Everything You Need to Know About Microwell Plate Labeling Part 1: Microwell Plate Labels

Everything You Need to Know About Microwell Plate Labeling Part 1: Microwell Plate Labels

Research & Diagnostics, Labware Marking, Labware Automation, Price & Planning | 9 October 2019

Posted by Dave Harris

Everything You Need to Know About Microwell Plate Labeling Part 1 Microwell Plate Labels

If you’re performing high-throughput analysis in the healthcare industry, you’re probably familiar with microwell plates. The small, plastic, multicavity plates that can hold tens, hundreds even thousands of small samples at a time for fast and efficient testing.

Just like any other sample container, microwell plates require proper identification. Labeling in general can be time consuming, and unfortunately the unique shape and often restrictive height constraints of microwell plates make label application especially difficult.

In order to keep up with throughput demand and the high speeds of downstream automation, it’s critical microwell plates are labeled both accurately and efficiently.

Through this four part series, we want to assure you that when it comes to improving accuracy and efficiency in your microwell plate labeling strategy there are options.

Today, we’ll start with the topic of microwell plates and their labels. We’ll look into what they are, why choosing the right label is important and a few ways those labels can be applied.

What are Microwell Plates?

Microwell plates are small, plastic, multi-cavity plates that are typically used in high throughput analysis workflows.

These plates are extremely versatile and can be found in nearly any healthcare or life sciences lab where high throughput analysis is performed.

They can hold samples of nearly any kind, but typically won’t be used for any tests that require storage. Since microplate samples are almost never stored they live a relatively short lifespan between preparation and disposal.

The overall footprint of microwell plates is generally the same—around 3.5 inches by 5 inches—as regulated by ANSI and SLAS. By standardizing the footprint of microwell plates, processes can become more streamlined by ensuring device compatibility.

Despite the similar footprint, the number of wells in plates can vary greatly. Originally all plates contained a total of 96 wells. Over time the number of wells has increased substantially, now you can find microwell plates with upwards of 1,000 wells! This increase in the number of wells has mostly been driven by the trend of miniaturization—smaller samples, less fluids and reagents are required for testing now than in the past, so wells can be smaller.

Well depths can also vary alongside the well numbers and diameters, and as well depth increases or decreases so does the height of the plate.  

Why do Microwell Plates Need Labels?

Just like most other sample containers, microwell plates need labels for proper identification. Some examples of identification information that might be included on a microwell plate label include:

  • A unique barcode
  • A sample ID number
  • Identification of the test or analysis being run
  • Information on the spotting of wells

Beyond identification, some automated systems use information stored in barcodes to automatically store test data upon scanning. This allows accurate records to be kept for future reference with little to no effort required. Other times, an automated system may utilize labels that have information regarding plate dimensions or sample locations so necessary adjustments can be made prior to testing.

If more information is required than can fit in an individual barcode, RFID inlays might even be added to the labels. In addition to increased memory capacity RFID “smart labels” allow for scanning without line of sight for faster and easier processing.

Some labs also utilize a color labeling strategy for easy organization and at a glance recognition. Typically, a lab will add color to their plate labeling strategy if a number of tests are being run in their facility. A color coding system can be developed to easily match plates to the appropriate test based on the color of their label. This way any potential mistakes can be easily recognized and avoided.

Microwell Plate Labels

Why is it Important to Choose the Right Label?

Choosing the right label is an important step in forming a functional labeling strategy. The number one piece of advice we give here is that you always choose a label that is engineered for your purposes.

When you’re using an engineered for purpose label you can rest assured your labels will withstand your processes and that you’re investing in the features you need, and none you don’t.

You’ll need to look at your downstream processes to ensure you’re choosing the right label, here are a few questions you should ask yourself to ensure you’re making the right decision:

  • Will your plates be exposed to harsh chemicals at any point during processing?
  • Will your plates be exposed to extreme temperatures at any point during processing?
  • Will your plates be exposed to abrasive substances or robotic grippers at any point during processing?

Let your label supplier know if your answer to any of the above questions is yes so they can help you find a suitable label to withstand your processes.

If your label or labware supplier offers pre-labeled labware they may also offer additional marking technologies that can’t be applied in house, which we’ll discuss in more detail later on.

Find out which of our marking technologies best fits your practices in our blog

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

Whether to pre-print or to print in-house can be a difficult decision—or a very simple and straightforward decision depending on your needs and processes.

