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

Everything You Need to Know About Microwell Plate Labelling 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 Labelling 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. Labelling 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 labelled 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 labelling 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 (Check out this document to read up on the regulations). By standardising 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 miniaturisation—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 utilise 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 utilise a colour labelling strategy for easy organisation and at a glance recognition. Typically, a lab will add colour to their plate labelling strategy if a number of tests are being run in their facility. A colour coding system can be developed to easily match plates to the appropriate test based on the colour of their label. This way any potential mistakes can be easily recognised 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 labelling 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-labelled 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 utilises 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:

Pros:

    • 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.

Cons:

    • Printers, automation equipment and consumables take up space. Whether you’re utilising 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 labour 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 labelling related duties. In instances where print and apply automation is utilised, this point is less of an issue.

    • Some print technologies aren’t as durable or high resolution as others, and any reasonably priced colour printer will sacrifice both of these factors. If multiple colours or logos are necessary in your labelling 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:

Pros:

    • A wide variety of options are available to fit the needs of any application, special adhesives, face materials, print technologies, colours, automation compatible, etc. You can even have labels fully customised 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 colour 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 they will take even longer to arrive if customisations 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. Here we’re going to talk about a few suppliers who we feel are worth checking out along your research journey:

GA International/Lab TAG

GA international is a company dedicated to providing labelling solutions to companies in a variety of industries from healthcare to retail. They’re healthcare specific options can be found on their Labtag website. They offer a variety of labels that are able to withstand common lab exposures. They have options that are compatible with thermal transfer and laser print technologies as well as print and apply automation.

EIM (Electronic Imaging Materials, Inc.)

Electronic Imaging Materials is a New Hampshire based label manufacturing company. They are devoted to providing companies all over the world with sustainable label solutions. They serve multiple industries including industrial & manufacturing, warehouse and laboratory environments. EIM offers their own line of labels for microwell plates. Their labels are compatible with thermal transfer print technology and are able to withstand extreme temperatures and chemical exposures.

VWR

VWR is a branch of the company Avantor who supplies research solutions to professionals in a variety of research related industries. Their website offers a variety of microwell plate labels from several suppliers and their own house brand. They’re offerings vary in abilities but some feature temperature and chemical resistance, colour, and compatibility with several print technolgoies.

What about Computype?

We offer a variety of our own microwell plate labels that can be tailored to meet more specific customer needs. Here’s a list of the major features:

Compatible with your strategy

Whether you’re printing in-house or ordering pre-printed labels. Whether you prefer to apply your labels manually, with automation, or purchase your plates pre-labelled, we have options.

With specially engineered label stocks, adhesives, liners and print technology options we can offer your lab a label that will work with your preparation strategy and survive testing.

Withstand your processes

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, and special care is taken to match thermal transfer ribbon to label stock to ensure survival of chemical exposures.

Customise

If off the shelf solutions just aren’t working we can offer customised sizes and colours. Whether your plate dimensions aren’t standard, you need to get organised 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 labelling yourself and utilise pre-labelled labware.

Manual label application is commonly practiced in labs, and is exactly what it sounds like. When a manual labelling 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 LabellerAutomatic label application is also an option, where labels can be applied automatically by an automated label applicator. Some utilise 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 labelling—pre-labelled labware. By purchasing labware pre-labelled you can completely eliminate labelling from your lab. Pre-labelled 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 utilises a custom internal numbering system you may want to opt for a more customised option instead. Some labware manufacturers and label manufacturers offer custom barcode labels on pre-labelled labware.

The next three parts of this series will go into greater detail about automated label application, pre-labelled 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 labelling, 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 labelling 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 realised. Focused on cost savings, operational efficiencies, and process optimisation, 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.

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