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The History of Labelling & Label Printing Technologies

Here at Auto ID Systems, labels are at the heart of what we do, so we thought we’d take a look back at the history of labelling & label printing technologies…


You probably don’t realise it, but labels are everywhere. Just take a look around your house, you can find labels in your fridge, your bathroom cabinet, your food cupboards and plenty more. You probably see multiple labels every single day. Especially when you’re doing your weekly or monthly grocery shop! Think about when you’re shopping for a product you’ve never bought before, what attracts you first? The label! How their product is presented and if it catches your eye. Labels have been a market-leading force for some time now.


But where did they start?


Ancient History of Labels

We could probably go back thousands of years if we were talking about identification on a product, there was always a need for this. An example of this would be that wine was produced around 6,000 years ago in Greece. In 1352BC King Tutankhamun died and was buried with his favourite wine, the containers had inscribed information containing the wine type, the year it was made, who made it and where it was made. This is technically classed as a label and we could probably bore you with a hefty article where all these examples are shown throughout history, however, to make it a bit simpler, we’re going to have a look at the rise of the adhesive label.


Looking Back

The first known label appeared around the 1700s, used to label medical containers. Labels were printed on handmade paper by a wooden press and then glued to the product. The earliest signs of adhesive labels happened in the 1800s – paper labels with adhesive gum on the back that you had to lick to activate.

Drug labels were the first to become common, as professionals needed to display how often to take the medicine, at what times and how much to take. Labels were and still are essential to pharmacies.

If a company wanted coloured labels, they had to paint them by hand, which was extremely time consuming so it was only available for exclusive products. In the middle of the 1800s, this changed and colour printing improved significantly, manufacturers saw the growing need for creativity in their labels as it helped sell their products.

Labels were turning from a way to relay information of a product to a way for a company to outshine their competition.


Lithography & Labelling

During the 1800s, there were no fast, top quality label printers like we sell today. The original technology used was a lithographic printing press. Lithography is still seen today; we encounter the paste made on many card & letter envelopes which we have to lick to activate the stickiness.

Lithography was invented in 1796, it’s a printing process based on how water and oil don’t mix – it uses a flat stone or smooth metal plate on which the image areas are worked using a greasy substance so that the ink will adhere to them, while the non-image areas are made ink-repellent.

This method was used by the first label manufacturers but it was still very costly so businesses would often bulk order and use the same label over a few years.


A Moment in History – Avery Invents the Self-Adhesive Label

We touched on the great R. Stanton Avery and his invention in another one of our blog posts, so you should check that out if you haven’t already for more information on this invention and also his life before and after he created this iconic product.

A big moment in the history of labels & label technology is when Avery invented the very first self-adhesive label, also known as the sticker, and changed the label manufacturing industry forever.

Back in the 1930s, Avery invented labels that had a paper surface, a coat of adhesive and a silicone coated liner. It could be stuck directly to a product. His labels took off and began being applied on a mass scale, the label industry was now worth billions.

Avery’s company is still running to this day, the company’s products are used in nearly every major industry and according to reports, the Avery Dennison net worth is in the region of 17 billion.


Development of Labels

The developments of new manufacturing technologies for labels were being discovered, everyone wanted a piece of this billion-dollar industry. Labels became less word-heavy and more focused on images to be eye-catching to potential customers.

The barcode was a big step in the development of labels, it conveyed a massive amount of data in a machine-readable form and was invented in 1951 by Norman Woodland and Bernard Silver. However, they created a circular barcode and the one seen today is the barcode design developed by George Laurer in 1973 with vertical bars.

As you know, the barcode label is still seen in every supermarket you visit nowadays.


The Introduction of Labels in the Home

After the computer began to develop, it opened the door to better printers – the convenience of printing your own labels at home became popular and affordable. The inkjet printer was invented in 1981, and then the laser printer was created in 1984. In the 1990s, a new method of label printing entered the scene called digital printing and digital printers were invented in 1991.

We have plenty of home label printers available for you to choose from.


Label Printing Technology Now

Nowadays, we have top-quality, creative, eye-catching, full-colour labels with less waste and a more efficient printing process. There’s no limit on what you can do with labels! There are even fluffy labels, 3D labels and mirror labels! We’ve come a long way from the strenuous task of handmade paper and wooden presses.


We hope you enjoyed this article all about the history of labelling and label printing technologies! Here at Auto ID Systems, we offer a wide range of labels and labelling machines, including label applicators, dispensers, rewinders, sheets of A4 labels and different sizes of rolls of labels.