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ISPM-15 Marking 101: Stamp, Stencil, Brand or Print Which Is Best for Your Operation?
Pallet Marking 101: An expert explains the various marking options and what are the pros and cons of the different approaches. She also offers insight into spotting a fake ISPM-15 mark.

By Katie Sutter
Date Posted: 2/1/2014

Call it marking, stamping or identifying; every wooden pallet that travels globally must be labeled with an ISPM-15 approved mark. This mark ensures compliance with proper treatment standards to prevent the spread of wood pests around the globe. Although the reason to use the mark is clear, the difficulty comes in for some companies when trying to figure out how best to apply the mark.

                The challenge is to find a method that will work in a dusty, outside environment. In addition, depending on where the pallet manufacturer is located, air temperature may need to be considered. There are a few major ways to mark wood pallets. All have advantages and disadvantages. These approaches include stamping, stenciling, branding and printing. By looking at costs and benefits, one of these methods should fit the needs of manufacturers and recyclers.

                First, and probably, most popular is marking with a rubber stamp. There are several types of rubber stamps; knob handle, self-inking and roller. Rubber stamps are one of the most affordable solutions. They are also relatively easy to use. The image is clear and visible, and with proper care, the stamp is a good solution.

                But there are drawbacks. The process can be relatively slow since each pallet is stamped individually. In addition, the correct amount of pressure is necessary to create a good impression. Perhaps the biggest problem with rubber stamps is after several impressions, if the stamp is not cleaned of debris, it will be coated with sawdust. In addition, if the correct ink is not used, the ink solvent may cause the die to separate from the base.

                Stenciling is another solution to marking wooden pallets. A laser cut, custom stencil is positioned on the pallet; ink or paint is applied; and the stencil is removed. Stenciling is also one of the most affordable solutions. When applied carefully, a good mark can be achieved. Again, this process can be time consuming. In addition, if care is not taken, excess ink and paint may cause the area to be soiled.

                Branding is also a way to mark pallets. A heated, metal die with the ISPM approved mark, is pressed on to the pallet. The impression is burned into the wood. Heavy duty branding irons can be hand held or machine mounted. Branding, arguably, creates the best impression. There are no inks involved, so it is a relatively clean process.

                Custom branding dies are made of steel or hard metal that can withstand the high temperatures. Electric and

propane branding irons come in different wattages. A higher watt iron will allow a quicker process, with less down time. Branding entails a significant initial investment. All dies are custom machined, and the heavy duty branders are also an investment. Once set up to brand, the equipment can last several years.

                Another, less used method is to mark pallets with ink jet printers. The pallet passes by the printer and a mark is

applied. This also entails a substantial investment in equipment and training. The pallet manufacturer will need to have some type of conveyer system. In addition, the environment of a pallet operation can create challenges for the machine. Although some type of printing system can be advantageous, it may not be practical for some manufacturers.

                Although it sounds simple, marking a pallet can be a challenge. What is clear, whether you stamp, stencil, brand or print, every pallet that travels globally must have an approved mark. And there are a number of effective ways to make that happen depending on your particular situation.


How Do You Know an ISPM-15 Mark Is Valid?

                While the majority of ISPM-15 marks are real, there are a number of false marks placed on wooden packaging, including pallet and dunnage. It is important to be able to differentiate between valid and fake marks.

                A valid ISPM-15 mark must include the IPPC symbol, a country code, the producer/treatment provider code and a treatment code (ex: HT or MB).

                ISPM-15 marks must be rectangular or square, with a border and a line separating the IPPC symbol and the code components. The size of the mark can vary, but it must be visible to the eye. The mark needs to be durable, legible and cannot be hand drawn.

                Contact the certification agency to verify the status of the mark. You can also seek assistance in the United States by contacting the American Lumber Standard Committee for heat treatment marks by visiting www.alsc.org or the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association at www.palletcentral.com for fumigation marks.

                Katie Sutter is the marketing director for Excelsior Marking, a marking products manufacturer

servicing clients in North America and around the world. For more information on Excelsior Marking, visit http://www.excelsiormarking.com or call 800-433-3615.

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