What is tagless label printing?
Tagless label printing is the process of placing a care label or logo directly onto a garment rather than utilizing a fabric that is sewn into a garment (tearaway tag). Traditionally, tearaway labels would have to be ordered and then sewn into the apparel, making the process long and dependent on many variables. Companies would have to closely monitor inventories to ensure all sizes were appropriately ordered. Additionally, tearaway tags are known to be itchy and irritating to infants, kids and adults. Many times, important care labels are torn out of clothing by frustrated consumers. Overall, the process, consumables and costs of tearaway labels made apparel manufacturers yearn for a new solution.
Many of the top apparel companies have decided to ditch the itchy tags and switch to a more cost effective, sustainable and comfortable solution. Tagless label printing enables manufacturers to reduce their waste, lead times and inventory by providing an easy and fast solution. Currently, most of the small, medium and large apparel companies are utilizing tagless label printing in their production lines. It is a method that can be easily adopted all over the world and has a relatively low start-up cost and learning curve.
What are the different methods of tagless label printing?
Tagless labels can either be applied using heat transfers, pad printing, or screen printing.
When first discovered, tagless label printing utilized heat transfer labels to apply to apparel. This process starts by digitally printing the care label onto heat transfer paper. Once the labels are printed, the operator has to use a number of additives as well as heat to adhere the label onto the garments. The cost of the transfer material in addition to the quality has turned apparel manufacturers to other methods.
See how heat transfers stack up to pad printing: The Benefits of a Tag Printing Machine for Clothes
Screen printing utilizes a mesh screen, a squeegee and specialized ink to directly print the care label onto the piece of apparel. Overall, this method is more cost effective than heat transfer labels but requires drying, a step that is frustrating to most apparel label printers. Once the piece has dried, the end result is a thick, rough label. In general, screen printing provides some of the benefits of tagless label printing, but other methods prove to be more effective and efficient.
Pad printing, like screen printing, uses special solvent-based inks to print labels directly onto apparel. Unlike screen printing, pad printing provides a “soft touch” effect meaning, it doesn’t feel as if there is anything on the shirt. The reason for this is because pad printing applies a very thin layer of ink onto the shirt, which is somewhat absorbed by the fabric.
Learn more about pad printing- the Inkcups way.
What are the benefits of pad printing tagless labels?
Although there are numerous benefits of pad printing labels, the five primary benefits are the relatively low start-up costs, the continued low operating costs, the flexibility of the method, pad printed labels dry instantly and the overall durability.
Low Start-up Costs
Compared to other methods, pad printing has relatively low start-up costs that are affordable for any size business. A standard 1-color pad printer is under $5,000 while the accompanying consumables can cost under $300.
Low Operating Costs
Along with low start-up costs, pad printing for apparel also has a low continued operating cost. The pad printer itself utilizes one 5A/110V outlet while the compressed air is measured at 80 PSI. Aside from the energy costs, consumables need to be ordered depending on your production quantities. For example, a typical 1kg can of ink yields about 90,000 impressions (with 10,000 accounting for waste), the ceramic ring which doctors the etch is doubled-sided durable for up to 2 million impressions and the ink cup itself has a non-stick surface which makes it easier to clean. In general, pad printing consumables will last a long time but there are proper cleaning procedures you should follow every day.
Pad printing as a tagless application is flexible for a number of reasons. First, it enables printing on any practically any substrate. From a material side, pad printing is the perfect solution for 100% cotton, 100% polyester, poly blends (90/10, 60/40, etc.) as well as sport/stretch fabrics (Lycra, Spandex, Elastane, etc.). Pad printing is also flexible in that it enables the operator to easily switch artworks during a shift. Plates (clichés) can be stored in a filing system and easily switched in and out to account for different sizes or different artwork altogether. As an added bonus, switching out the ink of a pad printer will enable you to print on hard goods as well.
Although safe for children’s wear, pad printed apparel labels are durable enough to withstand a significant amount of washes. The ink is absorbed into the fabric, making it part of the item. Unlike screen printing or heat transfers, cracking or peeling off is no longer a concern. Additionally, pad printing is itch-less, meaning, it is comfortable for even the most sensitive skin.
Unlike any other label printing method, pad printed neck labels dry instantly. There is no need to use heat to adhere the label or dry it with a drying system. This enables operators to speed through apparel pieces. When labeling over a million garments a year, this type of technology is not only a perk, it is a necessity.
As an added bonus, pad printing tagless labels is a sustainable practice. Compared to heat transfer and screen printing, tagless pad printing has been certified to reduce water, oil, paper and plastic waste.
Listen to our Global Tagless Director discuss the benefits of pad printing vs. heat transfers below:
Learn more about the benefits and uses of tag printing machines for clothes.
What are the components of pad printing?
The components of a pad printer for a tagless application are the same as the components of a pad printer for hard goods (give or take a few consumables).
- Plate-maker (standalone machine): This machine is used to create the plates (clichés) for tagless label printing. There are numerous ways to create a cliché including using a laser plate-maker or using an exposure unit. Of course, the laser plate-maker is the easiest method to creating clichés as it is a computer-to-plate process.
- Plates (clichés): Depending on the plate-making method you use, your plates will differ. For example, laser plate-makers only utilize laser engravable plates whereas exposure units only use photosensitive plate material.
- Pads: The silicone printing pad is the stamp of this apparel printer. This part is tasked with picking up the ink and imprinting it onto the apparel piece. The pad’s durometer and shape are important for tagless label printing. Learn more about pad printing pads.
- Ink cup and ring: The ink cup holds the ink for printing. Once the ink has been mixed, the ink cup is placed onto the plate (cliché). The ink cup is responsible for filling the etch with ink. The ceramic ring is tasked with doctoring the etch to ensure only a very thin layer of ink is in the shallow etch.
- Ink: The ink is categorized as the most important component of a pad printer. Not only does the ink have to be properly mixed using the right solvent and hardener ratio, it must also pass many compliance tests. Ink that comes into contact with skin must not contain heavy metals, BPA and restricted phthalates.
Since pad printing ink for apparel comes into direct contact with skin, ensuring the ink follows specific compliance is key. Typical certifications include Oeko-Tex, CPSIA, RoHS, REACH and EN71. Additional testing to look for would be for company-specific restricted substance lists or RSLs. For example, Nike has their own RSL which goes above and beyond what the typical testing methods test for. Once an ink is certified on these brand RSLs, it is safe to say, the inks have gone through quite a bit of testing.
Read more about sustainable printing inks.
Different Machines for Tagless Label Printing
Pad printing machines for tagless labels typically range from 1- to 2-colors. Inkcups’ pad printers for tagless applications include: