Sticker terminology can get pretty confusing with all of the different types of stickers, stocks and print methods. Use the following glossary to better understand stickers, labels and decals.
The most basic sticker terms are often thought of as interchangeable. The following are examples of how one might differentiate these terms based on their use.
Pressure Sensitive Stock: This is the most technical way to refer to stickers or labels. It’s a general description of any paper or synthetic stocks that adhere to surface when pressed against it.
Stickers: When a pressure sensitive stock is used for decorative or branding purposes it is usually referred to as a sticker. They generally come individually cut.
Labels: When pressure sensitive stock is used to identify a product or contents of a package, indicate a destination on an item being shipped, or differentiate items for organizational purposes they are usually referred to as labels (i.e., mailing labels, size labels, beer labels, etc…). Labels come in individual sheets or on a roll.
Decals: When a pressure sensitive stock is used to decorate or brand an item for a extended periods of time they are usually referred to as decals. Decals usually come with an implication of permanence, so you’ll often find them being used for signage purposes. Decals are most often thought of as being unprinted cut vinyl, or screen printed.
Roll Labels/Stickers: Stickers and labels can be printed in a continuous line and then rolled onto core cylinders. The purpose of this is most often for machine labeling.
The following guide provides descriptions and attributes of different stocks as they relate to stickers and labels.
Paper: Stickers and labels can be printed on pressure-sensitive paper for a variety of uses. Due to the nature of paper, these labels are not meant for long term use especially outdoors. Paper labels can be torn and will wrinkle when exposed to moisture for extended periods of time. Paper labels come in a variety of colors and finishes (i.e., matte paper, gloss paper, etc…)
Vinyl: Stickers and labels can be printed on pressure-sensitive vinyl for increased durability. Vinyl is much more rugged than paper, making them ideal for situations where they will be used outdoors. Vinyl stickers can not be easily torn as it will generally stretch of an attempt is made to pull them apart. Vinyl is available is a variety of colors, but are most commonly found in white, yellow or clear..
“Poly” (Polypropylene, Polyester, Etc..): Stickers and decals can be printed on a variety of pressure sensitive synthetic stocks which are usually referred to in shorthand as “poly” stocks. Poly stickers are as rugged and durable as vinyl and come in a variety of finishes such as white, clear, metallic, etc…
BOPP: An acronym for “Bi-Oriented Polypropylene”. This is a polypropylene stock that is stretched in perpendicular directions during the manufacturing process. Stretching is done to ensure that the stock will lay flat which makes it ideal for stickers and decals.
Foil: A pressure sensitive paper stock that is finished with a thin metallic layer. These stocks are generally available in silver and gold finishes. Due to the paper base of this stock, it has the same durability as any other paper label and is best for indoor or short term use.
Static Cling/Static Stick: Static clings are created by adding a static charge to polypropylene stocks. This removes the need for an adhesive and allows the piece to be stuck to smooth clean glass surfaces. They can be removed and repositioned multiple times, though over time the stock can lose it’s static charge.
Cast Vinyl / Cut Vinyl: Cast vinyl is made by creating a mix of the raw materials which are then “baked” through a series of ovens to evaporate the solvents from the mixture. Once that material is stretched and wound up, the result is a thin solid colored vinyl which is then coated on one side with an adhesive. When the cast vinyl is cut into specific shapes without any printing it is called “cut vinyl” or a “cut vinyl decal”.
Destructible Vinyl: A specialty vinyl that is meant to prevent a sticker from being carefully removed and re-positioned. If an attempt is made to remove the sticker, it shreds.
UV Coating: Stickers and labels are often finished with a clear UV coating. This coating can add a sheen to the print and adds a layer of protection to your sticker. Some UV coatings are simply added to decrease the effects of scuffing, while other UV coatings can help reduce fading from exposure to the sun.
Lamination: A clear poly stock with adhesive on one side that is applied over a printed sticker for added protection. Laminate will protect the sticker from moisture and scuffing. Laminate comes in a variety of thicknesses and finishes, though gloss is the most common.
Backer/Liner/Back-Liner: This is the stock that the sticker or label is adhered to before use. The backer paper is usually white or kraft with a waxy side that the sticker is adhered to. Back liners can come in a variety of thicknesses and can usually be printed on.
Slit Backer/Crack and Peel: A back-liner that is cut through without cutting into the attached sticker. This allows for easier removal of a sticker in cases where the backer is cut flush to the shape of the sticker. Slit backers can usually be printed on.
