How to Determine Your Label Roll Direction

Custom Stickers

Knowing the correct roll direction for your custom product labels will save you a lot of headaches down the road. The good news is you don’t need to have a degree to figure it out. When ordering your custom label follow these steps to get the right roll direction for your project.

What is roll direction and why is it important?

Roll Direction, also called Unwind direction, refers to the way your labels are oriented as you unwind your roll of labels.  

When applying your labels by machine, the position of your label is extremely important. The labels will need to come off the roll and feed into your machine in a specific position each time. Otherwise, your label will go on upside down or reversed onto your product.  

The good news is that your label applicator’s instruction manual will let you know what roll direction you need. If a manufacturer is doing label applying for you, give them a call and they will let you know what roll direction you are needing. Machine applicators can be used for a wide variety of product labels, from bottle labels to custom labels for jars.

If you are applying labels to your product by hand, you usually don’t need to worry about roll direction. However, hand application can be a painfully meticulous process, and a specific roll direction may be useful in removing and applying the labels by hand faster.

Choosing Your Roll (Unwind) Direction

To make things simple, the label industry has established a standard when referring to roll direction. There are 8 roll directions to choose from.

Roll directions 1-4 are the most common, and feature labels that are wound on the outside of the roll. Directions 5-8 are wound inside the roll.  

Each option below has the label feeding into the label applicator in a specific direction

Roll Directions:

1: top first

2: bottom first

3: right side first

4: left side first


Once you know your roll direction number, it is your artwork that determines which die you need to select when ordering. Roll direction is based off of the main design element (a logo, for example) or text on the artwork of your label. Let the artwork be your visual aid when selecting your roll direction.

The size/shape of your label is called a die. Basically, a die is the cookie cutter that cuts out the shape of your label. Each die cutter is one of a kind, so when selecting one for your label, it will have to coincide with the roll direction you need.

In the example below, if you need Roll Direction #4, this means the left side of the main design element or text is coming off the roll first. This ends up being the first side that feeds into the label applicator. Roll Direction #4 could also be called Unwind Direction #4 or Left-Leading Direction. All are different ways to say the same thing!

The width, the length, and the roll direction

Your roll direction in relation to your die size is important, as they need to match each other!   

Width is how wide the roll of labels is, and length is the repeat of the label around the roll. When placing your order for custom labels, the first dimension listed is always the width of the roll.  The width and length of your label determines how your label is set up when being printed, and sometimes you’ll find that the dimensions listed are not compatible with your roll direction.  

For example, a 2’’ x 4’’ die size is not the same as a 4’’ x 2’’ die size. In the below example, you will see how artwork, width, and length all line up with roll direction 4. In this case, if you have a 2” x 4” label, your roll direction can only be #3 or #4.  

Figuring out roll direction can feel tricky. Just remember to break down the factors and see how they work together!

Your friends at Frontier are here to make everything easier.
If you have any roll direction questions, give us a call! Our team is available to assist you with all your product label printing needs.

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