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Made in Britain

November 24, 2015

Metal Labels: more than just an accessory

By: Peter Gregory

Dashes Graphic

You might associate metal labels with handbags and luggage, but the truth is this is a class of label that can do so much more! Using metal, you can create a lightweight, slim and delicate label or a rugged, industrial and masculine look — it all depends on your brand. 

We’ve produced metal labels for every type of clothing imaginable — even underwear — so in this guide we’ll share some of what we’ve learned over the years. If you’re thinking about metal for your brand, this guide will help you make the right choice!

What are metal labels used for?

Traditionally, metal labels were just for rigid leather goods (like handbags, luggage and pet collars), and hard-to-stitch materials like waxed cotton. 

In recent decades, metal has become a popular labelling choice for everything from pullovers to footwear. Advances in the science of ‘materials technology’ mean that it is now possible to create lightweight, rigid metal labels that look much heavier than they really are (ideal for delicate and silky items). Thin metal labels (aluminium, for instance) can be curved, so they have been used to label automotive and industrial parts for years; more recently, we’ve seen them being used on the contours of shoes and boots. 

Here are some great examples of metal labels in action:

With rounded edges, this small embossed label in a rich bronze finish gives the client’s brand a feel of ‘establishment’ and permanence.
With clean colours, sharp corners and a crisp font, this label hardly feels metal at all. It matches the client’s modern, upscale brand beautifully.
If you’re designing workwear or hardy garments, we recommend going for a chunkier label with an etched, raw surface.

Metal Labels: The Pros

Metal labels give you complete control over the sheen, shape and texture of your label. Metal labels can be virtually any size or thickness, and the finishes are delicious (everything from shiny silver to moody gun metal). 

Metal labels can look industrial or ornate — it just depends on the finish you use. The marking process is very sharp, so if your logo has a lot of detail or if you use a ‘serif font’, the detail will look incredible. You can also achieve some really interesting patinas and lustres that play into your brand in a way that no textile-based label ever could. 

Metal labels are also virtually indestructible. As long as you’ve fixed the label securely to the garment, the label will look great for the whole lifespan of the item — no amount of machine washes or sun bleaching will ever fade your logo. 

Metal Labels: The Cons

Modern metal labels are versatile and virtually indestructible, but there are still some areas where a woven label is a better choice. You need to think twice if you’re designing babywear, or if your label will come into prolonged contact with skin. 

Metal labels are rigid and small — they are choking hazards for small babies and pets. On an adult-sized garment, as long as you’ve stitched the label on correctly, you won’t have any problems, but it’s just not a good choice for babywear or pet accessories. 

Some people are allergic to certain metals, so a metal label should never make prolonged contact with skin. Metal allergies are a serious issue that few of us understand; in fact, when the Royal Mint released new coins containing nickel, some in the medical profession were concerned that it would trigger so many new cases of skin irritation in the UK population that it would burden the NHS (see the BMJ article here). If you want to put a label in an area where the wearer’s skin might touch the material, it’s best to avoid metal labels completely. 

How metal labels get made

Metal label manufacture is a specialist area that very few businesses in the world are set up to do. We currently work with an overseas provider to fulfil our metal label orders. Metal label manufacture is a highly complex procedure, but in essence there are three main steps: cutting, marking and fixing.

Cutting:

Years ago, to make a metal label you needed a mould and a forge, and molten metal was literally poured into a sheet mould to create the metal labels. Nowadays, most metal labels are cut from sheet metal on a specialist CNC machine. 

Metal labels tend to be rectangular shapes with rounded or square corners and either single- or double-punched thread holes at either end, but there’s technically no limit to what you can do. The latest die cutting technology means that most label cutting machines can create just about any shape in just about any metal. The costs go up dramatically when you attempt a complex die-cut pattern, so most clients tend to stick to a simple rectangular shape, but if you want to do something more bespoke, let us know.  

Marking:

The act of actually putting a logo and text onto a metal label is sometimes called the process. There are typically two stages to this. 

First, you cut a groove or press an indentation in the metal label itself (a process either called ‘etching’ if it’s a small shallow cut, or ‘debossing’ if it’s a deep ‘stamped groove’. Some metal labels look great with just an etched or debossed logo, but if you want to get some contrast onto the label, you’ll have to print it, too. 

Printing is the second stage. When you print onto a metal label, you’re effectively ‘filling’ your label’s indentations with ink. Printing looks best in charcoal or black, but we’ve seen it work well in navy blue and crimson, too. The key ingredient to a really good printed metal label is contrast — if your label metal is light and shiny, you want a dark rich ink, and vice versa.

Most metal labels used in the clothing sector will be sealed after the etching and inking process. This brings out the patina of the metal (similar to varnishing an old wooden table), and it protects the label against the elements. 

Fixing:

Fixing is incredibly important when you’re dealing with metal labels (and not just because labels are pointless until they’re labelling something). Metal doesn’t bend and flex like textiles or plastics, and it’s typically placed on the outside of a garment — you have to work doubly hard to make sure it doesn’t come off. 

Most of the metal labels we produce will have stitching holes already cut into the label. These holes usually have a recessed groove to hold any thread, just so that you can get a very tight bond between the label and the garment. Another great way to keep a label close to the garment is to add a chain — the chain can be secured tightly to the fabric, and the metal label isn’t put under as much pressure in the laundry machine. We’ve also sourced prong-tagged labels in the past, but these are really for accessory customers making handbags and wallets. 

No matter how you choose to cut, mark or fix your labels, what matters most is probably the finish! Whether you go for a silver, a bronze look, a gun metal or something else, the metal itself is going to make a statement about your brand — it may even attract a certain type of customer. If you’re unsure, the best thing to do is to ask us for a few sample labels. Just fill in the form and we’ll get something into the post to you today.

When woven beats metal:

Like all specialist labels, metal is great for some tasks and completely unsuitable for others. Metal labels can warp lighter garments like scarves and blouses, and if you go for a sharp finish, it may cause garments to fray over time. 

Fraying is mainly a problem for light cottons and silky fabrics. Wool and denim can withstand the wear and tear of a metal label without any trouble. What’s more, in most cases, you’ll be stitching a metal label  into an area where there isn’t too much rubbing or movement, like a bottom hem or the back of the neck, so it’s not going to give you too much trouble. 

If you really want a metallic look but you don’t think your garment can withstand a metal label, there are some fantastic metal threads out there, like Lurex ®. We incorporate metallic threads into our woven labels all the time and we’d be happy to send you a few samples if you’re interested! 

That’s all for this week! I hope this guide gives you a clearer picture of how metal labels work and what you can do with them. If you have any questions, just ask — we’re always happy to share what we know.

Thanks for reading!

Pete

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