There are a number of different adhesives that can be used to create a sticker or label to serve a variety of purposes. Here are some of the most common types and their attributes.
Permanent: An adhesive that is meant for a single application with no intention of removal. Stickers and labels with permanent adhesive can not be easily removed once they are applied to a clean surface. If the label is removed it will usually leave behind a residue.
Low-Tack: An adhesive meant for eventual removal, such as price and size stickers. They are intended for a single use, so once they are removed they won’t retain enough tackiness to be reapplied. Low-tack adhesive will not leave the difficult residue that permanent adhesives will.
Re-positionable: This adhesive is both “low-tack” and still very strong. Usually used with a more pliable material, re-positionable adhesive allows a sticker to be applied and removed many times over. Depending on the formula used, some re-positionable stickers can be reapplied up to 100 times.
Super-tack: A very strong adhesive meant for application to rough and blemished surfaces. Super-tack decals are often found on machinery, dumpsters, etc…
Freezer Adhesive: An adhesive formulated to withstand temperatures from 50˚F to -20˚F. These are most commonly used for labeling frozen food items.
Sticker and labels can be printed with a few different methods. Below, you’ll find various print methods and how they are used in regards to stickers and labels.
Digital: Newer digital presses are extremely versatile and are often capable of printing on a variety of sticker stocks. In some cases digital presses are equipped to print white ink for colored, metallic or clear stocks. In general, digitally printed stickers are able to achieve solid colors or photographic images in very fine detail. Sticker and labels printed on a digital press are often referred to as “digital stickers”, or more generally, “full color stickers”. Digital presses can be set up to print individual stickers, sheets of stickers, or roll labels.
Flexographic / Spot Color: This type of printing is best suited for simple graphics as the presses are set up to print individual inks. The press is called a flexographic press (or “flexo” press) as it uses rubber plates wrapped (flexed) around cylinders to print each color. Flexographic presses are set up to create roll labels, though some may opt to cut them into individual sheets which can be done quickly by machine.
Offset: Some stickers are printed on offset presses to achieve photographic prints. In some cases offset printed stickers are reserved for high volume jobs.
Screen Printing: A method where individual colors are printed using mesh silk screens that are blocked out with photo-sensitive emulsion so that ink can be pushed through the stencil to create a specific image. This method allows heavier UV stable inks and metallic inks to be printed to create a longer lasting sticker.
Pantone Matching (PMS Matching): Matching an ink to a specific color from the Pantone library of colors. This is a common practice for branding purposes.
Halftones: Flexographic and screen printed stickers can achieve the illusion of lighter tones by printing a color in small dot grids.
The following are some of the common ways to cut down and package stickers and labels.
Straight/Square Cut: Stickers that are cut using a dropping blade forming squares and rectangles with sharp corners.
Die Cut: A die is a blade that is formed into a specific shape which is then used to cut through the stock to create a custom shaped sticker or label.
Kiss Cut: Using the same method as die cutting, a custom shaped blade is used to cut through the sticker or label, but not through the back-liner. So, if a custom shape is kiss cut into a square sticker, that custom shaped sticker can be pulled off of the square sheet leaving the excess sticker material attached to the back-liner.
Sticker Sheets: When a single sheet has several custom shapes kiss cut into it, that is generally called a sticker sheet.
Rounded Corners: A square cut sticker can have the corners rounded by machine, cutting each corner one at a time. In some cases a die can be used to create the same effect.
ROLL LABEL FINISHING
The following terms are only relevant for roll labels.
Machine Labeling: The main purpose of roll labels is to provide stickers in a format where they can be applied to products by machine.
Roll Position/Orientation: The space between each sticker and the direction they are facing on a roll needs to be set properly to allow the machine labelers to work properly.
Un-wind: When determining the orientation of the labels on a roll it is done in relation to the direction the roll is un-winding in.
Core: The center tube that the stickers are wrapped around.
Butt Cut: When roll labels have no space in between them but are simply separated by a slit in the sticker stock.
Perforation (“perfs”): Roll labels can be used for distribution by hand. Perforations can be made between stickers so that they can be easily removed from the rolls.
Individual Sheeting: Machines can be used to cut each sticker off the roll. Individually sheeted stickers usually have a small amount the back liner sticking out around the edge of the stickers.
We know that this is a lot to choose from! To get a better idea about which of our stickers will work best for you, check out our website or contact us to talk to us about we can do for your next sticker project.