Labels appear to have simple structures because of their thin physical appearance. But though this may be the case, they are more complex than they appear.

Generally, product labels, including custom shipping labels, are composed of four layers (five if the ink layer is included) where each layer is available in different options. The overall performance of the label will depend on the properties of each layer.


What Makes Up a Label?

Let’s take a look at the different layers that make up a custom label:



This is the clear topmost layer of labels and though it is optional and usually for aesthetic purposes only, they provide useful functions to enhance the label’s durability and ink adhesion.

They are applied directly onto the face stock. Labels can have one or more combinations of topcoat types to cater to applications that require extra protection such as direct exposure to sunlight and wet environments.


The top coating serves as a sealant that protects labels from external elements aside from making the label attractive through different finishing options. Their functions include the following:

  • Improve ink adhesion and lamination
  • Protect the label from fingerprints and smudges
  • Provide protection from light, abrasion, moisture, chemicals, solvents, and other environmental factors


Top coatings can be made from laminates or varnishes or a mixture of both.


This is a clear film covering your label’s face and offers extra protection against rough handling, chemicals, moisture, and sunlight.


This liquid coating is applied to the label for aesthetic purposes and protection against light. It can either be in a matte or gloss finish.




There are four general types of label inks:

UV Inks

These are durable inks that are resistant to harsh chemicals and fading but emit a slight odor. Although they are more expensive compared to water-based inks, you can use UV inks on film or paper and they also come in various colors.

Water-Based Inks

These are affordable options that do not give off an odor and are made from environmentally friendly materials. They come in different colors too but they are not fade-resistant and are less durable compared to other ink types.


If durability is your top priority, solvents would be good choices. They are not eco-friendly though. They do not need a topcoat.

Specialty Inks

These are subsets of the mentioned options above and they come in all types of effects and applications such as taggants, thermo-chromatic, scratch-off, metallic, fluorescent, and more.


Face Stock

Also known as the label stock, the face stock is the layer that can be seen and felt on mailers, products, and other labeled items. It is the material a label is made of and comes in different material varieties. Choosing the type of face stock is as important as choosing the type of adhesive that is appropriate for your application.

When choosing the face stock, below are things you need to consider:

    • Where you are going to apply it to
    • Type of environment the label will be exposed to (temperature conditions, moisture, etc.)


The face stock holds printed texts, images, or barcodes that give your label size, shape, and structure. It sticks to your item through the label’s adhesive.


Labels can be made of either paper or film:


  • This is the most common type of face stock and is the most cost-effective option for most applications. It is the material that is most compatible with printing technologies such as laser, inkjet, thermal transfer, and direct thermal label printers.
  • It comes in various options like paper foils for a modern look or thicker paper boards for tags. They are often used for labeling jars and bottles.
  • The most common paper labels are 4 x 6 shipping labels used on FedX and UPS shipments.
  • Though paper labels are versatile, they are not durable and not tear and moisture resistant so they are not recommended for long-term applications.


  • Films are strong, flexible, and synthetic materials so they are more durable which makes them excellent choices for long-term applications and moist environments.
  • They can come in many types with different price points, attributes, durability, and eco-friendliness properties.
  • Films include the following types:
  • Polyethylene – This is a stretchy and tough plastic film offering good moisture, chemical, tear, and puncture resistance.
  • Polypropylene – Provides enhanced protection compared to polyethylene so it is ideal for outdoor applications.
  • Vinyl and Polyester – These are the toughest types of films and the most costly ones. However, they can provide the best protection against UV exposure, extreme temperatures, chemicals, and tearing.

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This middle layer is your label’s sticky part and is rated by stickiness or tack. It is applied at the bottom of the face stock. The performance of adhesives will depend on the type of surface you are going to apply it to.

A lot of people mistake labels with removable adhesives as easy and clean to remove from any surface. However, this is not the case. For instance, adhesives that are designed for glass surfaces will not be as clean to remove on other surfaces such as corrugated ones. Thus, it is important that you know what type of surface you are going to apply the label. This ensures that you get the correct adhesive for your application.


Aside from holding the face stock to the label’s liner, adhesives bond your labels to your items.


Adhesives are available in countless options depending on the following:

    • Application surface (material and shape)
    • Environmental conditions
    • Your required durability of the label

Moreover, adhesives are designed to cater to specific applications like:

    • Removable or permanent general-purpose applications
    • direct/indirect food contact
    • Freezer-based applications
    • High-tack adhesives
    • Extreme or harsh environments

Permanent Adhesives

These are the commonly used and most affordable types of adhesives that you can only remove using solvents. The main disadvantage of these is that the label will be destroyed once you remove them from the surface. Thus, they are ideal for corrugated boards, films, and non-polar surfaces and not on highly-curved ones.

Semi-Permanent / Repositionable Adhesives

These behave like removable labels at first so you can place and move them to other surfaces. They are designed for applications where you need to reposition and reapply labels without losing much adhesion which can help you save time. But after some time, their composition changes and they become permanently affixed to the surface.

Peelable / Removable Adhesives

These hold fast to surfaces and don’t fall off easily. But, you can remove them and place them on another surface and they can easily adhere again.

Removing the label will not destroy the label and the adhesive will not stay on the surface but on the label itself. Ultra-peelable labels are popular on applications where any residue is not acceptable such as in glass and book jackets.

Freezer Adhesives

Freezer adhesives can hold against extreme cold temperatures without cracking or peeling. Thus, they are suitable for labels that apply easily onto surfaces when temperatures become very low including those below 0° C. Note though that you can easily remove the label once the temperature rises.

If you need a guide for choosing label adhesives, you can read our blogs on permanent tags and peelable labels and guide to choosing the right freezer labels.

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Release Liner

The last layer is the release liner which is the label’s backing that also carries the label. Though it is not actually part of the label because it is a throwaway material, it serves an important function in the label feeding process to printers.


  • To provide a base for the adhesive layer
  • To protect the adhesive as well as the face stock during the die-cutting, printing, and storage processes.
  • To allow a seamless label feeding process to the printer
  • To prevent curling and jamming issues during the printing process
  • To carry the label and control how it is released


  • Although most labels have liners, not all have these. Labels that don’t use liners are called “linerless” labels (self-wound labels). Linerless labels eliminate the additional waste during the label printing process.
  • Liners can be made of paper, film, and recycled materials.
  • They are available in sheets or rolls, depending on your application process. In relation to this, you can read our fanfold labels vs. roll labels blog.
  • Lastly, liners come in different thicknesses (40, 50, and 60 pounds with 50-pound liners being the commonly used ones because of their versatility).
  • Auto-apply ready label options are also available.

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May it be for product identification or shipping purposes, labels play an important role not only in the organization of items but also in the prevention of unexpected mistakes. It is also important to get the right labels for your application to help save on your expenses. enKo Products provides a wide range of labels in different options including sheet labels, direct thermal labels, and warehouse labels.

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