What is removable anyway? Ask this question to a label buyer 10 times, you get 11 different answers. Removable is a subjective term with its meaning usually clear to the person wanting remove-ability, but maybe not so clear to the rest of us. When requesting remove-ability for a label, we tend to ask lots of questions and then ask the customer to test our recommendations for suitability in that particular application. Here’s why.
Many removable adhesives are simply a lighter adhesive coat weight of a permanent adhesive. As such, they can tend to build to permanence the longer they are on the substrate. Think about masking tape. If you apply it, do your painting (if that’s what you’re doing) and remove it in a relatively short period of time, it works as expected. But the longer you leave it applied, the harder it is to remove. It may not become “permanent”, but it is certainly not as removable. (See the above commentary about removability.) If you leave it applied long enough, your definition of removablity may also change.
To further compound the problem, certain adhesives have different affinities for different substrates. One example might be good removability from steel and glass, but the same adhesive having a tendency to become permanent on plastics. Great if you’re in the glass business, not so much if the substrate is a plastic lens.
Application and performance expectations can also affect removability functions. Very hot or cold conditions at application time or shortly thereafter can change the expected result. How long do you need the label to remain “removable”? What do you consider removable? Does the label need to remove cleanly or is tearing and adhesive residue of some sort acceptable? See now why we ask so many darn questions?
Ultra-removables – There are adhesives on the market known as ultra-removables. These are usually manufactured using a different technology than standard removables. You’ll be able to recognize them usually by their price. However, even though the price is higher, performance is the key. Many credit card activation stickers for example use ultra-removables. Clean removability for lengthy periods of time is a must for this application and example.
Removability vs. repositionability: Many times a customer will request removability when what they actually want is repositionability if the label is not applied quite correctly. Most of the time this repositionability aspect lasts for 20-30 minutes, and simply allows a mislabeled package to have the label removed and correctly reapplied, in lieu of scrapping the packaging. Most “repositionable” labels perform this way due to the adhesive technology and become permanent within a few hours or less.
There are certainly other examples of removable adhesives that haven’t been covered here. The key to helping your label supplier make a good recommendation for your removable label is to advise them of the substrate to which the label is being applied. And a conversation about the conditions the label will be subject to, including application temperature, service requirements, and your definition of removability, is a must.