November 27, 2020
Iron-On Labels: Will They Work For Your Fashion Business?
By: Peter Gregory
Iron-on labels are a godsend for those hard-to-stitch areas … but you need to know how and where to use them if you want your fashion products to be taken seriously.
In this article, we’ll look at the strengths and weaknesses of iron-on labels. We’ll show you what they’re really good at, explain the types of label available to you, and show you what to do if you find that an iron-on label just isn’t going to work.
An iron-on label is any type of label that gets attached to a garment with heat-activated glue, rather than thread or self-adhesive. With an iron-on label, a special heat-melt glue is applied to the backing of the label. When you heat it up, the backing glue melts and soaks into the fibres of the item underneath, forming a neat, tight, permanent bond.
Some materials just don’t take a stitch well enough to support a label (leather is a great example; you can stitch it but it requires a lot of force and it leaves an ugly mark on the surface). There might be a fiddly space on your garment that can’t be border-stitched all the way round. You might not want to go for a self-adhesive label (the glue on a self-adhesive doesn’t penetrate the fabric in the same way as it does on an iron-on label, so it’s more likely to come off over time). In situations like this, iron-on is the best choice for your project.
Iron-on glue hardens as it dries, and this inflexibility can make it a poor choice for items of clothing (especially underwear and t-shirts). The hard, flat patch of the label can feel uncomfortable against bare skin, and the hardened glue can crack and loosen if the label is in a high-movement area on the garment (or if the garment is folded in storage). If in doubt, our advice is to always make stitching your first choice, then look at iron-on or self-adhesive labelling options if stitching is impossible.
Iron-on labels come in two types: woven (woven labels with an iron-on backing) and polymer. Here’s a quick overview of how each of these label types work…
Woven Labels with Iron-On Backing
If you’re looking for a long-lasting option with a premium texture and low sheen (for instance, a label for the interior of a handbag), then you can’t go wrong with a damask woven label with an iron-on adhesive backing.
Iron-on woven labels can be attached with a professional heat press or a conventional laundry iron — whatever you’ve got. At GB Labels we use premium-grade heat melt adhesives which have the potential to last a lifetime. You just need to make sure that the iron-on label gets attached to a part of the garment that won’t bend or move too much.
If you want that ‘flat to fabric’ look but you’re labelling a loose, flowing textile, a standard sew-on border label is probably your best bet. We’ve written a comprehensive guide to traditional sew-on labels which can give you a steer.
We love iron-on polymers! Polymer iron-on labels are popular in the t-shirt design and merchandising industries. They look sharp for a very long time — much longer than traditional vinyl.
From a designer’s perspective, polymer works just like vinyl (polymer decals can be die-cut, the colour choice is virtually unlimited and you can squeeze lots of detail into each piece). Polymers are a better choice for your customers, too, because it lasts much longer than vinyl.
Vinyl starts to crack and fade over a relatively short amount of time, but a polymer label can survive the everyday trauma of machine washing and stretching for years. We’ve seen tests where a polymer iron-on label looks just as sharp after 50 washes as it did when it was first applied. It’s an amazing material..
Another great thing about polymer iron-on labels is that they’re priced almost identically to vinyl, (even though it’s a much better material). If you’re thinking of doing something graphic, ask us about polymer!
Sadly, you can’t get organic iron-on labels. The adhesives used in iron-on labels are synthetic, but you might still be able to label your clothes as ‘organic’. UK and EU labelling laws state that the material content of labels, elastic, buttons and other peripheral items can be disregarded under certain conditions. To learn more, have a look at our recent guide to clothing labels and the law.
The Soil Association website has tonnes of advice for merchandising startups and fashion designers who want to certify as organic. If you’re interested, we suggest you take a look at this page on the Soil Association’s website.
There are two main ways in which your goods can be certified as ‘organic’:
A common misconception among franchise startups is that iron-on labels take less time to attach than sew-on labels, and therefore carry a smaller labour cost. This might be true if you’re sitting at your own kitchen table and hand-stitching or ironing each garment yourself, but once your inventory levels grow beyond double-digits, you’ll often find that a third-party garment finishing service more than pays for itself.
Garment finishers and re-labellers are experts at labelling clothes. They use professional kit, they work fast and they’re accurate. What’s more, when you hire a garment finisher, you dramatically reduce the risk of damage to your merchandise. We don’t handle garment finishing services ourselves, but there are a few excellent UK-based services that we recommend. Just get in touch and we’ll be happy to give you a steer.
Most labels take between 2 and 4 weeks to manufacture, and iron-on labels are no exception. If you’d like to see lead times on all of our label types, check out our Product Comparison PDF.
The best way to see if an iron-on label is going to work for you is to test one out! You need to feel an iron-on label in your hand and see it in action before you can make a final decision. That’s why we include iron-on labels in all of our sample packs!
Click HERE to request a pack of label samples today … and as always, if you have any questions just give us a shout!
Thanks for reading!