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Cryogenic Labeling: FAQs

July 1, 2021

To guide you through the complex process of choosing the best labels for your lab, biobank, or storage facility, we've compiled the top five frequently asked questions – and our expert answers – about cryogenic labeling. We cover the foundation of the cryogenic labeling process from what cryogenic labels are to why these label designs are essential and how you can choose the best solution for your specific needs.

1. What Are Cryogenic Labels?

Unlike other pharmaceutical labels, cryogenic labels are engineered to withstand extremely low temperatures. As you probably know, materials behave differently in different environments; when a container and label are subjected to below-freezing temperatures, their properties are naturally affected. The face material and adhesive coatings used in cryogenic label design and engineering are fabricated and paired to remain intact when stored in cryogenic (very cold) conditions for an extended period of time.

2. Why Are Cryogenic Labels So Important?

The labels on biological samples are critical to the health and safety of patients. A label identifies a sample so that it can be tracked and monitored throughout processing. If a sample were to lose its label during processing, it would likely go to waste, costing the lab or facility a great deal of time, supplies, and integrity.

A biological sample's integrity is particularly at risk when it enters cryogenic storage. The average label cannot weather the extreme temperatures and levels of moisture present under these conditions. Storage in liquid nitrogen and laboratory freezers can cause ordinary labels to detach or become smudged or faded. The primary issue is that the majority of labels will not adhere to already frozen containers; however, the containers holding these biological samples are temperature-sensitive and cannot be warmed up. As such, biomedical facilities need to use unique labels designed to withstand cryogenic conditions.

3. What Industries Commonly Use Cryogenic Labels?

Cryogenic adhesive label design is essential to a number of different industries. These specialty labels are recommended for facilities responsible for the long-term preservation of biological samples, including pharmaceutical companies, bio-pharma research labs, cell banks, cord blood banks, tissue banks, sperm banks, and other facilities in the biomedical and veterinary fields.

4. What Should I Consider When Choosing Cryogenic Labels?

Not all cryogenic labels are the same. To maintain sample integrity, it’s critical to choose a cryogenic-resistant label that's engineered for your specific purposes and conditions. When selecting a type of cryogenic label, consider the following questions.

What type of container am I labeling?

You will need cryogenic labels of specific size, material, adhesive coating, and flexibility depending on the container’s material, curvature, and dimensions. Common containers include:

  • Tubes
  • Vials
  • Plates
  • Racks
  • Straws
  • Boxes

While some of these are made of plastic, others are made of glass or metal. Metal surfaces, like aluminum and stainless-steel, require a different adhesive than plastic or glass surfaces.

What environmental conditions will the sample be exposed to?

You may require a cryogenic label that performs in particular environmental conditions. For example, you may need to adhere the label to wet or frozen surfaces, or it may require resistance to chemical exposure. Cryogenically-stored containers used for cell cultures, for instance, must have labels that can be sprayed or wiped with alcohols.

Additionally, you’ll need to consider the stages of cryogenic storage your samples will be subject to. The stages include:

  • Deep freeze: as low as -80 C
  • Vapor phase: as low as -120 C
  • Liquid nitrogen storage: as low as -196 C

Most cryogenic label designs are tailored to a specific stage, so make sure you are selecting the appropriate type of label.

Will I need any special features?

In addition to features related to the container's specifications and your storage and processing conditions, you may also require unique material characteristics like:

  • Color
  • Transparency and opacity
  • Adhesive (permanent or removable)
  • Tamper-evidence

These label design features are primarily related to preference and convenience but can play a major role in the safety and compliance of your samples.

How will the labels be printed?

There are a number of label printing methods available, including:

  • Laser
  • Inkjet
  • Thermal-transfer
  • Direct thermal
  • DYMO

Thermal-transfer is widely considered the gold standard as it provides the most versatility and resistance against extreme temperatures, harsh solvents, high-pressure sterilization, and smudging.

Cryogenic labels are printed in two basic formats: sheets and rolls.

  • Sheets are ideal for printing large batches and one-time projects. They are also easy to use.
  • Rolls typically offer more control and flexibility as well as a wider selection of label types and configurations. They are ideal for long-term projects.

5. Why Are My Cryogenic Labels Peeling Off?

If you're struggling to keep your labels adhered to their containers, you're not alone. It's a common problem, but we've got the solution. Cryogenic labels may fall off due to any of the following reasons.

You are applying the labels to a frosted surface

A frozen sample will have a layer of frost on the surface of the container. When you apply a label to that container, you aren’t actually affixing the label to the surface, but rather to the frost. This creates a layer of water between the label and the container. When the frost melts, the adhesive will no longer hold the label in place.

Fortunately, there's a very simple solution: wipe the frost from the container prior to applying the label. Direct contact with a dry surface will allow the label to property adhere.

You are applying the labels to a warm surface

Plastic shrinks when cold and expands when warm. If you place a warm plastic tube in a freezer, it will contract more significantly than an already cold tube. Accordingly, if you apply a room-temperature label to a warm tube, both will shrink in the freezer but at different rates, causing the label to peel from the surface of the container.

The solution? Adhere your cryogenic labels to cold, dry samples. In doing so, you will ensure that as the label shrinks, the tube will remain the same, minimizing the effect on the adhesive.

Choosing the right label design and construction for your biological samples can be tricky, but due to the cryogenic storage conditions they often must withstand, label selection is critical to maintaining the integrity of your work. While we've answered some of the most common questions about cryogenic labeling above, this is certainly not a complete and comprehensive list. If you have more questions or want additional information about cryogenic labeling, don't hesitate to contact us today.

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