Upgrade your labels
Conventionally, labels are usually plain paper-based items with hand-written information – and this can be a nightmare if your sample tubes are likely to spend most of their life in the freezer. The moisture can lead to the ink on the label running or becoming obscured, and, of course, they can tear – perhaps you know all too well that sinking feeling you get when you unscrew a sample tube only to leave half the label attached to your thumb.
Modern labels are much tougher. Good ones are plastic – often polypropylene – which makes them very difficult to tear. These labels are also waterproof, and can undergo many rounds of thawing without compromising their stability. They will also stick easily to cold samples, unlike paper labels, the key being to ensure there is no ice or water present on application. To ensure that there is no moisture under the label we recommend a quick wipe of the tube with an ethanol soaked tissue before applying the label.
Finally, we would recommend moving away from 1D barcodes and joining the 2D revolution. 2D barcodes can store more data, and because they are positioned at the bottom of a tube (rather than the side) they can be scanned automatically without the tube having to be taken out of the rack.
Avoid the smudge: print.
Moving on, let’s talk about ink. Ink runs, which as mentioned, can lead to useful samples becoming unidentifiable. Modern labels can be printed on, which can ensure that the label remains readable for its lifetime – we have all worked with someone who’s handwriting is illegible (even to themselves), and often looking down at a tube and seeing a clearly typed label can be a welcome break from staring blankly at scribbles.
Another trick of modern labels is self-lamination where a clear part of the label wraps around the printed area. This simple yet clever quirk can significantly strengthen the label, while at the same time adding a protective layer over the all-important tube info. When looking for self-laminating labels, it is a useful tip to ensure you find one that is robust enough and that it is strong, but not too thick so it prevents your tubes from fitting back into their racks.
So you have your high-tech labels, and you have decided to print the information on them, the next question you have to ask yourself is what printing technique works the best for you. Thermal printing is the process used in most modern label printing processes and there are two forms of this type of printer – Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer.
Thermal transfer uses a heated ribbon to produce long-lasting, robust images, whereas direct thermal printing creates the image directly on a thermochromic paper. We prefer thermal transfer, as directly-printed material is more sensitive to heat, light, and abrasion.
The issue with thermal printers is that they are often developed by large companies and are used for a wide range of applications (seriously – from labels on boxes to labels on aircraft parts). This means that the standard label design software that often comes with the printers can do everything but as a consequence can be a little complicated to use.
Our Ready Label barcode design software is tailored for the generation of small labels for tubes. It encompasses a simple drag and drop customization process, and can be used to produce bespoke 1D and/or 2D labels for your tubes. It works with the most commonly used thermal transfer printers and if you are printing a sequence of labels, the software will remember the last number printed so that you don’t produce a repeat barcode.
All in all, there are a number of simple steps here to follow when tackling the sometimes monumental task of labelling your legacy samples. Making use of them can not only make the task easier, but can help form a foundation of a more stable, easy-to-use, and organized sample management system.
Keeping on top of your legacy samples is just one part of your lab’s sample management programme. Download our sample management eBook today to learn how to optimise your lab’s strategy to increase productivity and enhance data integrity.