Collections Labeling: Simple Kit

Collections label kit for small museums

This is the kit I made for a workshop at the Museums Alaska conference in Valdez, September 2011.  The kit is designed for small museums with wide-ranging collections with everything from natural history specimens to fine art, where limited staff must wear many hats.  I made 24 kits, since many things can be ordered in a case of 12, and each kit cost about $50.  The workshop was funded through a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts.  The kit includes a manual, which can be found at the posting Collections Labeling: Material by Material. Other adhesive choices can be found on the posting Collections Labeling: Alternate Adhesive Testing.


Acetone in dropper bottle (I got the bottle and acetone from Fisher Scientific)

  • Used for removing B-72.
  • Reagent Grade.
  • Hardware store acetone has petroleum distillates, other impurities.  Will work, but may make paper translucent and hard-to-read on dark materials. Could behave unpredictably with B-72.
  • Acetone is main ingredient in nail polish remover.  Fumes may be irritating.
  • Flammable.

Cotton swabs (Local grocery store)

  • Simple Q-tips.
  • Think twice about rubbing solvent on the surface of your artifact.

Funnel, mini (I bought these on the internet from

  • For transfer of adhesive into smaller brush bottle, like polish bottle.
  • When B-72 dries on tools or jars, it can be soaked in water overnight, and then peeled off.

Needles, assorted (Local fabric store)

  • Sharps are good for piercing Tyvek label, but could stab through fibers.
  • Blunts or ball points are good for getting in between the weave gently.
  • Cheaper needles often have poorer quality “eyes”.

Paraloid B-72 adhesive  (I ordered pre-mixed for labeling from Talas)

  • Use to apply the paper label.
  • Synthetic acrylic resin: 70% ethyl methacrylate 30% methyl acrylate copolymer.
  • Works best no thicker than maple syrup most of the time.  Even thinner is often fine.
  • If you want to mix B-72 yourself, Howard Wellman describes how on the SHA website.
  • Soluble in acetone, but does not go into ethanol easily.  Ethanol sometimes added to slow drying time.
  • If it bubbles, try adding more acetone to your jar of adhesive.
  • If the top coat smears the writing, try loading brush well and applying in single thick stroke.
  • If it still smears, could try artist acrylic gloss medium as a top coat, applied smaller than barrier coat.
  • B-67 is similar to B-72 but in mineral spirits instead of acetone. This is sometimes used a top coat.
  • Aquazol is sometimes used to coat or size the label paper first, making the ink less likely to smear.
  • B-72 is thermoplastic, so if the lid sticks, running under hot water or using a hairdryer can help get it unstuck.

Pen, Zig Millenium  (I ordered online from

  • Use this pen for writing on tags and Tyvek.
  • “Permanent” boasted by many pens often just means waterproof, not lightfast or non-bleeding.
  • Dye-based inks often smear.
  • Carbon black ink is lightfast: India ink or rapidograph ink.
  • Quill pens take practice, can be gloppy, sharp, and may scratch.
  • Technical pens are fussy (clog, need cleaning fluid, delicate tip, may scratch).
  • IdentiPen also recommended for writing on plastic bags.
  • Helen Alten has a good article about testing pens for artifact labeling.

#2 Pencil  (Local office supply store)

  • HB pencils are also OK.
  • Wonderfully reversible on many surfaces, especially paper, if you don’t press too hard.

Photo Pencil  (I ordered from Hollinger Metal Edge)

  • Use these for marking the back of photos printed on plastic.
  • If you have a plastic photo, the right balance of sharp/dull regular #2 pencil may work if the plastic isn’t greasy from fingerprints or plasticizers.

Polish bottle with brush lid for B-72  (I ordered online from

  • Nail polish is no good…yellows, cracks, peels, ages poorly, crosslinks.  Remember, how long is it meant to last on your fingernails?
  • Correction fluid or Wite Out is also not OK, it peels off too easily, ages poorly, proprietary mix varies widely.
  • Nice to buy B-72 already made, but the wide lid container causes it to dry out too fast.
  • Use mini-funnel to transfer from bigger container into polish bottle.  Also, if one jar dries out you have a back-up.
  • When applying, think of a sandwich made by two layers of B-72 with label in the middle.

Small scissors  (I got these from Fisher Scientific, but McMaster Carr also has them at a good price.)

  • Cut your labels into fringe for ease of handling multiple small numbers.
  • Rounding the corners makes labels less likely to snag and pop off.
  • Sewing scissors work well for this use, too.

Small paper tags  (I ordered these from

  • Don’t use colored string.  Sometimes it runs or bleeds.  Replace with white string.
  • Avoid tags with wire, wire edges, or metal grommets around holes…risks of scratching and rust stains.
  • If your budget permits, you might want to upgrade to artifact tags from archival supply companies.  However, these are about 13 cents each as opposed to 1 cent each for the Avery brand office-supply variety, which test slightly more alkaline (pH 7-8) than the expensive ones (pH 6-7).  Both come with white cotton string.

Thin labeling paper  (I ordered from Hollinger Metal Edge, sold as “Photo-tex”)

  • Interleaving tissue is nice.
  • As thin as will go through your printer or photocopier.  Might need to experiment with feed.
  • Write the method that will work on your equipment on the cover of the folder you keep paper in.
  • Some Japanese tissues may be too thin to print, or may get translucent with adhesive.
  • Snipping your list of numbers into fringe helps keep track of tiny labels.
  • Manipulation by curling over the fingernail to conform to curves or folding lengthwise for long items.

Thread, white cotton  (Local fabric store)

  • Rule of thumb, tie material should be softer than the object, so abrasion will damage the tie and not the artifact.
  • Cotton is non-abrasive.  Polyester is a little bit abrasive.
  • Don’t use with beads that have glass disease, it may help wick moisture inside.
  • “Glide” or other brands of Teflon dental floss OK. Plumber’s Teflon tape is OK.
  • Regular dental floss not so good.  Usually made of nylon and ages poorly, becoming brittle and breaking.
  • Plastic zip ties usually too rough, and are also usually nylon and degrade, get brittle, break.
  • PVC plastic degrades and releases acids.

Tweezers  (I ordered them from McMaster Carr)

  • Pointy ones are helpful for manipulating paper labels.

Tyvek, for labeling textiles  (Local office supply store)

  • Tyvek is spun-bonded from olefin fibers, an inert plastic.
  • Mailing envelopes and home wrap are usually Tyvek and it is OK to use the non-printed, bare areas.
  • Needle punch “soft” Tyvek and smooth “hard” Tyvek both OK.
  • Alternatives: twill tape, Reemay.  Twill tape sometimes hard to write on without ink bleeding.

White vinyl eraser   (Local art supply store)

  • For removing pencil marks.
  • Can be helpful for removing tape residues from price tags or stickers as well.


Alten, Helen “Numbering Museum Collections: Labeling Ethnographic Objects.”  ICOM Ethnographic Conservation Newsletter Number 17, April 1988 pp.18-21.

Braun, Thomas J. “An Alternative Technique for Applying Accession Numbers to Museum Artifacts.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation Vol 46. Summer 2007. Pp 91-104.

Buck, Rebecca A. and Jean Allman Gilmore.  MRM5 Museum Registration Methods 5th Edition.  AAM Press. American Association of Museums. Washington DC.  2010

 Davidson, Amy, Samantha Alderson and Marilyn Fox. “Assembling an Archival Marking Kit for Paleontological Specimens.” 2006 (and more too!)

 Wellman, Howard “Mixing Resin Solutions.” Society for Historical Archaeology website 2006.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: