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History of Sticker Printing

The History of Sticker Printing

By David Willis © 2019

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Earliest known traces of stickers (3000 to 300 BC)

Historians can trace stickers to the Ancient Egyptians, who used stickers to advertise product prices and to provide information on market stalls. Artifacts found during archaeological digs seem to show these stickers to be some sort of paper, first written on before being stuck to a surface by some sort of glue or paste.

Revenue or tax stamps (1700’s).

In the 1700’s stickers were used as tax stamps, used by the Government of the day to collect revenues on various products.

Lithography (1800’s)

In 1796 lithography was invented by the German author Alois Senefelder. This soon became the number one method of printing colour stickers. Lithography works by using a combination of inks and repelling agents to transfer an image onto a surface.

Although initially costly and difficult, by the end of the 1800’s advances in technology meant lithographic sticker printing became widespread, allowing the production of more challenging and colourful artwork.

The adhesive used to affix these stickers was a gum or paste that required moisture before use.

Postage stamps (1840, United Kingdom)

In 1839, Sir Rowland Hill created the first self-adhesive postage stamp. The following year first adhesive postage stamps in the world were used by the Royal Mail. These stickers had a dry adhesive formula, that once moistened would provide the adhesion to stick to the envelopes.

First Glue Gum Stickers (late 1800’s)

The late 1800’s saw the introduction of the first glue gum stickers, used to decorate, brand and draw attention to products. Competition started to emerge on who could make their products the most attractive through the use of colourful stickers.

First modern-day sticker - Ray Stanton Avery (1935)

ray avery, creator of the modern day sticker

In 1935 the modern-day sticker was invented by Ray Stanton Avery, who later went on to found what has now become Avery Dennison Corp. Born in a poor family, Avery’s story was truly one of rag-to-riches.

Avery revolutionised sticker printing, producing what has now become known as pressure sensitive labels (or stickers). These were the first commercially feasible self-adhesive, peel-off labels, that could be cut to any shape. For the first time no wetting or licking was required.

Sticker printing from this moment on was never the same again. Demand for these self-adhesive stickers increased exponentially as information, pricing, brand awareness and advertising could be transfer to products quickly and much more easily than before.

R. Stanton Avery died in 1997, aged 90. Today Avery Dennison Corp. is valued at over $6 billion.

Flexography (1950’s)

flexographic printing

The first patented flexographic press was created as early as 1890, by Bibby, Baron & Sons in Liverpool, UK. However, for the first 60 years flexographic printing was beset with various production problems including smearing inks and health & safety risks associated with food packaging.

From the 1950’s the toxic aniline inks were replaced by a new non-dangerous ink. This move fundamentally changed the market and the flexographic process became the primary method of producing self-adhesive labels and stickers. Flexible material such as self-adhesive vinyl could be passed through the presses, allowing for rapid production of colour labels.

During this time labels were becoming increasingly used for branding and product information, whereas stickers were used primarily for advertising, promotions and signage.

Edge Stickers (1987)

Edge Stickers was created in 1987, then trading under our parent company name of Screen Print & Display Ltd. Our company began to serve customers all over the UK, offering high-quality pressure sensitive stickers. Edge Stickers quickly became the dominant player in the UK sticker printing market, remaining this day a true expert in personalised and bespoke vinyl stickers.

Digital Sticker Printing (1990’s)

The latest market change in sticker production came with the introduction of digital inkjet printers. These have allowed sticker companies to produce cost-effective short-run jobs with little or no setup time.

Digital artwork can be instantly transferred to the printers without the need to create plates. This has allowed sticker companies to offer affordable prices for short-run sticker orders.

David Willis
David Willis
This article was written by David Willis, a print entrepreneur and respected industry expert.

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