In the old days, 10 to 15 years ago, auctions just had to deal with the fact that direct thermal labels were going to darken and then fade in the summertime. If you wanted to use mobile printers, you were going to have this issue and possibly re-label vehicles as needed. There was no good solution for auction labels.
Then, Zebra came out with the P4T, a thermal transfer, mobile printer that would allow auctions to print labels, that would hold up to heat and sunshine. These printers worked well, but the ribbons were expensive, and they were a bit of a pain to maintain. Zebra went about 10 years without updating that printer, until they finally killed it off.
Fortunately, a company called Jindal Films was releasing to the market a product called Platinum Thermal at about the same time that Zebra was discontinuing the P4T. Platinum Thermal was a groundbreaking label technology that contained 5 layers to create a direct thermal label material that would withstand heat and UV light, perfect for auction labels. The black that you see in the text and barcodes was in the label the whole time, being exposed by the heat of the label printer when printed. Traditional direct thermal labels apply a topcoat to the label that darkens with the heat of the printer. But it also is susceptible to the heat and UV, first darkening with exposure and then fading away.
The EMP Tech Group and Zebra, both started sourcing this new material, converting it into small rolls for mobile printers and selling these labels for auto auctions. But, earlier this year, two catastrophes hit at the same time, one far worse than the other, but both having an impact on the auction industry. COVID-19 hit early in the year and Jindal Films announced that they were discontinuing the production of Platinum Thermal.
The Platinum Thermal product was always difficult to produce and always fragile. EMP and Zebra both applied coatings to the material on press to make it more abrasion resistant and to keep it from sticking to the print head of the printer. At first, there was going to be a final buy opportunity for Platinum Thermal, but then the announcement was made that it was just gone.
A fortunate side effect of the pandemic was that EMP had lots of label stock left over in many different sizes and colors of this material. Also, most auctions were shuttered and were not pulling material from stock for a few months. This gave us some time to get on press with different materials and start doing some testing. EMP has a test fixture that uses a UV and heat lamp to do some accelerated testing, even in the gloomy Indiana winter.
25 or so test batches later, we have produced an auction label that has the best UV and heat resistance that we can get from the raw material manufacturer, combined with some coatings that we are adding on press to make the product even more stable. Our research has showed us that tinting the labels blue gives them the best chance to stand up in the heat and UV. Also, fortunately, we have had some extremely hot weather lately to do some real-world testing.
So, what do we have? A direct thermal label that images very well and will still be scannable after 30 days in the harshest climate. One of our auction customers that has a site in Phoenix, has been testing for us and confirmed the ruggedness of this formulation. We are stocking this label in 4X6 size, on rolls built for the Zebra QLn420 or ZQ630 mobile printers. We can produce any size label on any roll size that you desire and will start stocking other sizes as the demand dictates.
As always, the EMP Tech Group is your go-to partner for auction labels, label printers, and mobile computers. Contact us today to get a roll of auto auction labels to test with!