Label Media: Should I choose rolled or fan-fold labels?

Continuous label media comes in two forms, rolled or fan-fold.  This article looks at the advantages and disadvantage of each, in hopes of helping you choose the best media form for your workflow.

Fan-Fold Label Media

Fan-fold labels make a neat concise stack and are easy to store, handle and ship.  No special equipment is required to dispense the fan-fold labels into the printer.  They may be folded at each single label or folded in batches, giving flexibility in the label stack footprint. On the surface they present a much easier solution than rolled media which requires winders and unwinders to manage the media.

Fan-fold media does, however, have a few major disadvantages.  The first problem with fan-fold media is the propensity of the labels to stick together.  When this happens, multiple labels feed into a printer at once, almost always causing printer jams, regardless of the type of printer you are using.  Fan-fold labels can stick together for at least four different reasons.

  1. If the glue seeps out from underneath the label, it will likely stick to the surface of the opposing label.  Label boxes that are stacked on top of one another for an extended period of time press down on the lower most boxes, often causing the glue to ooze out.  For this reason it is recommended that label boxes not be stacked too high.  Even a little glue seepage will likely cause a problem.
  2. Some label materials or label environments tend to invite static electricity.  This static cling will cause the labels to stick together, similar to the way your laundry might cling together as you remove it from the drier.  The frequent rubbing of the like surfaces cause an electrical charge to be built, resulting in static cling.  Static cling can be as strong as glue, causing the labels to stick together.
  3. For many label coatings, particularly glossy coatings, the labels are fan-folded before the media has had proper time to cure.  This leads to the labels themselves sticking to one another.  For this reason, some medias come with the disclaimer: not for use in fan-fold.
  4. Finally, any crumpling of the label stack causes the labels to stick and can lead to printer jams.  While this can also occur in rolled media, it is more readily a problem for fan-fold.

When would fan-fold media be a wise choice?  Only when the media is carefully made with these factors in mind.  And only if one is willing to monitor the label stack as it enters the printer.  It is certainly possible to get a great fan-fold product as long as the label manufacturer and converter understand these issues, and as long as you are careful in the deployment and storage of your labels.  If you’re ordering fan-fold labels, ask questions.

Rolled Label Media

As you might guess, we recommend using rolled media when possible.  Rolled media is extremely forgiving when it comes to glue, static and label coatings and has none of those problems associated with fan-fold.  Of course rolls can get crumpled as easily as fan-fold, so always be careful when handling media.

Rolls are fairly easy to work with, but they aren’t quite as concise for handling, shipping and storage.  But more importantly, rolled media requires special equipment both for dispensing into the printer and for exiting the printer.  Thus the real question becomes whether it is worth investing in the roll-to-roll equipment.  There are several companies that provide this type of equipment; watch for more information in our future blogs.

Finally, rolled media is often needed if a label applicator is used.  Whether manual or automatic label application, often the labels in roll form are easier to apply to the end product.

Conclusion

Your decision to use fan-fold or rolled media should be made based on the above criteria. If you purchase high-quality fan-folded stock, probably not a high gloss; store the media properly, not stacked; can avoid high static environments; and are able to monitor the printing, then fan-fold will work.  If you need the flexibility and security of a system that requires less attention, then it will be worth it to invest in roll-to-roll equipment.

NeuraLabel supplies both fan-fold and rolled media and is one of several vendors that carries Roll-to-Roll Equipment.  We are happy to help you with your printing needs.

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