We offer a variety of marking technologies as part of our READY Labware Services program—one of those is ceramic labelling. Ceramic labels are a unique alternative to standard pressure sensitive labels—but what exactly are they? And how do you know if they’re right for your labware and process?
Here we’re going to take a detailed look at ceramic labels to help you along your journey for a high-integrity, durable labelling strategy.
What is a Ceramic Label?
Ceramic labels are an alternative to traditional pressure sensitive barcode labels. Instead of a paper or plastic media, the media is made of a ceramic material.
After barcodes are printed onto the ceramic labels, they are carefully placed onto glass labware before entering a kiln. In the kiln the label fuses to the surface of the glass essentially making the mark part of the labware.
Why use Ceramic Labels?
A number of benefits can be attributed to ceramic labels—namely durability even in extreme exposures as well as long term reliable tare-weight. However, these benefits are highlighted in certain applications where they fit especially well, for example:
Your Samples Are of High Value
Ceramic labels fuse to the surface of the glass during the firing process, making them essentially a part of the labware. Once fused, the label is impossible to remove without damaging the container itself—meaning the integrity of your mark is equal to the integrity of your container.
When high value samples are on the line, like in storage of chemical compounds for example, proper identification must be ensured and the opportunity for label loss eliminated.
Your Processes Involve High Temperatures or Chemical Exposures
As alluded to above, ceramic labels are very durable—especially against chemical exposure and high temperatures.
Once fused to the container the label can withstand just about any chemical exposure that won’t impact the integrity of the container and has proven to withstand oven temperatures as high as 500 degrees Celsius.
We often recommend ceramic to our customers who need to lyophilise their samples since it is able to withstand exposures commonly associated with the process—such as temperatures as low as -80 degrees Celsius and acetone ice baths.
You Need a Stable Tare Weight Over Time
Though the weight of adhesives can seem minuscule, if you’re looking for high-accuracy tare weights that remain stable over time adhesive labels might not cut it. Adhesives are impacted by their environment—leading to changes in weight over time as they dry out or water is absorbed from the air.
With ceramic labels being fused directly to the surface of labware the impact of adhesive is eliminated. Additionally, ceramic labels are generally made from very dense ceramic materials to ensure the mark itself doesn’t impact sample weight.
While these situations are especially suitable for the use of ceramic labels, these are only a few examples. If your facility doesn’t fall into any of the above categories ceramic labels may still be an option, however you may have access to more cost effective solutions that will also meet your needs.
What are the Limitations?
While ceramic labels offer great benefits, there are a few limitations as well that prevent them from being a good fit for certain applications. Below are a list of situations where you might want to avoid ceramic labels, why and what you might want to look for instead.
You Require Plastic Labware
Plastic labware performs better in certain situations—for example cryogenic freezing of biologic samples—meaning a switch to glass would compromise your process.
Unfortunately due to the fact the labels are adhered through processing in a high temperature kiln—ceramic labels are unable to be used in combination with plastic labware. Plastic won’t last long in the kiln.
Instead, if you’re in need of plastic labware you may want to look into direct mark technology, or seek out a pressure sensitive option engineered to withstand your processes.
You Are Interested in Utilising Colour
At this time coloured inks aren’t compatible with the ceramic labelling process. If you require colour for organization purposes or logo marks on your barcode labels, you may want to reconsider pressure sensitive options or look into direct mark technology.
While coloured inks aren’t available, limited suppliers are able to offer coloured ceramic labels. At Computype we are able to include round coloured markers for placement on the bottom of a vial—these are best suited for colour coding purposes and it’s not recommended to print barcodes atop the coloured label for optimal scannability.
Time Sensitive Data is Necessary in Your Practice
While an in-house ceramic labelling strategy is possible, it’s generally not practical in sample storage or laboratory environments—which we’ll discuss later. Additionally, the firing process is time consuming and best performed in batches making it impractical to prepare a label for a sample on short notice.
In this case, we recommend seeking out a pressure sensitive solution—if you’re struggling with your current pressure sensitive solution seek out suppliers who provide labels capable of accommodating processes similar to yours or custom engineering.
If any of the aforementioned criteria apply to you, ceramic labels likely aren’t going to be a great fit for your practice—not to worry though, a variety of pressure sensitive and direct mark options are available, it may just be a matter of testing out your options to find a better fit.
How to Achieve a Ceramic Barcode Labelling Strategy
So, lets say ceramic labelling seems like a good fit for you…how do you get started? There are a couple of ways you can implement a ceramic labelling strategy—in-house or pre-marked—here we’ll discuss what both of those look like and why we stand by purchasing ceramic labels pre-applied to your containers.
While technically it is possible to implement an in-house ceramic labelling operation—it’s generally not feasible, especially in storage facilities and laboratory environments. The real estate, investment and labor required are simply too much to justify for most facilities focused on processing samples for research and diagnostic purposes.
