Wire Labels: Continuous Vs. Ladder Style Heat-Shrink Sleeves

Wire Labels: Continuous Vs. Ladder Style Heat-Shrink Sleeves


One of the most common types of wire identification is with the use of labels. There are two basic categories of wire identification labels: adhesive labels and heat-shrink sleeves. This article deals with heat-shrink labels. (For a quick overview of adhesive labels take a look at, Basics of Adhesive Wire Labels on page x.)

First, it’s probably a good idea to review some of the main reasons for wire identification.

Identifying wires and cables is a critical component to a cable management solution. This is true whether wires are going into a panel/box, or being shipped as a harness. Overall, labeling can be a great way to improve customer satisfaction. Here are some specific advantages:

  1. Provides professional looking panel or harness with clear identification of wires and blocks.
  2. Improves connection of wiring to panel
  3. Insures accuracy of wire placement.
  4. Allows easy tracking of wires and cables.
  5. Reduces human error in initial assembly as well as field repairs.
  6. Reduces time in troubleshooting problems.
  7. Branded sleeves can help OEMs track authorized repairs and help with tractability with products in the field.

Ladder Versus Continuous Heat-Shrink Labels

Heat-shrink labels generally offer a more professional look and are a much more durable option over adhesive labels. They fit over the end of a cable and shrink when exposed to heat for a snug fit. A heat source is typically used to shrink the sleeve onto the wire, but some users leave the material unshrunk so the label can be moved to be more readable after installation. Since the sleeve will not fit over most terminals, lugs or contacts, they are generally not used on terminated wires. For terminated wires, adhesive labels or some other method of marking will likely be used.

Ladder Style

Ladder style labels (Figure 1) come on a reel in pre-cut lengths and are taped on the back to hold them in place. They come in a couple of different lengths, with two-inch being the most common and least expensive. At an additional cost, ladder style labels can be ordered with perforations on each label so that one label can be split into multiples.

Figure 1. Ladder Style Labels

These labels can be printed on both sides and are typically only offered in military grade polyolefin (MIL 23053 or SAE-AMF-DTL-23053/5). The cost of ladder style labels is typically calculated between $.15 – $.80 per inch depending on specifications.

One of the big advantages of ladder sleeves is the carrier. It allows for easy application and tracking during assembly.

Continuous Style

Continuous style labels (Figure 2) come as a flattened continuous tube on a reel. The material is the same polyolefin used for ladder style labels. The printer can print the information on both sides of the sleeve, and will also make perforated cuts on the material at desired lengths. The operator simply pulls apart the labels for application. The cut depth of the perforation can be adjusted to make it more difficult or very easy to pull apart.

Figure 2. Continuous Style Labels

Generally, both ladder and continuous tubing can be run through the same printing systems. It is about a four-minute changeover, however, so if a lot of continuous label printing is done, it is suggested to have a bespoke printer. As the use of continuous style shrink sleeves typically represents a 70% savings in material cost versus ladder style, this cost can be easily justified.

Continuous sleeve tubing is available in the same military grade as the ladder style. There is also the option for a less expensive UL approved material suitable for most applications.

There is one caution with continuous sleeve tubing. It is best to choose a printer that is center justified and will accept narrower base rollers. This will allow for better printing performance at the middle, all the way up to the edges of the material.

About Dasco Label

Many Thanks to Ken Shultz of Dasco Labels for compiling this material. Dasco provides extensive labeling solutions for the wire processing industry. Dasco specializes in leading customers to a labeling system that’s right for the application. You can purchase labels and printers online at or contact them at 877-855-2235.