The ABCs of Labeling Cat 5e and Cat 6 Cable
Are you using the right tool for the job?
Clear, structured labeling is the cornerstone of a professional installation. It future-proofs the installation, seriously simplifies trouble-shooting down the road and provides greater warranty assurance. Plus, it just makes you, the integrator or installer, look better. With the advent of new ANSI/TIA labeling standards and increased competition in the industry, the days of labeling with permanent markers and masking tape are over. It’s time to adopt a labeling discipline and apply it to every project. Once you understand the ABCs of labeling, it takes only a few extra seconds to label like a pro.
A. Choose an industrial labeler. You may like your consumer-grade labeler or your 5- year-old industrial one, but the relatively low cost and customized high performance of today’s commercial labeling tools make them well worth the investment. Look for one with smart keys ‒ shortcuts for creating cable wrap, cable flag, faceplate, patch panel and serialized or sequential labels. Some newer handhelds are really feature-rich with download capacity and ability to print 2D barcodes, QR codes and hundreds of common industry symbols. For large projects, and high-volume serialized printing, there are even desktop models which can be networked to your PC.
B. Know your labels. There’s a big difference between printing a label from the computer and using professional quality tapes. Look for industrial label tapes that are specifically designed to conform to cable, won’t smear or fade and have the long-term adhesive for cable flag or cable wrap. Thermal transfer label printers are favorites of pros because they use heat technology to create laminated labels which are water, heat and abrasion resistant. Be aware that there are different types of tape and you’ll want one that has the flexibility to wrap around thin patch cord cables, has the adhesive-to-adhesive quality to keep cable flags stuck, and will also work on faceplate applications. The right tape will wrap easily and stay stuck to network cable, patch panels and faceplates. (Brother™ TZ tapes are industry favorites for all the reasons above). Be aware that some tapes are designed for use as asset tags or ID labels on flat surfaces only, and while they’re great for outdoor equipment and harsh environments, they’re not designed to bend and adhere to cable.
C. Understand the purpose. We know that clients are still dictating the labeling convention about half the time, especially on small and mid-sized and AV projects ‒ but as a professional, you should be the voice of reason. Remember: the purpose of a cable label is to accelerate tracing. When you or anyone after you needs to know where the other end is, you should be able to read the label (at both ends of the wire or cable) rather than trace it. Why use a homespun convention when perfectly logical standards exist? If you’re doing a project larger than a home theater, refer to the ANSI/TIA-606-B Standard for cable and wire labeling. While it’s a standard and not code, it still makes sense to future-proof the installation
Labeling is a simple way to look like the professional you are.
Remember to label both ends of the cable while it’s being pulled. Don’t put labels too close to the jack (especially on the back of a server rack) as this makes it hard to read. Most importantly, understand the label’s purpose and choose a labeling tool that’s right for the job.