Numbered Tags - Advice


What are the tags going to be used for?

Before you buy numbered tags, it's important to consider their purpose and function. There is a huge range of tags on the market - metal, plastic, laminate, cardboard, and even wood and stone, and prices range from dirt-cheap, to quite expensive.

But price is not the only consideration when buying tags.

It is very important to consider the environment in which the tags are to be used, and whether they will be handled frequently, knocked about, exposed to corrossive substances, located in damp areas... etc.

Can your supplier give good advice?

Most supliers don't bother to ask you how or where your tags are to be used, and will happily sell you whatever you want - and as decisions are often based on price, they'll happily let you choose cheap options just to secure the sale.

Using the wrong materials however, can result in the tags breaking, fading, scratching, melting or even dissolving, if the tag is not made of suitable material for the evironment for which it is intended.

Metal? Plastic? Wood? Glass?

Many suppliers have low-priced plastic tags that they engrave and cut on laser machines.

But laser machines cannot cut certain plastics, and in general, the plastics they can cut are usually quite soft and flimsy, too thin, or too brittle and prone to surface scratching (eg: acrylics and perspex). Such tags are likely to fail quickly in environments where the tag is handled frequently, or risks being knocked about.

Laser-cut tags are fine if they are used to tag items that don't move about or get bumped and bashed during normal use. Valve tags are an example. They just sit on the valve and never get touched. Locker numbers are also OK to be laser cut and engraved.

But any tags that need to endure rough handling, or wide temperature ranges, or corrosive elements, should to be made of materials that suit these environments.

How we make our number tags

Metal number tags: We generally use standard-size punched blanks, a these are the cheapest substrates. Depending on the requirement, we either us surface "cross-hatch" engraving, which marks a very visible number on the surface of the metal, or we use deep-engraved routed cutting to carve out a deep groove in the metal. This can be infilled with a coloured enamel paint in some cases.

Plastic number tags: We use either Traffolyte (formica) rigid plastics, or ABS (semi-flexible) plastics. These plastics are supplied to us in large sheets, measuring 1.2 metres X 0.61 metres. These sheets are multi-ply, meaning that they are comprised of several layers of plastic. The surfaces are the coloured layers, with the inner layers being a contrasting colour. We engrave through the surface to reveal the underlying colour. This results in a tag with numbers that can never fade or rub off. While we have the capacity to laser-engrave certain plastics, we do not use this method for tags that endure a lot of handling. Laser-engraved plastic is best suited to signs and notices that are mounted on static surfaces, and which are seldom - if ever - touched or bumped.

Plastic tags have to be both cut and engraved individually. Unlike metal, most hard plastics cannot easily be "punched" out of a sheet. They have to be machine cut, using either a router cutter, or other mechanical saw. This is a time-consuming and labour-intensive process, so in some cases, plastic tags may be more expensive than metal tags.

Other forms of numbering for tags

There are many ways numbers can be applied to tags. It's possible to print numbers onto both metal and plastic tags, and we generally use this method where very large volumes are involved, as it is more cost-effective. But the printing can - and does - wear off over time, particularly if the tag is handled a lot.

Another process is "photo-etching"  (or chemical etching) where the number is etched into the metal using various chemical processes. These include acid etching, and ferric chloride etching. These processes "stain" the metal, or dissolve away the surface, altering the chemical composition of the metal, and the results can be very good. It's a laborious and messy process, and requires specialist equipment and environmentally-friendly handling. We prefer not to use chemical etching. Similar, and often better results can be obtained using router engraving.

Engraving Images and Logos

We are often asked to put a logo or image onto a tag, and in many cases, this can be done. The process is made more simple if the logo itself is simple. Logos that have complex graphics, or are multi-coloured, are usually not possible to re-create using engraving methods, and in such cases, it is better to use methods that allow complex and/or colourful graphics to be rendered onto the tag.

If you would like your logo on a tag, then we would need to see that logo first, so we can determine what process is best.


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