If your microwell plate labels require information that isn’t known until the moment the label is printed, the answer to this question is very cut and dry—you must implement an in-house printing strategy. Whether that strategy utilizes printers and manual application, or print and apply automation is up to you. Either way, in order to accommodate your variable information you will need to print in house.

In any other case the decision to print on-demand or order pre-printed labels becomes a bit more complicated so let’s weigh out the pro’s and cons of each:

Printing In-House:


    • Variable information can be printed easily and labels can be reprinted or 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 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.


    • 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. In instances where print and apply automation is utilized, this point is less of an issue.

    • 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 cannot be compromised, a special print technology that can’t be achieved in house might be more suitable to your practice.

Ordering Pre-Printed Labels:


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

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


    • 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 they will take even longer to arrive if customizations are made.

    • Time sensitive variable information cannot be accommodated with pre-printed labels as you will need to inform your label manufacturer of the information you require at the time of ordering.

Where Can I Get Microwell Plate Labels?

A number of suppliers offer microwell plate labels so it’s important to do your research. All plate labels are designed to be used on microwell plates, but, they aren’t created equal.

Your plate dimensions, processes, preferred print-technology and budget are all going to play a role in determining which labels are ultimately best for your application.

Take some time to look around for suppliers with a solid track-record who can offer labels suited to your needs and any additional exposures your samples might face before you reach out.

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

What About Computype?

When looking for plate labels you’ll want to make sure your supplier offers labels that meet the needs of your application. Take care in comparing and contrasting the features of the labels offered with your specific needs.

We offer various microwell plate label options of our own, so, to serve as an example we’ll run through three features we feel make our labels stand-out from the competition.

  1. Supportive of a range of processes

Whether you prefer printing your own labels in-house, applying pre-printed labels or even purchasing pre-barcoded labware we have options available to accommodate your needs.

Our standard blank or pre-printed options are easy to order and ship quickly—take a peek at page 8 of our lab catalog for more details. We can validate automation compatibility with any of our standard options to ensure a seamless integration into your processes.

You can also purchase your plates with our labels pre-applied through READY Labware Services. We source your plates and apply your barcodes according to your specs. You can choose from our standard label options or try direct mark technology.

No matter your existing application processes or future goals we have compatible labels for your plates.

  1. Engineered for harsh environments

We offer a variety of specially engineered options to ensure optimal performance from your labels.

All of our options are able to withstand extreme temperatures. Special care is taken to match thermal transfer ribbon to label stock to ensure survival of chemical exposures if you print in-house. If you choose to order your labels pre-printed or plates with markings pre-applied we offer additional print and marking technologies which are also suitable for harsh processes.

  1. Customizable

    If you need more than standard off the shelf solutions we can offer customized sizes, shapes and colors. Whether your plate dimensions aren’t standard, you need to get organized or you’re just looking for aesthetic appeal we can help you create your ideal label.

Find More Details About Our Plate Labels on the Product Page >

How Can I Apply Microwell Plate Labels?

There are three ways you can apply your plate labels, manually, with automation equipment or skip labeling yourself and utilize pre-labeled labware.

Manual label application is commonly practiced in labs, and is exactly what it sounds like. When a manual labeling process is used labels are applied to microwell plates by hand. This process takes a lot of time and special care to ensure precise placement since microwell plate labels are long and thin and technicians often wear gloves.

Automatic Microwell Plate LabelerAutomatic label application is also an option, where labels can be applied automatically by an automated label applicator. Some utilize print and apply automation, while others require pre-printed label stock. Automation offers improved speed, accuracy and reduced human involvement while sometimes allowing for printing of variable information.

Despite labels requiring either manual or automated application, there is another option for labs looking for an alternative to in-house manual labeling—pre-labeled labware. By purchasing labware pre-labeled you can completely eliminate labeling from your lab. Pre-labeled labware can be obtained a few ways. Some microwell plate manufacturers provide their plates with generic labels and if a generic label works with your practices this can be a great option. If your practice utilizes a custom internal numbering system you may want to opt for a more customized option instead. Some labware manufacturers and label manufacturers offer custom barcode labels on pre-labeled labware.

The next three parts of this series will go into greater detail about automated label application, pre-labeled 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 microwell plate 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 microwell plate labels, give us a call!

Read this blog to learn more about microwell plate labeling best practices!

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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.