Plastic Tags vs. Metal Tags: Choosing the Right Material

Tags… nameplates… labels… Whatever you want to call them – They have been used by humankind for nearly ten thousand years. Well, OK -  maybe that IS an exaggeration… but marking your products is a big deal, especially in today’s world. Virtually every product, assembly or component has a requirement to carry identification or tracking information of some type. We need to identify, organize, instruct, and label  - which requires a consistent, long lasting, easily understood method of doing so.

The 2 most popular materials for engraving labels or tags are plastic and metal. Both present inherent advantages and disadvantages, so it is prudent to be familiar with each, to decide which is the best choice for your project.


Engraved plastic tags are used for many applications, such as machine or equipment identification, legend plates, push button tags, identification labels, cable or valve tags, and control panels. It is a very versatile material, ofering lots of options.

Here are a few of the advantages of Plastic:

  • Can be made to any size or shape requested
  • Mounted with predrilled holes, or industrial-strength self-adhesive tape
  • Thickness ranges from 1/32” to 1/8”
  • Wide assortment of colors available
  • Indoor/Outdoor use
  • Abrasive resistant, heat resistant, and even electrically insulative properties
  • Short run or high volume no problem
  • Ecomonmically priced

Most plastic tags are front engraved on a 2 ply material (meaning the material has a core that is 1 color and a top piece that is another color). The top layer is engraved away to reveal the contrasting core. These provide great contrast and the 2 color combination is easily read. There are many color combinations available, as shown in the images below:

Reverse engraved tags offer even more versatility. This material has a transparent top layer. The back layer is engraved with the information, and then paint filled with your color choices. This provides an easily cleanable and more weather durable front face – a really great choice if you have a messy environment, (such as a panel that gets touched by dirty hands). It also affords the opportunity to have multiple colors within the same plastic tag, opening the door to great design!


Engraved metal tags are definitely the choice for those seeking durability. They are used for a wide variety of applications including industrial, military, aerospace, and commercial uses.  Metal tags can be serialized and are great for identification purposes such as asset identification tags, valve tags, industrial products and equipment ID, as well as all types of panels and signage.  The most commonly used metals are stainless steel, aluminum , anodized aluminum, brass, and Metalphoto, a photosensitized anodized aluminum that is ultradurable. 

Advantages of Metal Tags:

  • Made to your specs
  • Very durable, can withstand harsh environment, extreme temperatures, & subsea conditions
  • Choices on metal type and thickness - Stainless steel, aluminum, Metalphoto, etc
  • Choices on marking processes – Laser engraving, Chemical Etching or Rotary Engraving for depth, Metalphoto for extreme durability (See _____ for more information on Metal Marking.)
  • Etched tags can be paint filled
  • full color printing available
  • Include text or logos

 So here is your basic take away:

  • The two main material choices for identifying your product is Plastic or Metal
  • Plastic typically works well for indoor applications, has lots of color options & is very affordable
  • Metal offers more durability, and can withstand extreme conditions
  • Both have minimal amounts of maintenance and lots of design options

How do you choose what is right for you? Consider your application, environment, and budget. Do you need long term durability in a harsh environment? Check out the various metal tag options. Looking for an easily read label for identifying switches? Then engraved plastic tags would be your best bet.

Still have questions regarding material choice for your specific project? Take advantage of our free ebook.  It explains different engraving processes, the materials they use, and what applications are best.  Or give us a call - we will be happy to help you find the perfect solution!

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