What are Smart Labels?

QR Code Label

Advancements in Labeling Technology

Alongside our constant advancements in technology, all industries it seems are integrating tech into their product lines and producing “smart” products. The labeling industry is no different, and in recent years it has seen the rapid development of smart labels, a sector of the labeling world that allows for the integration of technological interactions and specialty functions. But just what makes these labels “smart” and how can this technology be applied in a real-world context? For this post, we’re tackling the question, what are smart labels and giving some ideas of how this labeling technology could move your products into the modern age.

How does a Smart Label Work?

Let’s start off with a definition of a smart label. A smart label is a label that incorporates technology that extends the functionality and contents of labels or packaging beyond traditional print methods. This can come is a variety of forms from RFID tags, to QR codes, to near field communication (NFC). These types of labels rely on an interaction with a consumer device, like a smartphone, to facilitate an interaction.

An easy example of a smart label is one imprinted with a QR code, as mentioned above. These QR codes can then be scanned by mobile devices and be linked to content like a web page or prompt an application download. Smart labels and tags can affect the retail experience in a variety of ways and allow for new interactions between consumers and products. RFID tags, a category of smart labels, can improve the ability to track inventory and allow customers a more seamless experience when shopping. Smart labels have the unique ability to allow manufacturers to continue to interact with their customers even after the initial purchase is done and they have brought a product home.

Intelligent Labeling Materials

Normally, intelligent labels like RFID tags, are comprised of pressure sensitive substrates where the most common form of printing is thermal printing. Inkjet and flexographic printing techniques can be applied, however thermal printing remains most frequently used in this type of label production. Because smart labels are classified as anything that is beyond traditional printing methods that adds to a user experience and product’s functionality, smart labels can encompass a wide range of applications besides RFID and QR codes. We’ll look at some of these emerging technologies a bit more in-depth.

Near Field Communication (NFC)

NFC is a set of communication protocols that enable two devices to communicate with each other, one of which is usually a smart phone. These types of devices are used in contactless payment systems like tap-to-pay credit cards and can be used in all types of applications like key cards and identity documents. Recently, this technology has migrated to the field of label printing and product packaging. Low-cost wireless sensors have begun to be integrated into product packaging, allowing real-time information to reach consumers. Printed electronics, like circuits and sensors, provide various industries with new ways of improving operations and quality. Timer and sensor labels can be extremely effective in the food industry indicating expiration dates, food temperatures, and other pertinent information. These types of labels can be used to facilitate supply chain monitoring, loss-prevision strategies, and more.

Smart labels will continue to develop and become more sophisticated in their applications in the future, expanding memory capacities and creating even more ways for this technology to be deployed in the world around us, proving that the answer to our original question, what are smart labels is just begging to be answered.

Nikita Willeford