What is an RFID Label?

With RFID experiencing quick growth and adoption across a wide range of applications within Manufacturing, Transportation & Logistics, and Healthcare. RFID labels represent a key component in the success of any RFID solution.

What are the components of an RFID Label?

a.)  Chip – This makes up an inlay along with the antenna. Microchips come with storage in the form of memory and this memory can store 3 types of information:

1) Data about the asset being tracked – This information is stored in the Electronic Power Code (EPC) memory bank. Common sizes for EPC are 96 and 128 bits but memory sizes can vary based on the microchip used

2) Data about the tag itself, such as the manufacturer  

3) Data that makes the tag work, such as access and kill passwords

b.) Antenna – This makes up an inlay along with the microchip. In essence, an antenna is what allows the RFID tag to communicate with the RFID reader. The antenna receives signals from an RFID reader and sends data back to the reader. Antennas come in many shapes and sizes with the design being an important factor as it affects how the data is transmitted and read.  Antennas are often designed for specific purposes because one size does not fit all, and different RFID applications require different sizes and shapes of the antenna. Optimal antenna design will depend on many factors, including the microchip in use, the material on which the inlay is applied, and the environment in which it will be used. 

c.) Inlay – Microchip connected to an antenna on a flexible substrate

d.) Carrier - The carrier of an RFID tag is what contains the inlay in whatever format is most appropriate for the application and item being tagged. Carriers can be labels or non-adhesive tags, that can vary in size and rigidity. At Zebra, we offer over 100 pre-tested materials that can be used as the carrier for your RIFD tag, providing you with many options to meet the specific requirements of your application.

What to Consider When Choosing an RFID Tag?

  • Label and Inlay Size – Products that are being tagged with RFID vary in size, so you need to ensure you choose a label size that fits on the product. Plus, inlays need to be smaller than the label. If you need a long-read range for a product being tagged, you will need a larger inlay to provide that longer read range. But, remember, an inlay must always be smaller than the label being used. 
  • Surface Considerations – What surface you are trying to tag can affect what material and adhesive is used. RFID performance can vary greatly based on the type of surface you are labeling. Below are some questions you should ask when determining what kind of RFID tag to use.
  1. Are you tagging a rough or smooth surface? 

  2. Will the surface being labeled be wet or dry? 

  3. What type of surface are you labeling (metal, plastic, glass, other)? 

  4. What type of adhesive do you need? 

  • Mounting Method and Orientation – You need to be aware of where the RFID tag is positioned relative to the RFID reader as this can greatly affect RFID performance and read range. You need to design your RFID system with this in mind. You may also need to use something like a flag or fin to separate the inlay from the surface to improve read ranges. 

  • Environmental Considerations – Below are key questions you should ask when choosing what RFID tag to use.

  1. What temperature will the label be applied at?

  2. What temperature will the tag see over its life?

  3. How long of a lifespan with the label have? 

  4. What sort of chemical resistance does it need?

  5. What kind of abrasion must the tag withstand?

  6. Will the tag be used once or multiple times?

  7. Will the label need to withstand sterilization?  

    Zebra offers one of the largest selections of materials and inlays in the market. With our custom RFID manufacturing capabilities, we can put almost any inlay in any material to meet most RFID applications that may arise. With Zebra’s RFID and thermal labeling expertise, we can help you determine the perfect RFID tag for your application. 

  • Radio Frequency Considerations – Unlike barcode labels that need a direct line of sight to be read, RFID labels do not.  But certain environments can still be tricky for RFID. If you are trying to label a water bottle or a container full of liquids, the liquid actually absorbs the RF signal that is needed to be read. Because the liquid actually absorbs the RF signal, something like a flag or fin can help you get better RFID performance.  Labeling metals with an RFID tag can also be very difficult because the metal actually reflects the RF signal. Zebra exclusively offers Silverline RFID labels, providing an easy solution for tough, on-metal labeling needs. Testing is always recommended when you are looking to deploy RFID in a challenging environment. 

  • Memory and Microchip Considerations – What information needs to be written to the microchip is always a key consideration in choosing the correct RFID tag. For standard RFID applications, a general-purpose or advanced inlay should work, but if a lot needs to be written to a chip, you may need to consider using an inlay with high user memory capabilities

  • Hardware Compatibility – Of course, an RFID tag is only useful if you have the correct RFID hardware to go with it. For RFID printers, you need to consider whether a mobile, desktop or industrial RFID printer will be in use, and choose a material based on that. For RFID readers, consider whether a handheld reader, an RFID gateway reader or an overhead reader will be used. All the hardware plays a factor in what the tag is correct for your application.

Explore Zebra's full range of RFID Label and Tag Solutions