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The History of Stickers

Posted by Jordan Tennenbaum on

Stickers are incredibly powerful because they are adaptable, noticeable, and expressive, and people of all ages love stickers because they are fun, easy to use, and have timeless appeal. Stickers are the perfect medium to promote causes and raise awareness, be artistic, and express ideas, especially when they are affordable. While stickers are commonplace in most of our lives, they have quite a complex, interesting, and controversial history.

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Some historians trace “stickers” back to ancient Egyptian markets, used as a method to easily advertise a price for everyone to see. Others believe that the stickers we know today were created in the 1800s, possibly by Sir Rowland Hill in 1839, who introduced the self-adhesive postage stamp to Europe. Other historians dispute the claim and believe stickers were created by European food merchants as a DIY advertising technique to stand out from the crowd in the market. 

By the 1800s, lithography was the primary method of sticker production, in which a label is printed on a treated flat surface that repels ink from places that it is not needed for printing. Lithography was most often done using custom-cut stone presses, which were very complex and expensive to make. Thanks to advances in technology in the later part of the 1800s, label designs became more intricate and colorful, reflecting a change in consumer demands. Labels printed during the 1800s were affixed with a sticky gum or paste, requiring the user to lick or wet them before use.

In the 1930s, R. Stanton Avery invented what we know today as the sticker, then called the pressure sensitive label. These stickers were revolutionary, as they could be precut for ease of use and did not require licking or wetting, which was especially useful in a variety of industrial applications. This allowed for a faster transfer of information, leading to a higher amount of well-informed customer. As Avery’s business took off, labels again adapted to fit the times, offering more text-driven content in order to inform consumers about ingredients, health benefits, and scientific claims. As stickers became more integral to businesses and products, it becomes clear that they have an innate ability to quickly and simply convey ideas by making people aware of important information.

Shortly before World War II, labels were repurposed as bumper stickers for the public as the perfect way to promote and share ideas with thousands of people every day. This originated as a marketing method in Tennessee, where tourists’ cars were affixed with printed stickers stating “See Rock City.” Although this wasn’t done with the approval of the tourists, bumper stickers later became popular, especially during the 1940s, as many people had strong opinions regarding foreign policy, war, and European immigration.

In the 1950s, Flexography, formerly known as “aniline printing,” was the most common way to print self-adhesive stickers. Aniline printing had a poor reputation due to the toxic inks originally used in the printing process, so the name was changed in 1951 to Flexographic Printing to reflect a new, nontoxic ink formula. Essentially a modernized version of the printing press, this method of printing allowed flexible material such as vinyl to be crafted using rotary relief printing, flexible plates, and liquid inks.

As grocery stores in the 1950s rapidly modernized to match massive economic growth, mom and pop stores were replaced by self-serve corporate stores filled with large name brands. To fit the demand, labels became more focused on bold, colorful, and simple branding to stand out on the aisles. Brands such as wand Morton’s Salt lead the industry in easy to recognize, visual, and informational labels that helped consumers identify their favorite products.

Labels were becoming increasingly used for corporations and branding purposes, while at the same time stickers had been produced from the 1930s onward for children who were fascinated with their colors, shapes, and uses. Stickers grew in popularity throughout the mid-1900s, and skyrocketed into popular and political culture in the 1960s, just as political bumper stickers were introduced to America. These simple stickers helped Lyndon B. Johnson trump Barry Goldwater by 434 electoral votes while carrying 44 states and winning the popular vote by over 60%. While obviously a sticker did not win the election, it is apparent that stickers have an inherent ability to help spread ideas quickly.

Today, stickers are most frequently printed utilizing digital technology, allowing for clarity and bold color with a variety of materials, inks, and adhesives. Introduced in the 1990s, digital printing was at first quite unaffordable, though advances in technology and new materials have made it more accessible to the public. Powerful, computerized machines now manage and send files, print stickers and labels on various materials, measure and cut them using lasers and precision blades, and finally feed them through automatic rollers to completion. While the process, materials, and equipment have changed dramatically over the years, the final product and intention have always remained true. 

Sticker Slap has reinvented the sticker one last time, leaving behind a history of corporate branding, boring designs, and unethical practices to redefine what it means to be a socially conscious brand. Sticker Slap crafts durable, waterproof stickers with UV resistant & vegetable-based inks right in California, empowering people all over the world, even those without bumpers. Sticker Slap believes in the power of business to do good, which is why our mission revolves around making the world a better place for everyone.

Sticker Slap believes that a sticker is so much more than a label because a label can only box people in. Stickers are beautiful, powerful tools of self-expression that rapidly and directly reach the public to make a positive impact on our world. Sticker Slap is the modern interpretation of the sticker, featuring nearly 100 different designs and a growing selection of exclusive collaborations specifically curated for socially conscious shoppers, all of which can be shipped globally. We think that everybody can slap stickers to make their gear look sweet and raise awareness for a variety of social, civil, and environmental causes while we donate a portion of every sale to support breast cancer research. The best part is, our stickers only cost $1 each, which is over 50% less than other online retailers.

What more could you ask for?

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