosing labels that can withstand your storage temperatures.

Why are Labels Important for Cryogenic Storage?

In the healthcare field, the goal is always to help the patient. Whether that be through the development of a new treatment, or giving them a diagnosis so they can take the right course of action. Patients look to healthcare professionals for answers, and they expect accuracy.

Labels provide biological samples with an identity so they can be tracked through processing. Without accurate sample identification, results become meaningless as no test history or patient information can be attached to the sample. Typically, when samples lose their labels at any point during processing they end up going to waste, and depending on the value of the sample, a loss can cost a lot more than time and supplies.

Why is it Important to Choose the Right Label?

To avoid loss of sample integrity it’s important to choose the right label, one that’s engineered for your purposes, in this case that means choosing a cryogenic-resistant label.

In addition to ensuring your labels are engineered to withstand cryogenic storage conditions, you’ll want to ensure they can handle any other harsh exposures samples may face in your lab. A few questions you’ll want to ask yourself are:

  • Will samples be exposed to harsh chemicals like DMSO, methanol, acetone, or isopropyl alcohol?
  • Will samples be handled by robotic grippers at any point throughout their journey?
  • Will samples be exposed to extreme heat in addition to cold? If yes, at what length of time?

Chemicals, abrasive surfaces and heat may also be involved in the processing of biological samples that are cryogenically stored so it’s critical you ensure your labels can withstand all of the exposures your samples can expect to face.

Find out how you can choose the right labels for your facility in this blog post

Should I Order Pre-Printed Labels or Print In-House?

To print in house or to choose pre-printed labels can be a very difficult decision, or a very simple decision depending on your need for time sensitive variable information.

If you need information that isn’t available until the time of printing you will need to print in-house. Pre-printed labels require information to be known at the time the order is placed so static and sequential data can be easily accommodated, but time and date or patient specific information is difficult to integrate.

If your lab does know what information is needed prior to printing, you have a couple of options. Let’s go over the pro’s and con’s of printing in house and ordering pre-printed labels:

Printing In-House:

Pros:

  • Variable information can be printed as needed. Labels can also be reprinted and switchovers can be made whenever necessary.

  • A variety of print technology options are available—though we always recommend thermal transfer as it’s the most durable source of imaging and one of the most affordable print technologies on the market.

  • You maintain full control of how your labels are printed, how many are printed and how often.

Cons:

  • Printers, automation equipment and consumables take up space. Whether you’re utilizing one printer or many, some real estate will be occupied. Additionally, consumables will need to be stored somewhere within your facility.

  • With an in-house strategy you need to ensure time and labor are managed appropriately by either having staff dedicate a certain amount of time to printing and applying labels or reallocating/hiring new staff to perform labeling related duties—however this pressure can be reduced when using print and apply automation.

  • Some print technologies aren’t as durable or high resolution as others, and any reasonably priced color printer will sacrifice both of these factors. If multiple colors or logos are necessary in your labeling practice, and durability or resolution can’t be compromised, a special print technology that can’t be achieved in house might be more suitable to your practice.

Ordering Pre-Printed Labels:

Pros:

  • A wide variety of options are available to fit the needs of any application, special adhesives, face materials, print technologies, colors, automation compatibility, etc. You can even have labels fully customized to meet your needs.

  • Your labels will be delivered right to your facility in the quantity you ordered with the printing step already complete, now they only need to be applied—unless you ordered your tubes with labels pre-applied.

  • Increased opportunities for color and durability arise with pre-printed labels, as more complex print technologies are available to label manufacturers.

Cons:

  • Storing pre-printed labels can be a hassle. It takes up space and sometimes labels end up going unused for long periods of time. It’s not recommended to use old labels as adhesives deteriorate over time.

  • You might run out! If your throughput spikes unexpectedly you might run out of labels sooner than expected, and unfortunately your labels won’t be able to arrive immediately—and will take even longer to arrive if customizations are made.

  • Time sensitive variable information can’t be accommodated with pre-printed labels as you will need to inform your label manufacturer of the information your labels require prior to ordering.

Where to Buy Cryo-Labels

A great number of suppliers offer cryo-labels so it’s important to do your research. While all cryo-labels are engineered for use in cryogenic environments—they aren’t created equal.

Whether your processes involve freezer temps, vapor phase or liquid nitrogen processing is going to greatly determine which label type is most suitable for your application.

Look for suppliers with a solid track record who can offer labels suited to your cryogenic process and any additional exposures your samples might face.

To help you narrow down your search, we’ve compiled this list of cryogenic label suppliers. Check it out!

What about Computype?

We mentioned above there isn’t just one type of cryo-label. To serve as an example, we’re going to break down our cryo-label options, let’s take a quick look at each:

Cryo Hold Freezer Labels

Our Cryo-Hold freezer labels are designed to withstand freezer conditions in temperatures as low as -80 C. They can also survive a number of other common lab exposures including a variety of lab chemicals and even time in the autoclave.

They’re available in a range of sizes and can fit both straight and conical tubes though specs can be tailored at customer request if necessary. Cryo-Hold freezer labels can also be purchased either blank, pre-printed or pre-printed and pre-applied.

Temperature resistance

-80 C – 122 C

Chemical resistance

DMSO, methanol, acetone, isopropyl alcohol

Standard label size options

.75” x .5”
1” x .5”
1.5” x .75”
2” x 1”
Custom-sizes available as well

Container shape options

Straight or conical

How do they arrive?