Large amounts of sizeable (and frankly, expensive) equipment must be paired with a dedicated team of properly trained employees to accommodate a ceramic labelling process—this may sound reasonable in theory but in practice it’s unlikely you’ll find success—for a couple of additional reasons.
In addition to the marking, firing and cooling processes taking up a significant amount of time, space, labor and capital the high heat of the kilns can impact your environment. In compound storage facilities this is especially risky since you’re likely trusted to properly house valuable samples that don’t belong to you.
Lastly, there is no benefit to performing ceramic labelling in house. Unlike some marking technologies ceramic labelling isn’t able to include data on short notice due to the amount of time involved in the overall process.
Essentially, implementing a ceramic labelling strategy in-house requires a large investment and provides little to no opportunity for return. You gain nothing by utilising an in-house process that you don’t have access to when you purchase your ceramic labelled labware pre-marked—in fact depending on your supplier you may have more options available to you with a pre-barcoded labware service.
When you order your labware with ceramic labels pre-applied you gain access to one of the most reliable marking technologies with reduced commitment. Instead of investing in a resource intensive in-house ceramic labelling strategy you can rely on a supplier who already has the equipment.
Pre-barcoded labware programs vary in their offerings so you’ll want to ensure you’re working with a supplier who can meet your needs. Many suppliers are only able to offer a standard line of options featuring limited container sizes and generic barcodes—other suppliers will be able to source labware you’re already using from partnering suppliers, provide custom barcode sequences and offer additional services.
To serve as an example of what a more customisable program looks like we’re going to take a look at our program—READY Labware Services.
READY Labware Services is Computype’s pre-barcoded labware program. We partner with popular labware suppliers to provide our customers with a broad range of the quality labware they are probably already using, but with barcodes already applied.
Any of our standard pressure sensitive labels are available alongside direct mark technology and of course ceramic labels.
When it comes to ceramic labels little customisation to the label is available outside of the sequence and label placement—you can choose whether you would prefer a custom or generic sequence and whether you would prefer linear barcodes, round 2D barcodes for the bottom of your tubes or both. Coloured circular labels for colour coding are also available for the bottoms of vials.
There is also a range of additional services you can take advantage of to better suit your needs. Custom sorting and kitting options are available and you pick your preferred packaging. Another service that is completely optional, but often helpful to customers purchasing ceramic labels is tare weighing. We will tare weigh your tubes and provide a report so the first round of weighing is finished before your order reaches your facility.
Another benefit to ordering pre-marked labware is that quality control is already taken care of. Any reliable supplier will have some form of quality control in place to ensure your satisfaction. As part of the READY Labware Services program we provide sequence management services to ensure no duplicate or unreadable barcodes reach your facility.
While both in-house and outsourced labelling are options—it’s pretty clear most facilities benefit from the ability to dedicate their resources to tasks that directly correlate with their values and goals instead of labelling. This is why we recommend seeking out a trustworthy supplier of pre-marked labware to aid you in achieving a ceramic labelling strategy.
How Much do Ceramic Labels Cost?
Ceramic labelling is on the higher investment end when it comes to marking technologies—which is why it isn’t recommended for just any application. There are a number of factors that play into the higher cost, but also a number of situations that justify the investment, let’s take a look:
High Equipment Costs
As previously mentioned the ceramic labelling process requires a significant amount of equipment in comparison to most other laboratory labelling strategies. While a pressure sensitive or direct mark labelling strategy requires a printer or printer applicator—ceramic printing calls for kilns, trays and cooling racks. Not only is more equipment & labor required, but the kilns alone are an investment.
When you choose to work with a supplier, costs related to equipment are taken out of your hands and placed in the hands of your supplier. They will make-up for their investment through customer orders over a period of time split between orders from multiple clients.
The Process is Time, Labor and Energy Intensive
While other labelling technologies either involve a quick, relatively low energy printing process and manual application or combined automated printing and application—ceramic labelling requires especially careful manual application, firing in the kiln and proper cooling.
The costs associated with the energy and labor involved in the ceramic labelling process are absorbed in the overall cost of the end product.
Ceramic is Higher in Value than Typical Label Media
Ceramic is simply more expensive than other common label materials such as paper or plastic. Consider paper and plastic tableware in comparison to the cost of ceramic tableware—clay is simply a higher value material than plastic or paper.
How Can I Justify The Cost of A Ceramic Strategy?
If your processes are suited to a ceramic labelling strategy you will see a return on your investment. We mentioned above several reasons one might want to use ceramic labels including high value samples, high heat exposure and the need for a stable tare weight over time. If your sample identity integrity is being impacted by any of these factors in a way that impacts your facility monetarily—it’s likely you’ll find justification in a ceramic strategy.
Additionally, ceramic labels are especially suited to long term storage. With a long lasting and durable strategy such as ceramic labelling the risk of losing sample integrity is greatly reduced.
At it’s core a ceramic labelling strategy is an extremely durable marking technology suitable for glass labware. This strategy is higher investment, but in the right application ordering ceramic labelled labware from a trusted supplier can provide unmatched sample identity integrity.