I am tired of labeling my microcentrifuge tubes by hand.
September 17, 2013 1:04 PM   Subscribe

This seems like it ought to be a simple question but I'm not finding the answer myself. Someone here must already know. I would like to buy sheets of printable adhesive labels suitable for sticking on 1.5ml/2.0ml microcentrifuge tubes. Ideally I would like both dots for the caps and little rectangles for the sides. They don't need to be able to stand up to particularly tough conditions, except that they shouldn't run if they get wet. Also, they should be cheap as I am a grad student and would be buying them out of my own pocket. I am just sick of writing the same teeny tiny letters over and over and over again with an ultrafine Sharpie. Can somebody here point me to a product that I can buy that would suit my needs?

In case you don't know what a microcentrifuge tube looks like or how big it is, this is what I'm talking about.
posted by Scientist to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Laser Tough Tags?
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:07 PM on September 17, 2013

And they work in laser printers.
posted by zippy at 1:12 PM on September 17, 2013

At my old job we used clear return address labels to label our GC/MS vials. they wrap around pretty well, though not sure if they would do as well on microcentrifuge tubes but for like 20$ you can get a pack of like 2000 from staples so worth a shot.
posted by Captain_Science at 1:13 PM on September 17, 2013

You could try these:

I'm not sure how big the cap is, but my 2ml cryovials are 0.5"
posted by JonahBlack at 1:15 PM on September 17, 2013

Yup, return address labels work perfectly for wrapping around 1.5ml tubes. Saved my sanity during my last series of recombineering.
posted by amelioration at 1:20 PM on September 17, 2013

JonahBlack: You could try these:

We use OnlineLabels.com for a number of tricky label sizes here in the pharmacy, and they work great.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:27 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you buy the round labels and they don't give you a template for arranging your data, here's how I figure out how to print the labels:

I make a copy of the blank label sheet that shows the circle outlines (you might have to ink the circles' edges on one sheet) then make a bunch of copies of that on plain paper to use as a practice printout until you get it just right.

I would probably use Excel to make the squares exactly the right size with the right font to fit your data on each circle, and print it out as many times as you need to while you tweak the cells and fonts until you've got it just the way you want it.

I do this for rectangular labels too, but they are more likely to give you a template.
posted by CathyG at 7:13 PM on September 17, 2013

Avery return address labels work fine if you don't need to fit the tubes into a centrifuge rotor. The labels are long enough to wrap all the way around and stick out like a flag. The flag part, where it's stuck to itself, is what keeps it from falling off at -70°, but it adds some thickness to the tube.

I don't recommend Laser Tough Tags, at least not the colored ones, because the printer ink flakes off too easily. Regular ol' Avery labels hold up much better in that respect.
posted by Quietgal at 8:27 PM on September 17, 2013

LABELING. Oh wow, an AskMe question I can properly expound upon.

The Laser Tough Tags are very nice, but cost lab-supply prices. We go cheap and buy return address labels at work - they come with a Word template, you can fit 3 lines of text (enough for me to comfortably label glycerol stocks). You'll have to put a piece of tape over them to be waterproof, but it works for tubes that aren't going to spend a lot of time on ice (freezer is fine - ice melts and becomes water which is not great for paper.) I haven't had any problems with them staying on at -80 if applied while the tube is at RT. I haven't tried these clear ones, but now that I've noticed them, I'm totally going to have work order some.

We spend a bit more money and order various colors of dots from Shamrock. I can't remember the standard 1.5 ml tube lid size - I think it's 1/2", but I can check tomorrow. Those are on rolls, so they may not do what you want.

Not asked, but... for me the Holy Grail has been finding 1/4" stickers for color coding PCR tubes. For a while I could only find them in Japanese stationery places (Labels are Serious Bizness for me.) Finally I found these which I like very much as they are neon and super cheap. More recently, I discovered these which are printable but more of an initial investment - I can verifying that they are also good colors and stick well, though I haven't tried printing on them yet.

One last note - if you have colored dot labels already at your disposal, you can work out a system for them as long as you're consistent - much like striping plates. Personally, miniprep DNA is ALWAYS light blue and 10 uM primers are ALWAYS yellow, so I don't need to stick "miniprep" or "10 uM" on those labels. Also I hide the yellow and blue stickers from my boss so he can't screw up my system. Various sharpie colors help too.
posted by maryr at 8:35 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Going a bit pricier, my coworker (who has very shaky hands and really can't label in pen) has a label maker like this. The tape seems to be fairly waterproof and freezable, but is obviously pricier than the address labels and needs to be trimmed down after printing to fit on vials.
posted by maryr at 8:38 PM on September 17, 2013

I worked at a biotech company and wrote custom label software for Dymo label writers (yes, they have an API!) to do this, but basically it took normal labels and printed n-up on them.

You'd then print them, cut them into even smaller labels with scissors, and stick them on.
posted by melvinwang at 9:53 PM on September 17, 2013

We used to buy boxes of labels from these guys, but yeah, lab supply prices. The really cool part is that I wanted some just so circular labels for the tops of some opaque 50 mL test tubes (so that I could see which tube contained which antibody labeled with which IR dye) and they cut me a box of them for no additional charge.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:21 PM on September 17, 2013

I've never printed labels, but I got a lot of use about of colored dots that fit neatly on the top of standard microcentrifuge tubes. For aliquots or sets of things with only ~6 options the colors were all I needed to tell my tubes apart.
posted by Cygnet at 4:12 AM on September 18, 2013

Beware of using any old label or sticker if you're freezing them - a lot of them peel right off when they get a little humid. I have found this out the hard way, alas. Maybe I was just unlucky, but I'd suggest testing them first just in case.

We have a fancypants labeller in my lab with freezer-proof stickers, which works fine (I can dig up the brand if you want but it's probably not cheap) but I'm usually too lazy to use it unless I have a whole bunch of tubes for long-term storage, since it's kindof a hassle to use. Instead I tend to minimize writing as much as I can, by labelling freezer boxes well, keeping legends elsewhere, and just not writing the stuff that never changes. e.g. my PCR reactions each have an excel sheet with what's in each tube, so I just have to label the tubes with the date and number them.

You can also use coloured markers and lines for codes you use consistently (like 2 stripes = RNA or something), although that may not be great for people trying to find your stuff later.
posted by randomnity at 10:13 PM on October 5, 2013

FWIW, randomnity, I've found scotch tape over a label to be effective if applied when still room temp for about everythign but LN2 immersion. For tubes going in LN2, it's worth getting the fancier labels.
posted by maryr at 9:16 AM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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