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Difference Between Types of RFIDs: Tags, Inlays & Labels

  • Akansha Sharma
  • Jan 11, 2024
  • RFID
Tags, Inlays & Labels

RFID is an extremely useful and popular means of conducting asset identification & tracking with an operation. They are a type of AIDC system, that communicates information using radio signals. An essential component of any working RF system is the transponder which assists the rest of the system in identification and tracking. These can be in the form of an inlay, label, or tag. Today we will discuss the difference between RFID tags, inlays & labels.

Difference Between RFID Tags, Inlays & Labels

There are three basic types of RFID transponders, namely – Tags, Inlays, and Labels. The basic function of any RF transponder is to store asset identification information and transmit said information wirelessly through radio signals.

Basics of RF Tags, Labels, and Inlays

As mentioned above, these all provide the same functions. However, due to the difference in applications, industrial environments, and user needs; there are slight differences between these transponders.

A transponder consists of two basic components – An RFID Microchip, and Antenna.

(A). Tags – A tag consists of an outer protective hard cover made from different materials like ABS Plastic, Ceramic, Silicon, etc., with a transponder inside it. There are many types of tags, all suitable for different applications like hard tags, mount on-metal tags, jewelry tags, pallet tags, etc.

(B). Inlays - An inlay is another type of RF transponder. Inlays consist of an antenna and chip, firmly resting on a substrate layer of transparent PET on one side, and a thin layer of paper or silicon on the other that is removable. This makes them functional and decreases the space they need to mount on a surface. By removing unnecessary materials from the manufacturing process, inlays are also very cost-effective.

There are two types of inlays, namely – Dry & Wet. A wet inlay consists of an additional layer of adhesive between the antenna and the paper cover. Allowing the tags to be self-adhesive in nature.

(C). Labels- Lastly, we come to RFID labels. Much like the inlays, a label lacks a hard outer shell. Rather it consists of a dry inlay, hidden safely inside a flexible and soft outer cover made of either paper or polyester. In addition to RF capabilities, these labels also have barcodes & graphics printed on the outer layer, allowing them to function using both RFID & Barcode technology.

Key Differences Between Them

After going through the above paragraph, you probably realize the differences between these three distinct types of RFID transponders. But let’s have a proper discussion about them, just to keep it clear.

(A). Cost – Due to the difference in manufacturing techniques, the machines, and the materials required for them, there is a distinct difference in cost between them. By far, inlays are the least expensive type of transponder available in the market. On the opposite end, tags are more expensive than either inlays or labels.

Depending on the type of tag, the price difference can vary by a wide margin. For example, a standard RFID passive tag can cost around 2 to 3 times more than an inlay, while an active tag can cost as much as 15 to 20 times more than an inlay.

(B). Durability – Another difference between tags, inlays, and labels is their durability. Inlays are by far the least durable, due to their lack of any protective outer layer/shell. In fact, most inlays can become permanently damaged and useless by simply peeling them off an object.

Label, however, provides some level of protection against dust, dirt, moisture, and scratches. Some special labels, like the RFID Wash Care Label, have an outer cover that is completely waterproof.

Now, coming to tags; RF tags provide the most durability against environmental factors and other damage-causing issues. This is due to their outer protective shell. Mind you, there are a lot of types of tags, with outer shells made of different substances, designed for particular applications. For example, a normal pallet tag made of rigid ABS plastic can provide good resistance against environmental factors and some physical impacts. On the other hand, Ceramic Hard Tags are extremely difficult to damage. They are completely waterproof, chemical resistant, dustproof, and able to withstand very high levels of temperature and physical damage.

(C). Mounting Method – In order to perform its desired function, an RF transponder needs to firmly adhere to or inside an asset/object, this is known as mounting. To accomplish this task, manufacturers design them to have one or more types of mounting options available. In the case of inlays, it’s either a layer of adhesive on the inlay itself or applying some industrial adhesive or using tape on it while applying. For labels, they may come with a self-adhesive layer on one side, woven into a fabric, etc.

Tags are on a completely different playing field; an RFID tag can have one or more mounting methods compatible with its operation. For example, a hard tag may use a self-adhesive backing to stick to an object, in addition to holes for screws or rivets on the tag. On the other hand, some on-metal tags have the option of being welded onto the object/asset that needs tracking. Other tags have the option of being encased inside an object using epoxy.

(D). Communication Range – The last point of comparison between these three, is the effective range at which they can communicate. Inlays and labels are simple and small in design, they usually have a small range of communication, i.e., a couple of feet to meters.

On the other hand, tags are made to work on a larger range. The read range of tags can differ from 12 – 30 feet for passive tags, to more than 300 feet for active tags.


Applications of RFID Tags, Inlay & Labels

Due to their differing abilities and functional characteristics, these three can have vastly different applications. In some scenarios, they are interchangeable, however, that may affect the viability of one’s operations, and we generally recommend sticking to the ones advised by the experts.

(A). Inlays

Due to their low cost, low space requirement, and ease of use, inlays are preferred in small to medium-scale operations. Or in the case of large-scale companies, they are recommended for use in operations with large volumes of goods and a shorter usage period. Theoretically, these inlays can last virtually forever, but due to several factors, they generally last 3 to 5 years.

Inlays are mostly used inside smart cards like Bank Debit/Credit cards, Public Transport Travel Pass (Metro cards). They are also very popular for tagging and tracking product packages throughout the supply chain.

(B). Labels

On the other hand, RF labels work best in retail, especially the apparel retail industry. In addition to that, these labels are very popular in the healthcare industry where it is used for tracking equipment and tools.

(C). Tags

Tags by far have the largest applications possible; we use RFID tags in a variety of industries like logistic operations, where tags allow users to track assets throughout their movement within or out of a facility. In construction, hard tags can help you keep track of equipment and materials, as they are capable of withstanding the harsh environment and the damage it may cause to inlays or labels.

We also use tags in the manufacturing industry, as they are capable of withstanding high temperatures and work in the vicinity of metallic surfaces.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is the difference between an RFID tag and RFID label?

They both are types of RFID transponders, with one distinct difference. Tags usually have an outer protective hard shell, made from materials like plastic or ceramic. Labels, on the other hand, have a flexible outer covering made from paper or polyester.

Q2. What are the three types of RFID tags?

There are three basic classifications of RF tags, namely – Passive, Active and Battery Assisted Passive (BAP) or semi-active/passive RFID. Passive tags do not have a power source to allow them to broadcast signals of their own. So, they rely on either electromagnetic induction to power up or use radio backscattering to communicate information.

In the case of Active tags; they have an internal power source that they use to power up and broadcast signals.

Q3. What is the difference between inlay and label?

An inlay is the most stripped-down version of an RFID transponder; it consists of an antenna & microchip sandwiched between a layer of PET film (known as the substrate) and a silicon/paperback cover.

A label is essentially an RFID inlay inside a flexible protective covering made from paper or polyester.

Disclaimer: The information presented here is for general information purposes only and true to best of our understanding. Users are requested to use any information as per their own understanding and knowledge. Before using any of the information, please refer to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.

  • Created on Aug 10, 2023

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