Blank roll of labels (in a kit with thermal transfer ribbon and a cleaning pen)

Pre-printed (color options available)

Pre-printed and pre-applied (color options available)

Base Cost

$228+ (Price increases with kit volume, customizations, pre- printing, etc.)

 

Cryo Hold Liquid Nitrogen Labels

Our Cryo-Hold liquid nitrogen labels are engineered to withstand both vapor phase and liquid nitrogen storage at temperatures as low as -196 C. In addition to extreme cold, they can be exposed to heat as high as 122 C and various lab chemicals.

The unique thing about these labels that allows them to face such harsh conditions is the built in wrap-around laminate. The wraparound laminate covers the printed portion of the label, protecting all printed information from any harsh elements.

Just like the Cryo-Hold freezer labels, they can be purchased in blank kits, pre-printed or pre-printed and pre-applied in a range of sizes for either straight or conical tubes. Cryo-Hold liquid nitrogen labels can also be tailored to accommodate specific needs.

Temperature resistance

-196 C – 122 C

Chemical resistance

DMSO, methanol, acetone, isopropyl alcohol

Standard label size options

.5” x 1.8”
.68” x 2.5”
1” x 2.625”
1” x 2.28”
Custom-sizes available as well

Container shape options

Straight or conical

How do they arrive?

Blank roll of labels (in a kit with thermal transfer ribbon and a cleaning pen)

Pre-printed (color options available)

Pre-printed and pre-applied (color options available)

Base Cost

$256+ (Price increases with kit volume, customizations, pre-   printing, etc.)

 

Direct Mark Print Technology

Direct mark is a print technology that uses specially cured inks to print directly on the surface of the tube or vial. In addition to being aesthetically appealing, this print technology is also extremely durable.

Since the inks are cured directly to the surface of the tube, direct mark is unaffected by repeated freeze and thaw cycles making it a great match for handling that requires multiple changes in temperature.

Temperature Resistance

-196 C – 122 C

Chemical Resistance

DMSO, methanol, acetone, isopropyl alcohol

Size Options

The shape and size of the mark is fully customizable

Container Shape Options

Any container shape can be accommodated

Color Options

Full range, pantone matching

How do containers arrive?

Pre-marked

Read this blog to find the ideal tube and vial marking technology for your  process!

Download our labware labeling catalog to explore all of our cryo & harsh environment label options

How to Apply Cryo-Labels

Application is critical when it comes to applying cryogenic labels and there are three main ways it can be done. Here we’ll briefly cover manual, automated and pre-barcoding methods:

Manual

Manual application is exactly what it sounds like, labels are applied directly to individual tubes and vials by hand. This method requires a workforce and labels. The labels can be purchased pre-printed or blank and labels can be applied post in-house printing or prior to handwriting information onto the label.

A handwritten method is not recommended for cryo-storage as the inks of most permanent pens and markers are not engineered to withstand cryogenic conditions, and anyone who’s exposed permanent marker to acetone or isopropyl alcohol knows the ink’s permanence is conditional. Handwriting isn’t always readable either, leaving the integrity of your samples at risk.

Though manual application is still commonly practiced, it’s the most labor intensive method by far. Employees will typically either prepare their own tubes and vials prior to testing, or a team will be specially assigned to labeling. Manual application of cryo-labels is particularly difficult since factors like temperature and frost will affect the performance of adhesives, even with specially engineered labels, so special care must be taken during application to ensure they survive storage.

Are you having trouble keeping your cryo-labels intact during storage?   Check out our blog to find out how you can prevent your labels from falling off

Automated

Automation equipment can also be used to apply labels to tubes and vials. Varying degrees of human involvement exist within tube and vial automation from tube and vial labelers that require individual containers to be manually placed near the applicator before the equipment is activated by a button or foot-switch, to labelers that allow the operator to place hundreds or thousands of tubes into the machine, press a button and return to labeled containers a couple hours later.

This equipment can also feed into downstream automation, such as sorting, kitting and stacking equipment for a more fully integrated and automated approach.

Pre-barcoding

Some facilities will allow you to purchase labware with labels already applied—allowing your lab to completely bypass in-house labeling.

This option isn’t always practical however, if your lab utilizes a highly customized internal numbering system or requires information to be printed that isn’t known ahead of time, in-house labeling might be a better option. If, on the other hand, your lab can work with generic barcodes, static or incrementing information or knows all data for labeling prior to printing, pre-barcoding might be a suitable approach.

The next three parts of this series will go into greater detail about automated label application, pre-barcoded labware and choosing the right strategy for your lab, to help you better understand each method and make the most educated decision.

Our goal in this series is to cover everything you need to know about cryogenic labeling, from what it is to your options when it comes to getting it done. We hope we were able to answer your questions, but if you have more please leave them in the comments below!

If you have any specific questions regarding Computype’s cryogenic tube and vial labels, give us a call!

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Dave Harris

Based in Chicago, IL, Dave Harris has been with Computype for over 23 years in a variety of sales & leadership roles. As our Vice President of Strategic Accounts, Dave works with customers all over the globe to ensure tangible & consistent business benefits are realized. Focused on cost savings, operational efficiencies, and process optimization, Dave’s role is to help customers get the most value from their automatic identification investment. In his spare time, Dave likes to golf, watch movies, and spend time outside with his dog, Yukon.