September 30, 2021 

Pressure-Sensitive Labels vs. Self-Adhesive: Is There a Difference?

When discussing pressure-sensitive labels vs. self-adhesive labels, it’s important to understand that these two terms refer to the same material and application process.

Product and package labels are ubiquitous in today’s retail world. Along distribution networks, shipping labels help companies trace products, maintain inventory, and ensure that packages arrive at their rightful locations. On store shelves, product labels play a multi-faceted role. In addition to clearly demonstrating what the product is and who produced it, product labels provide a canvas to include essential information like:

  • Ingredients.
  • Directions for use.
  • Potential health and safety risks.
  • Expiration dates.
  • Serial numbers, lot codes, and other traceable markings.

Depending on the type of product, much of this information is explicitly required by state and federal regulations, especially when dealing with pharmaceutical products, certain food sectors (e.g. baby food, poultry, dairy, etc.), and chemical production.

To meet the needs of different line setups and packaging types, there are several different labels available on the market today, including “pressure-sensitive labels” and “self-adhesive labels.” For those new to labeling, these terms can be confusing, as they lead to questions like:

  • What’s the difference between these label forms?
  • Which label is right for me?
  • How should I apply these labels to my products?

To answer these questions and others, we tackle the subject of pressure-sensitive labels vs. self-adhesive labels below.

Pressure-Sensitive Labels vs. Self-Adhesive Labels—What’s the Difference and How Do They Work?

Despite the terminology, there is no difference between pressure-sensitive labels and self-adhesive labels—both terms describe the same material and application process. To avoid confusion, we will refer to these labels as pressure-sensitive for the rest of the article.

Pressure-sensitive labels bear a strong resemblance to stickers due to their adhesive backing. However, pressure-sensitive labels are thicker and more durable than stickers thanks to their multi-layer construction. The average pressure-sensitive label is built with five layers, with each tier performing a specific function, such as enabling application, increasing durability, and adding aesthetic appeal.

From bottom to top, these layers consist of:

  1. The liner: Also called the “backing paper,” the liner keeps the label’s adhesive layer protected until it is ready to be applied to the substrate. 
  1. The release coat: This coating is applied to the liner’s top surface to help the face stock smoothly peel away from the material with the adhesive coating intact.
  2. The adhesive: The adhesive layer is what allows pressure-sensitive labels to adhere to substrates. To accommodate different labeling needs, adhesives come in a variety of forms, creating compatibility with specific substrates, surface textures, product temperatures, and more.
  3. The face stock: This is the piece of paper that is pressed onto the substrate. The “face” refers to the canvas on which users can apply codes, text, logos, and more.
  4. The topcoat: To ensure the face stock remains intact throughout the product’s lifetime, pressure-sensitive labels are designed with a protective layer or lamination called the “topcoat.” The topcoat guards the face stock against physical harm, and certain coats can even improve the legibility of secondary imprints (e.g. traceable markings like lot codes or expiration dates).

What are the Pros and Cons of this Label Type?

While there are many types of labels on the market today, pressure-sensitive labels are the most widely used variety worldwide. From a logistical standpoint, it’s easy to see why. 

Pressure-sensitive labels are incredibly versatile because they can be made from different materials to fit different substrates. This allows them to be placed on everything from plastic water bottles to shrink-wrapped bulk products. Further, pressure-sensitive labels can be applied both by hand and through a high-speed print-and-apply labeler, making them accessible to companies and line setups of all sizes. 

Other benefits include:

  • Minimal maintenance costs.
  • High-quality appearances.
  • Large varieties of label shapes and sizes.
  • Intuitive application.
  • A broad range of adhesives and face stock materials.

Although pressure-sensitive labels offer a host of benefits, they do have some drawbacks as well. 

For one, they are not cheap. Compared to direct printing/laser marking, the material cost of applying labels carries a higher price point. Additionally, unless you are using a high-speed print-and-apply system, applying pressure-sensitive labels can be a time-consuming activity. Finally, pressure-sensitive labels are inherently wasteful—once the face stock is removed from the backing, the liner is automatically considered scrap. 

Despite these drawbacks, companies in nearly all industries find pressure-sensitive labels to be an effective way to make their products code-compliant and attractive to consumers. 

Have More Questions on Pressure-Sensitive Labels? Subscribe to the C&M Digest Newsletter

Pressure-sensitive labels are one of the most common and effective ways to make products ready for retail sale. Although industry terminology can confuse some readers, pressure-sensitive labels vs. self-adhesive labels are both terms that refer to one single (and very popular) labeling material.

Want to learn more pressure-sensitive labels, self-adhesive labels, and labeling in general? Stay connected with C&M Digest by subscribing to our newsletter. With information on hardware, formulas, and other important marking topics, our newsletter will keep you updated on the latest industry developments. To get in touch with us about possible collaborations or ideas for coverage, contact us today.

C&M Digest Team

The C&M Digest Team is composed of experts from across the coding and marking world. Comprised of ink developers, hardware veterans, and engineers, our News Team delivers informed coverage that is always free from brand bias.

Receive C&M Articles Directly to Your Inbox

Keep up with the latest coding and marking coverage by signing up for the C&M newsletter.

Search Our Blog

Contact Us Today

Have any thoughts on our coverage? Want to request an article? Looking to collaborate with our team? Fill out the form below to let us know!
Contact Us
C&M © 2021 Privacy Policy