My lab stores biological material (tissue, cells, plasma, serum) in a -130 C, liquid nitrogen freezer. The cryotubes that we use to store a samples are labelled by hand which frequently creates legibility problems.

Its my understanding we can't print out stickers to use as labels because they will degrade in the cold. The solution of putting barcodes on the tubes has been suggested but its undesirable because in addition to the cost and logistic complications; we would have to choose between thawing and refreezing all of our samples to transfer them to new tubes OR live with the nightmare of having both labeling systems in use at the same time; one which humans can read and one which humans cannot.

The ideal situation would be a small, portable machine that can physically label the tubes for us. I'm envisioning: - an adjustable clamp to hold the tube in place; ideally with sensors that would infer the shape, size, and position of the area that can be labelled. - a very-fine tipped pen attached to a motor that would mimic a printer's line-by-line printing action; this would have to take into account the shape and size of the area that can be labelled - rollers in the clamp to adjust the available space for labeling - a screen/keyboard interface that would display how the label will appear

Does anything like this exist?

Do you have any other suggestions about how to deal with the problem of legible hand-writing on cryotubes?

Please advise if there is a more-appropriate SE site to post this question

  • $\begingroup$ One way to get around this problem is to keep similar samples in the same box; for e.g One box per cell type and label the box nicely [easier to write legibly on a big box]. Keep the marking requirements minimal on the tube (for e.g. just dates) $\endgroup$
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 9:04
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't seem that "legible hand-writing" would be a problem. Rather the problem is illegible handwriting. Could you have some technician with legible hand-writing just prenumber the tubes? $\endgroup$
    – MaxW
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ Barcodes would not be a good solution due to the ice crystal formation when the tubes are removed from storage preventing scanners from working. $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 5:39

4 Answers 4


This is indeed a problematic point. I have been using machine printed labels for a while now (sometimes with some extra scotch tape around it to prevent it from falling) off, which worked pretty nicely.

However, there is a printer available on the market (though I haven't tested it yet) which claims that they can print on any tube. This printer is called Tubewriter, which is probably also worth a look. The backside is the price, Fisher Scientific lists them around 40.000$, which will make them unavailable for most labs, except for cell banks etc.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Reminds me of this thing $\endgroup$
    – user137
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 17:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @chris This is affordable but I would want to test the ink around solvents. usascientific.com/dymo-450-printer.aspx $\endgroup$
    – rhill45
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 2:40
  • $\begingroup$ @rhill45 Interesting. I didn't know this machine - since it is labelled with "lab" it should probably adress some problems with the durability. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 6:59

What I find works is to scotch tape the labels to the tubes, they hold up fine in our -70C freezer.

What I did was go into excel 2010, go to View tab, click on Page Layout on the left side, not normal view! Then, go to home tab, select all the cells on the page. Go to the right side of the home tab, hit Format, then Row Height. This lets you set height in real units, I typically enter "10mm". Do the same for Column Width, I like 20mm. Now reselect the page of cells because changing the cell size will push some off the page. Right click the cells and format them to center the text horizontally and vertically. Now you can type your label text into the cells. I suggest font size 8 or smaller so you can fit it all in the cell. To make cutting the labels easier, put borders on all sides of all cells. Just print it out, cut them apart and tape them on your tubes. Sorry microsoft makes it so hard to set the size of a cell in real units.

Just to see if I could, I tried to create a QR code and make it small enough to fit on the 10x20mm label. But my phone can't read it once I print it out at that size. With a better camera and a good printer you could probably make it work. I don't know enough about alternative bar code systems to try anything else.


I hate this problem but I hate even more when I pull up a cryo vial that some one wrote on with a dry erase marker.

Get printable tough tags.

Two options after that, print on them with your laser printer. Can do many at a time.

  1. You can take a step further and overlay the tag with some 3m single sided tape (scotch tape is gonna brittle up from the N2.)

  2. Write on it with a fisher brand solvent free marker. This is the only marker alcohol will not take off!!!

I would love to find the ink in this market and be able to put it in my printer for the tough tags.

I like these types of questions on here.

There are elaborate systems out there like Chris's answer and they are of course preferable. But expensive.

I didn't think to use the QR codes for as mentioned by 1st answer, I may try this.

  • $\begingroup$ However, it seems that the Tough Tags are only rated for -40°C. $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 5:41
  • $\begingroup$ For OP's application, I would recommend Cryo-Babies, which are rated for liquid- and vapor-phase nitrogen storage at -196°C $\endgroup$
    – acvill
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 21:20

We have used Brother P-Touch printers in the stock at work, but our lowest temperature is -80C. It's ideal for making sure the labels go all the way around the vials.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Biology.SE! Can you please provide a little more detail? For example, model numbers, links to the product, and images of successfully labeled tubes. I also think you will get a better reception for your posts if you make sure the spelling and word use are correct. Also what do you mean by "in the stock" β€” it feels like maybe you left out at least one word? β€”β€”β€” You may also wish to take the tour and then consult the help pages for additional advice on How to Answer effectively on this site. Thank you! 😊 $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 0:31

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