5 Popular Types of “Smart” Product Labels

As technology continues to evolve, labels are becoming increasingly smarter. Popular in industries like healthcare, food and beverage, retail, and transportation and logistics, smart labels provide an additional layer of information and/or functionality beyond the capabilities of standard labels.

Smart labels can improve operational efficiencies, enhance security and product safety, boost customer engagement, and support sustainability by reducing waste. With so many great benefits, it’s no surprise that the global smart labels market size is only continuing to grow. In fact, it’s expected to reach more than $20 billion by 2028.

Wondering what types of smart labels exist and how they can benefit your business? Here are five smart labels continuing to grow in popularity:

  1. Radio Frequency Identification Labels
    The most commonly used smart labels—which accounted for approximately 40% of the global smart labels market revenue in 2021—are radio frequency identification (RFID) labels. Used in a variety of applications, RFID labels are commonly used in supply chain and inventory management for reliable tracking. For example, RFID labels are used in retail stores to track inventory and prevent theft, and they are also used in warehouses to track specific asset locations.As the name implies, these labels use radio waves to transmit data from a tag or label to an object reader. RFID labels have an antenna and microchip in them that stores this data and then transmit the information. RFID labels come in a variety of forms, but the most common types are passive and active tags.Passive label tags lack an internal power source, which requires them to rely on the energy from the reader for power and data transmission. Different types of passive tags include low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF). To read the tag, the same type of passive RFID reader must be used.

    On the other hand, active RFID labels are battery-powered and can continuously broadcast their own signals and transmit data. While active label tags are typically more expensive, they can more accurately track real-time location of assets, be used in a high-speed environment, and transmit data much farther than passive tags.

    Overall, RFID labels not only track assets, help manage inventory and improve data accuracy, but they also provide companies with better product control, help save time and money, and minimize human error.

  2. Quick-Response Code Labels
    In recent years, quick-response (QR) codes have become very popular again. Easily scanned with a smartphone camera or QR code scanner, QR codes contain a large amount of data, including product details, contact information and/or website URLs. Once scanned, the stored information is quickly retrieved and displayed on the device—making these labels an efficient way to share information and connect with customers.Because most people have a smartphone on them at all times, QR codes are convenient and efficient. Regardless of the industry, most organizations would benefit from QR code labels since they can be used in many different ways.Some of the most popular ways that QR code labels are used include:

    • Event management: Often used at conferences, tradeshows, concerts and other in-person events with a large number of attendees, QR codes can be used to provide general event details, venue maps, event schedules, contact information and more.
    • Marketing collateral: Posters, flyers, advertising and other marketing collateral can be added to the QR codes and then provided to customers in one convenient digital location. Many QR codes will even feature special discount codes and promotional offerings, which incentivize customers to make purchases.
    • Product labels: QR code labels can also be added to a product to provide customers with more information. For example, in the food and beverage industry, this often includes product ingredients or nutritional information.
  3. Time-Temperature Indicator Labels
    Time-temperature indicator (TTI) labels are another common type of smart label. Typically used in the food industry to ensure perishable goods remain safe for consumption during shopping and storage, these labels use technology to record how much time has elapsed and alert users when temperature thresholds have been breached.When temperature exceeds the designated threshold, the material changes color. Additionally, these labels may contain a barcode or microchip that can provide more product details, such as the expiration and/or manufacture dates.TTI labels typically fall under two categories: irreversible and reversible indicators. With irreversible indicator labels, once the temperature exceeds its threshold, it permanently changes color. However, reversible indicators only change color temporarily and return to the base color once the product is back within the safe temperature range.

    By providing real-time information about temperature changes, TTI labels help people make informed decisions about discarding or keeping products. This not only helps to ensure that products are safe for consumers, but it also helps reduce waste.

  4. Temperature-Sensitive Labels
    Commonly used in industries such as food and beverage, healthcare, and transportation and logistics, temperature-sensitive labels provide a clear indication that temperature changes have occurred. Typically, these labels change color, become translucent or opaque, or provide some other visible indication that temperatures have changed.Temperature-sensitive labels easily indicate whether a product has been exposed to temperatures that were higher or lower than the ideal temperature range. By continuously monitoring the quality and safety of products, such as medications or food during transportation or machinery during operations, temperature-sensitive labels are a great solution because they ensure a safe end product for consumers.
  5. Tamper-Evident Labels
    Similar to other smart labels, tamper-evident labels are mainly used to protect products and add an extra layer of security. Ultimately, these labels ensure that customers receive safe, top-quality products. Often used to protect against product theft, product contamination and general product tampering, tamper-evident labels are used in various industries like food and beverage, pharmaceuticals and electronics.Demand for these labels has continued to increase in recent years, especially in the food and beverage industry. As third-party food delivery services, online grocery shopping and curbside pickup have become more popular for consumers, tamper-evident label solutions continue to improve food safety and are now required by many businesses.Four main types of tamper-evident labels include:

    • Tamper-evident tape: When removed, the tape leaves a visible “void” message to indicate that the package has been opened.
    • Security seals: The most common type of tamper-evident labels, security seals are adhesive stickers that leave a visible residue or damage the label if removed.
    • Holographic labels: These labels have a holographic pattern that’s difficult to replicate, making it easy to detect if label tampering has occurred.
    • RFID tags: RFID tags can also be considered a type of tamper-evident labels. These tags contain microchips to store product information. If a product is tampered with, the RFID tag will send an alert.

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