It wasn’t that long ago that portable labeling tools were simple devices that embossed letters on a strip of plastic that could be stuck to walls or other surfaces. Times certainly have changed.


Whether it is a handheld label printer for use on the job or a desktop model for the office or warehouse, today’s labeling tools can accommodate the needs of most electrician and datacom installers. They have multiple functions, and they print labels in a variety of sizes on different materials designed to fit specific jobs and the environments in which they will be applied. The most striking advances in labeling may be in printer software and in adaptability to wireless technology.


Brother Mobile Solutions P-Touch EDGE industrial handheld labelers are engineered for electrical, datacom, security and audiovisual contractors use in the field. Additionally, desktop and barcode label printers provide a broad array of labeling capabilities for commercial and industrial applications.


Labeling has become far more important in recent years with the rise in data center growth and implementation of ANSI/TIA labeling standards, said Craig Robinson, RCDD, Brother’s manager of sales and business development.


“Labeling is no longer an option on many professional installations, and the days of masking tape and markers are fading fast,” he said. “The need to ensure easy troubleshooting down the road and facilitate future moves, adds and changes is an important economic aspect of a project. Manufacturers are responding. In fact, we’ve engineered a whole new generation of labeling tools with smart, easy application keys that make it simple for electricians to create the labels.”


Today’s labelers have frequently used features, such as smart application keys with preformatted templates, for the types of labels needed for electrical, telecom, datacom, audio/video and security system work. These smart keys make it possible to configure cable wrap, cable flag, faceplate, patch panel and even complex serialized labels with one-button functionality. The power supply has changed to rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. 


Complete libraries of industrial symbols come built-in, and it’s possible to create industry-standard barcodes and QR codes, which are great for asset labeling and complex identifiers. 


Large, backlit, liquid crystal displays (LCDs) make it easy to work in dark places, and simple features, such as QWERTY keyboards, speed up the process. 


“For the electrical industry,” Robinson said, “these features, along with advanced serializing, network connectivity, database download functionality, symbol libraries, and easy WYSIWYG [what you see is what you get] interfaces make it possible for the contractor to create professional, on-demand labels. 


“Depending on the scope of the electrical project and customer requirements, the most common labeling for electrical projects would be labeling the breakers at the electrical panel, labeling wire and cable as well as terminal blocks inside panels, and general labeling of outlet covers and faceplates. There are numerous other specialty labeling requirements like lockout/tagouts and arc flash warning labels. Typically, any labeling required by [the National Electrical] Code is based on life safety rather than just simple identification. 


“For voice/data/video projects, the TIA 606B standard outlines the specifics for labeling a low-voltage structured cabling system, but the most common label applications for low-voltage projects in a commercial environment are cable labels [both ends of the cable should be labeled], faceplate/outlet cover labels, patch panel and cross-connect labels, racks and cabinets, telecommunication spaces and rooms, and even firestop penetrations,” Robinson said.


Panduit offers a comprehensive line of innovative identification products for electricians and contractors, which includes labeling software, desktop printers and ribbons, handheld printers, and a wide variety of industrial labels. These include self-laminating, heat-shrink, marker plates, raised panel, ultra aggressive adhesive, high-temperature, flame-retardant, fluid-resistant, halogen-free, reflective and more.


Most projects use a combination of labels produced in a central office or warehouse with a desktop printer and on-site with a handheld printer, said Shawn Whittaker, Panduit’s product line manager, identification systems. Desktop printers are used for the majority of the project, since they work with lower cost labels and have much faster print speeds/output. Handheld printers are ideal for smaller jobs; moves, adds, changes; and any unforeseen labeling needs that arise throughout the project. This general labeling strategy provides the contractor with the greatest flexibility, convenience and most cost-effective solution.


For electrical projects, Whittaker said it is critical that the labeling withstand the intended environment in which it will be installed, such as resistance to the required temperature extremes, chemical exposure, abrasion and sunlight. The most common labeling applications for electrical projects include wire/cabling, enclosures, rating plates, terminal blocks and other electrical components, safety and hazard communication, pipe marking, and facility identification.


For voice/data projects, it is critical that the labeling meet the requirements of the TIA-606B Administration Standard for Telecommunications Infrastructure. Specifically, each of the following components must be clearly labeled with the appropriate identifiers: telecommunications space, data center room grid, racks and cabinets, patch panels, ports, cabling, pathways, work area outlets, grounding busbars, and firestop locations.


Whittaker said among the most useful features of today’s labeling systems are the ability to automatically extract and import data from other programs such as CAD packages, spreadsheets and databases. 


“This not only saves significant time,” he said, “but also reduces errors associated with manual entry of identifiers into the labeling software. Labeling software on a USB flash drive provides portability for a mobile workforce and eliminates the need to install a dedicated copy of labeling software on each labeling computer.


“Market-specific labeling wizards can help select the optimum label for a particular application, simplify and speed label creation, and help generate label legends that are compliant with industry standards, including UL, ANSI, TIA/EIA and others,” Whittaker said.


Brady Worldwide offers a wide range of label printers and supplies to meet electrical identification and safety needs. Wire and cable labels withstand liquid, abrasion and harsh environments so that wire identification remains clear and legible. 


Matt Luger, product specialist at Brady, said recent improvements in label printers over the past two years include the following: 


• The capability to make both continuous labels and die-cut labels and automatic label setup, allowing the printer to automatically recognize the label part installed and default to the correct rotation, format, size and font when it is turned on 


• Rechargeable NiMH batteries that can print more than 2,000 labels compared to much more frequent battery changes previously required


• Improved value-for-price


• Rugged grab-and-go construction with extensive rubber guarding and internal shock-dissipation designs


• Optional accessory magnet fasteners that attach to the back of the printer, allowing it to be affixed to a metal cabinet or panel for hands-free use


“Previously,” Luger said, “a significant investment was needed to step up to a die-cut printer. Now, for just $299, we offer a printer that prints both continuous and die-cuts, flags and wraps, strips and small labels, and indoor and outdoor labels.


“For electrical and voice/data projects, it is important that labeling allows technicians to quickly able to identify wires and cables and read critical information. 


“To accomplish that, labeling tools continue to be enhanced to meet industry needs. Our latest printer development was created in response to a desire for more efficiency and affordability in a grab-and-go, die-cut printer producing both continuous and die-cut labels.”


According to Luger, continuous labels are cut to length after printing; die-cut labels are precut and prespaced on the roll, which eliminates the risk of losing labels from the onset, makes finding specific labels faster, and avoids the need to cut labels by hand from a continuous strip.


Labels needed for electrical projects often need to comply with rigid job specifications on the type and size of label used. They are available in a variety of colors, sizes and configurations and are proven to withstand liquids, abrasion and other harsh environments. Heat-
shrinkable sleeves and self-laminating labels also are available.


For voice/data projects, labeling needs include data cables, patch panels, face plates, network equipment, cabinets, racks and shelving systems. Users prefer the self-laminating marker style, which features a printed area and a clear tail that wraps around the cable and over the text to prevent smearing. 


Flagging also is a popular method of labeling data cables when a large amount of data needs to be placed onto a label. 


Luger said, when comparing labeling options, it is important to consider what capabilities are required. In evaluating the value of a printer, he suggested comparing the characteristics of each product under consideration: What material does it print—die-cut, continuous labels or both? How user-friendly is it—is it simple to enter label information and switch cartridges? Does it have automatic label-setup capabilities? Does the size meet requirements—is a light, handheld model or a desktop model best?