Blood tests represent a significant amount of the 14 billion lab tests performed annually in the U.S. Whether it’s to determine the blood type for a blood transfusion, diagnose a health condition or manage a chronic ailment, accuracy is essential. Using printers at or near the patient site is a step that increases the precision of blood vial labeling. 

Why Accurate Blood Vial Labeling is Crucial

Imagine a scenario where a patient receives the wrong blood type or is misdiagnosed due to a mislabeled vial. With potentially life-threatening repercussions, it underscores the critical role that accurate labeling plays in safeguarding:

  • Patient safety: Ensuring patients receive the correct blood products is essential for avoiding transfusion reactions, allergic responses, and even death.
  • Lab accuracy: Proper labeling allows for clear identification and tracking of blood samples, preventing errors in testing and analysis.
  • Regulatory compliance: Healthcare institutions must adhere to strict guidelines for specimen labeling set by organizations like The Joint Commission, CLSI and AABB.

With many cases unreported or not formally documented, it is difficult to determine the exact number of people who are impacted by mislabeled blood specimens each year. But, various studies suggest that mislabeling is a significant problem, with potentially serious consequences for patients. In fact, in this pathology specimen study, the highest number of errors resulted from a mismatch of the specimen with the label.

Applying Blood Vial Labels Immediately After a Blood Draw

Applying labels in the patient's room after a blood draw is one way to decrease error rates. Inaccuracy is directly proportional to time and distances, and as they increase, so do the chances of applying a blood vial label to the wrong sample. Bedside application can help to prevent errors that could occur if the labels were applied later, when the patient may not be available to verify their identity, thus ensuring that the labels are applied to the correct patient's blood sample. 

A study published in the journal "Transfusion" in 2019 found that labeling blood samples in the patient's room was associated with a fivefold decrease in the rate of wrong-patient blood transfusion errors. The study also found that labeling blood samples in the patient's room was more efficient than labeling samples in a centralized location.

Desktop Printers in Healthcare Settings

Direct thermal, thermal transfer and laser printers are the most common types of desktop printers used in healthcare settings. Here’s how they differ:

Direct Thermal Printer

A direct thermal printer uses heat to apply markings to the label material. When the heated printhead presses against the chemically treated material, it activates the image. A direct thermal printer is ideal for printing barcodes, graphics, and text and can print single or batches of labels without waste. A direct thermal printer doesn’t require ink, toner or ribbons, which makes it simpler to use.


Designed to bridge the gap between mobile and desktop, the Brother RuggedJet and P-touch models are specifically designed for specimen and blood vial labeling. 


For healthcare specimen labeling applications, Zebra provides numerous printer options ranging from mobile to desktop. 

Direct thermal printers including Brother and Zebra are most often used in healthcare settings in or near the patient's room, nurse stations, labs and more.

Thermal Transfer Printer

Thermal transfer printers use one-pass ribbons to apply an image to the label material. The output is a durable label that withstands moisture and resists abrasions. But, the cost of the thermal transfer ribbons and the printers themselves, the overall expense for a thermal transfer printer is greater. 

Laser Printer

Laser printers use toner that is fused onto the label material using a heated roller. You can expect crisp and clear output from a laser printer, even in small fonts. One common use of laser printers in healthcare is printing patient wristbands. As for costs, toner cartridges are an added expense. Further, because a laser printer uses sheets of material, depending on your application it may result in added waste.

Printing Blood Vial Labels

The blood vial label printing process typically starts by accessing the EHR system. The protocols built into the system guide test collection, label printer selection and more. For example, after a provider scans the patients’ ID barcode to confirm identification, the EHR system then prompts for additional information including the test to be collected and the printer to use for printing out labels. 

Choosing the Right Labels for Blood Vials

Although the label printer will generate the information required for the specimen vial, the sticker or label must meet certain specifications to ensure it performs properly. Here are three essential requirements for blood vial labels. 

  1. Compatibility - make sure your labels meet the unique specifications of your printer
  2. Durability - labels must withstand the moisture and temperature extremes typical of specimen storage and handling
  3. Flexibility - labels must adhere to the tight mandrel of a test tube or vial without popping off and be glove friendly
  4. Reliability - temperature extremes and handling after collection, during transportation and testing often cause label failures

Here’s another word of caution. Changing the type of test tube or vial may cause an otherwise correctly specified label to fail. For example, a container or test tube with a different plastic composition may cause a label that worked perfectly before to break down. If you expect to change vials or test tubes, it’s wise to test label materials to ensure they function as expected.

Printing Process and Best Practices

Printing accurate blood vial labels is simple with the right tools and techniques. Here's a quick guide:

  • The Laboratory Information System (LIS) contains the information required for the specimen including:
    • Patient first and last name 
    • A unique patient identifier such as social security number, medical record number or date of birth 
    • Collection date and time 
    • Specimen type and/or source 
    • Initials of the person who collected the specimen
  • Verify the patient name, date of birth and ask for validation from the patient.
  • Print and apply: Carefully adhere the label to the vial, ensuring no air bubbles or wrinkles.

Labeling Solutions for Different Healthcare Environments

Although bedside vial labeling elevates patient safety, it’s not where all the printing occurs. In addition to bedside label printing that typically incorporates mobile solutions, operations in other areas use other methods: 

  • Clinical Labs - characterized by higher-volume printing demands, centralized labs use printers that offer speed and automation. 
  • Nursing Stations - require compact and user-friendly desktop options. Direct thermal printers are flexible and fit the small space requirements. 

UAL provides laboratory labeling solutions including vial labels for mobile, desktop and high volume applications.

United Ad Label Blood Vial Printing Solutions

United Ad Label offers a wide range of blood vial labels that meet the unique needs of your operation. Whether you use DYMO, Zebra, Brother or Seiko direct thermal printers on demand or laser printers in high volume operations, our labels are designed for your specific end use application.