Hand Labeled vs. Label Applicator Machine — Which Is Right for Your Manufacturing Line?


Poorly applied labels will cost you time, money, and sales. 

Overlapping, crooked, bubbling, or peeling labels can cause a potential customer to pass right by your product without a second thought. If this is a problem your operation faces, it could be the result of applying labels by hand. Labeling by hand can also cost valuable time that could be spent more productively. To create a solid first impression on store shelves and ensure an efficient packaging process, you may want to consider switching to a label machine. 

Yes, moving away from hand-applied labels and purchasing professional labeling equipment can seem like a huge investment, but manually applying your labels may be the bottleneck that prevents your products from flying off shelves and into consumers’ hands. Let's discuss some issues to watch out for when deciding if labeling equipment is right for you. 

Labeling Labor 

If you have two or three dedicated employees whose only full-time job is to apply labels, that is tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours spent every year solely on labeling. Also, one employee might be meticulous about straightness and consistency, while another employee might be aiming to apply labels as fast as possible regardless of the final product's aesthetic qualities. And when the skilled labeler takes a vacation, puts in their two weeks' notice, or takes a sick day, someone else has to pick up the slack, and they might not be the right employee to entrust with your brand's visual impact.


If you can't yet afford a large, high-output labeling machine but also don't want to keep paying employees to apply labels, a tabletop labeler might be the perfect solution. They are small and portable, remove inconsistencies in label application, and increase efficiency by 500%. Even a small tabletop labeler like the ELF-20, compact enough to fit on a workbench, can make labeling faster and more efficient. Plus, all of Pack Leader USA's labeling machines are made from high-grade aluminum and stainless steel, which lasts for years.

Design Restrictions

When hand applying labels, the types of labels at your disposal are limited. Shrink sleeve labels are becoming increasingly popular and allow for eye-catching graphics that stretch over the entire container, but such labels are simply impossible for an employee to apply without specialized equipment. If your product would benefit from having beautiful full-sized graphics, stepping up to a shrink sleeve labeler opens up a world of opportunities. 


Pack Leader USA shrink sleeve label machines (SL Series) are designed for full-body sleeve labeling applications, neck and cap banding, and tamper-evident applications. Differing only in size and labeling speed, the SL Series is well-suited for various industries and applications, including beverage, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics.


No matter how accurate and consistent your employees might be, a machine will always be faster and more precise. This is especially true for wraparound labels for bottles, cans, or other cylindrical containers. Taking human error out of the process minimizes mistakes and associated costs. 

Another issue you might face when applying labels by hand is peeling or bubbling due to application pressure variance. Any inconsistencies in application pressure can result in a poorly applied label that either has to be reapplied or thrown away, wasting time and resources. Semi-automatic and fully-automatic labeling machines are made to apply even pressure to labels, making them adhere properly and look great every time. 


Your employees might have learned to apply labels quickly, but a machine will always do it faster. Transitioning to a labeling machine can double the output, and it won't get tired or make mistakes. It will apply labels neatly and accurately from the beginning of the run to the end.  

In-line labeling machines can increase output even more because they are designed to fit right into a packaging line. While an employee might have to remove containers from the line to apply labels only to have to put the product right back for the next step of the production process, an in-line labeling machine lets the product move through with no stops. Also, if your product needs labels on multiple sides of its container, hand applying labels requires even more time and creates another opportunity for human error, while labeling machines like Pack Leader USA PL-221D can apply labels to multiple surfaces at once. 

Stepping Up To a Labeling Machine 

Abandoning inefficient hand labeling to speed up packaging means more products on store shelves faster and higher quality. If your business is growing, your labeling should, too. No matter what kind of label your products need, from shrink sleeves to clamshell to wraparound labels, there's a Pack Leader USA labeling machine that can improve your efficiency and help you attract new customers! And if you're still having difficulty deciding which machine you need, you can always schedule a free consultation with one of our experts. 

Download Choosing the Right Labeling Equipment Guide