Top 5 Tube Labeling Machine Problems and Solutions 

tube barcodes

Top 5 Tube Labeling Machine Problems and Solutionstube labeling machine problems

If you’re considering the purchase of a tube labeling machine and have done any research on the web, you’ve probably encountered some discussion of the potential problems associated with this type of lab equipment.

The purpose of this article is to address, with full disclosure, four of the most common issues associated with automated printing directly on labware with a labeling machine…as opposed to applying labels that are stickers (which might not adhere properly) or using a Sharpie to print directly on labware by hand.

We’ll also discuss the causes of these problems and how you, the bench scientist, can avoid them. However, it’s important to note that such issues are infrequent and generally preventable with minor adjustments.

At TubeWriter, we are passionate about the benefits of automated direct printing labeling machines. Because of our collective experience and the scores of conversations with scientists and tube manufacturers far and wide, we have an intimate knowledge of the good, the bad, and the ugly of marking tubes.

We can share this information with you, hoping you’ll never end up on one of those online lab equipment forums pleading for help.

The Most Common Problems Tube Labeling Machines Have

  1. The writing is in the wrong spot on the tube
  1. The writing scratches or is rubbed off with harsh solvents
  1. The barcode won’t scan
  1. I can’t hook your software to my LIMS

Problem #1: The Writing is in the Wrong Spot on the Tube

One issue we encounter from time to time is the label is printed on the wrong spot on the tube.

The TubeWriter is a non-contact printer, meaning you can print on virtually any labware or tube out there simply by adjusting the print head according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

However, as you probably know, most labware is curved. So, we need to teach the printer how to deal with that curvature by assigning it a “parameter file,” which is calibrated to the specific type of labware.

A parameter file stores settings and configurations used by the printer, including various settings such as print quality, font size, curvature, resolution, and other specifics related to the direct printing process.

Once correctly set a parameter file acts as a template that ensures consistency and accuracy in the label by applying the same set of predefined settings each time a print job is executed. This is particularly useful in professional or large-scale automatic labeling environments where maintaining uniformity across multiple prints is crucial.

Once you consider the enormous variety of labware that can be labeled, it’s pretty evident that we need to supply our customers with 1000s of different label parameter files.

And this is where we sometimes encounter issues with the labeling process.

The most common cause of labels being in the wrong spot is that some scientists need to move text or barcodes to unexpected places on labels to meet their specific application environment. For example, a barcode reader with a sensor in their lab automation stack.

Another common issue that can occur is when the customer is forced to use a manufacturer-specific tube/vial for a particular assay or machine with a proprietary material, and the parameter file cannot “understand” where to print.

Luckily, there is a graphical interface where you can generate new parameters for an unusual label size, or you can contact us, and we will email you new parameter files for your specific needs.

Solution: Have a TubeWriter rep adjust your parameter files to “right-size” for your label application.

Problem #2: The Label Scratches Off

Most labware is specifically designed with the most inert materials possible to prevent unwanted chemical reactions on the inside of the tube. Furthermore, the container material is resistant to damp or cold conditions.

What that means for direct printing, adhesive labels, or even a Sharpie is that, to some degree, it’s tough to get labels to stick to the outside of the tube, no matter the label material itself.

In 99% of the cases, labels getting “scratched off” is not an issue with the labeling machine equipment malfunction or the label material (ink only in our case). Instead, the tubes are exposed to aggressive solvents in the lab or get roughly handled by automation equipment, and the labels get scratched. We’ve worked with several labs to determine better ways to protect tubes and fix these other issues.

In one hilarious case, a scientist rubbed a labeled tube so hard the labels “scratched” a bit, and he even used a razorblade! We had a good laugh on that one.

The Solution is to think redundantly. Use the labeling machine to double-print or triple-print your label.  Heck, if you want to print seven times, you can. Applying labels is lightning-fast for any solution!

Finally, it MIGHT be time for regular maintenance of your TubeWriter.

Problem #3: The barcodes won’t scantube barcodes

Although not a common problem, this one is tricky, and the devil is in the details.

For starters, there are good barcode scanners and bad barcode scanners.

The one you choose and use, of course, changes across various industries, label sizes, and environmental conditions. As a result, you might run into barcode label application problems that lead to production delays.

Many barcode scanners cannot read barcodes off curved surfaces like cryovials or PCR tubes.

Another common problem is some tubes have a white background needed for “clean labels” with barcodes required by readers. And some don’t.

But to heighten the likelihood of a successful barcode scan, we need to focus on two solutions: the size of the barcode itself and the quality of your scanner.  The first one we can fix quickly.

TubeWriter’s software allows you to scale up and down the size of your barcodes.  We may have to try a few non-obvious-sized barcodes to make this work.

It is the only labeling machine that can print on a transparent surface without hand applying a white label material.  Finally, every TubeWriter that has barcoding includes a top-of-the-line Honeywell barcode scanner with your purchase.

SOLUTION: Use a TubeWriter barcode scanner or work with your specialist to fix the problem.

Problem #4: How do I hook your software to my LIMS / LIS

We have some good news and bad news about LIMS / LIS systems.

The bad news is that you must output your LIMS/LIS data to a spreadsheet.

The good news is that every LIMS/LIS allows you to output data to a spreadsheet easily.

See, when you have a supposedly seamless solution, for example, a printer that prints from an LIS system, you are locked into the printing method the LIMS/LIS software supplier chooses to support.  When you export to CSV (comma delimited) or Excel format, you can use almost any printing device on earth to pick up that data.

Solution: Use CSV and comma-delimited files for ease of data exchange.

Conclusion: Top Issues with Your Tube Labeling Machine

In conclusion, let’s visit a few common problems with adhesive labels for some contrast. Depending on the label supplier, you might run into the following:

  • Label wrinkling
  • Label liner release issues
  • Label Facestock smearing
  • Wrong adhesive for your labware
  • Automatic labeling jams
  • Incorrect placement label application problems
  • Machine failures due to jams


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Top 5 Tube Labeling Machine Problems and Solutions 

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