Printing Your Own Labels: Some Tips & Tricks

Over the years we’ve built up a set of must have hints and tips for printing your own labels based on our experiences in the world of label printing.

– TAKE A GLANCE THROUGH YOUR PRINTER’S MANUAL
While many of us rarely check our printer’s manual, it is always worth taking a quick glance at the specifications section – particularly if you want to work with labels that aren’t made with basic matt white paper. Certain printer models may be unable to accept materials that are too thick or that are made of a certain kind of material.

– CHECK YOUR PRINTER’S SETTINGS
Most printers will have settings that allow you to considerably improve the print quality you can achieve when working with different materials. For example, most printers will have a “Heavy Paper” setting that is designed specifically for processing thicker materials, while some will have a specific “Labels” settings.

You should also double check your printer’s settings to make sure that the printer is set to print to A4 page size. Some printers may reset to a default that is not A4 (usually to “American Letter” size) or they may store the settings used previously (which may not be A4).

– USE THE MEDIA BYPASS TRAY
If your printer includes a media bypass tray then you should use it when printing labels. The media bypass tray is an additional tray, usually located just above or below the standard paper tray. Where the paper tray is designed specifically for processing sheets of paper, the media bypass tray is set up to process thicker materials and usually provides a more direct path through the printer, which improves the accuracy of the position of the print by reducing rotation as the sheet is fed through the printer.

– STORE YOUR LABELS CAREFULLY
Labels should be kept in their original packaging in a cool, dry place. If labels are exposed to sunlight and other environmental factors or to low/high temperatures, the face material may deteriorate and the adhesive may be affected. This means that when you come to actually use the rest of your labels, you may find that they are discoloured or that they fail to adhere correctly.

– DON’T PUT LABELS THROUGH THE PRINTER TWICE
When labels are put through a printer they may be manipulated around rollers and exposed to heat and/or pressure. While this is a normal part of the printing process, you will find that if you send the labels through a second time (to add a second layer of design or additional text) the print quality is reduced and the labels may tend to curl up more.

Paper labels in particular require a certain amount of moisture content to create good quality print; during the printing process some of this moisture is lost, which means that the print quality is reduced if the labels are put through the printer a second time.

– MAKE SURE YOUR PRINTER & LABELS ARE COMPATIBLE
Some labels are compatible with only one printing process (such as inkjet printing or laser printing). If you try to print labels with an incompatible printing process you will find that the print simply doesn’t stay in place. This is because the materials used to make these labels will have properties that work best with one particular printing process. For example, inkjet printing replies on the ink adhering to the surface of the face material correctly, with some of the ink being absorbed into the label surface – if the material doesn’t allow this, the ink (and therefore the print) will not stay in place and is likely to smudge or rub away.

– USE A LASER PRINTER FOR WATERPROOF PRINT
If you want to create print that is waterproof you will have to use a laser printer rather than an inkjet printer. Laser printing is a dry process that bonds toner into place using heat and pressure – this creates a waterproof print. Inkjet inks, however, are water-based, which means that they will smudge or run if they are exposed to water (or other liquids).

– CHOOSE YOUR DESIGN CAREFULLY
When designing labels, you need to put some thought into the shape of label you want to use, the shapes of any images you want to use, and the arrangement of the elements in your design. Standard desktop printers, sheets of labels, and software programs will all have certain limitations that you will need to work with – or else find a workaround for.

For example, standard desktop printers tend to be unable to print right to the edge of an A4 sheet, so if you have a design and/or a sheet of labels that requires a border or coloured background that goes to the edge of the labels you may run into difficulty using a standard printer.

If you are working with specific shapes, you will need to take a great deal of care (and time) to get everything to line up precisely. For example, if you are printing round labels with a round logo in the centre you will need to take care to line each one up perfectly – using the same shape for the label and the logo makes any misalignment all the more obvious. If you are using non-design software you will also have to accept the limitations of that software when designing templates; for example, Microsoft Word is primarily a Word Processor, which means its strengths lie in text and not design – this means that it has limits on how accurate you can be when positioning elements of your design and circular/oval templates have to be set up using squares/rectangles.

This also applies if you want to use a border; you need to take the time to get the alignment exactly right if you want to add a border to your labels. This can be quite tricky and time consuming to get it right on every single label – and will rely on the accuracy of positioning provided both by the software you are using to design your template and the hardware (printer) you use to print your labels.

– TAKE CARE WHEN ADJUSTING YOUR TEMPLATE
A quick tip for template adjustments is to consider exactly how you need to adjust your template. For example, if your design has the correct layout but is simply sitting too high/low/left/right when you print it, instead of trying to shift all of the elements into the correct position individually, you can increase or decrease the page margins to manipulate the entire design into the correct position (and with a greater degree of control). Alternatively, if you find that an entire row or column is out of alignment, you might consider manipulating the height and width of that row or column (or the blank rows or columns next to them that account for the gaps between the labels) to manually shift the entire row or column in one go.

– ALWAYS DO A TEST PRINT FIRST
We always advise that – once you have set up your template – you should do a test print first to check the alignment; print your template onto blank paper and hold this up against your labels. This way you can make any necessary adjustments before you print onto your actual sheets of labels.

– USE A MAIL MERGE FOR DATA
If you’re creating labels that require variable information then you should consider using a mail merge to create your labels. Variable information is an element of your design (text or image) that differs from label to label, such as an address or personalised greeting or message.

Using a mail merge means that your design and your table of data will be combined automatically, instead of requiring that you sit and enter each piece of variable information by hand.

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