The substrate which is used in making labels is made out of three layers. The combination of these three layers are almost endless. Check out some of them here.


The substrate which is used in making labels is made out of three layers:

  1. The top layer is the front material. This is where the imprint is printed. The front material comes in different types with different characteristics. We give a short introduction further in to the chapter.
  2. The second layer is glue or adhesive to use the correct term. Roughly one can divide the glue into two main groups – permanent and removable – depending on how long you want a label to be attached.
  3. The backing paper or liner is the last layer. One can describe it as the bearer of the label during the manufacturing until use. The surface of the liner is coated with silicone, which makes the label easier to peel off when it is ready to be used.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to the combination of these layers. There are more than 500 different types of front materials, around 150 varieties of adhesives, and more than 50 different liners to choose from. In addition, one can coat the label with a matt or glossy varnish, or laminate them.


What is coated paper?

Coated paper is a common term of paper which is treated with something on the surface. The aim is to obtain a smoother surface of the paper – for example a glossy surface.
It is rather difficult to write on this paper with a ballpoint pen or with a pencil, but the print itself is stronger mainly because the ink does not get absorbed and remains on the closed surface of the paper. If a paper label is to be varnished after the print process, it is necessary to use coated paper (the varnish is absorbed by the surface of an uncoated paper and its effect is minimized)

What is uncoated paper?

Uncoated paper has not been treated with anything on the surface, and will have a rougher feel to it. If the label is meant to be written on, then an uncoated surface is recommended. Uncoated substrates are often less expensive as well.

What is thermal printing and thermal paper?

A lot of customers in logistics and similar, use a thermal printer to print additional information on their labels. In short the thermal printer uses a hot beam to treat a heat sensitive layer in the thermal paper. This makes the material change colour and present the information. One has to bear in mind that the thermal material will continue to be heat and light sensitive after the treatment in the printer, and should only be used for short term purposes. A cheap thermal label is pretty unreadable after a couple of days in the sun!

What is thermal transfer?

This is not a material per say, but more of a printing method. In thermal transfer there is a heat sensitive colour ribbon which is heated by the printer and sticks to the front material of the label. It is almost like the ribbon in an old type writer. This method provides a resistant print which can resist a harsher environment, and can be used in combination with other substrates.

If you want more information about thermal transfer, you can check out this article on Wikipedia.


PE – Polyethylene

Polyethylene, PE-foil, is a flexible, soft and environmentally safe plastic material. In other words – it is very suitable for labels which needs flexibility, or has to be degradable. For instance, shampoo bottles one can squeeze or stickers for apples bought at the store. One can even eat this material, but we recommend food instead.

Read about polyethylene on Wikipedia.

PP – Polypropylene

Polypropylene has many of the same properties as polyethylene, but is also stiffer. Therefore, it is easier to apply the label on a product using a mechanical label applicator. Its stiffness also makes the label production itself easier.
PP is also more resistant and is a cheaper and more environmentally safe alternative to vinyl or PVC. The resistance to external factors on the other hand is not high and the material is not recommended for long-term (several years) outer use.

Read about polypropylene on Wikipedia.

PET – Polyester

If one needs a strong material for a more long-term use, then polyester is the solution! Polyester can withstand high and low temperatures, dirt, and rough treatment on a long-term basis. PET-labels can for instance be found as model- and serial number labels on household appliances.

Read about polyester on Wikipedia.

PVC – Vinyl

Vinyl is somewhat stiffer than polyethylene, known for its durability and is a relatively expensive material. The use of this material has gradually decreased, mainly because the use of, and the manufacturing process is not good for the environment. On the other hand, in some cases vinyl is the best and safest material to use – for instance if one needs sustainability outdoors.

Read more about PVC on Wikipedia.

More substrates

Transparent material

The name probably does not need further explanation, but it indicates that only the printed ink is visible on the label. Transparent is not a material in it self, but variations of PE, PP, PET and PVC. For instance, is transparent labels used in bottle labelling for a so-called no-label-look.


It is often called silk, because it feels like fabric, but in reality this is a paper product made in a special way. This material is ideal for labelling clothes for sale, or name tags to wear on ones clothes during a conference or a similar event.


This is a material, but not a substrate we print on. Foil is put on top of the substrate, in addition to the other inks in the label.


At Ellco Etikett we buy our substrates and other raw material at multiple suppliers, but our two biggest suppliers are also the largest in the market; UPM Raflatac and Fasson/Avery Dennison.

If you want to know more about them, and their large variety of offers, you can visit these links:
Fasson/Avery Dennison
UPM Raflatac 

Read further about

History of labels

Printing methods






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