What is Electrical Identification? (2023 Ultimate Guide)


What is Electrical Identification? Most industrial and commercial projects have a section in the specifications called Electrical Identification. In this section, the electrical engineer defines how each component of the electrical system should be labeled. Labeling the system as it is being constructed, leaves a completed electrical system that is much easier to troubleshoot and is much safer to maintain. The electrical engineering firm usually has a template they use based on ANSI standards for colors and text size. ANSI standards are widely recognized and used by other trades. The main components are wires, cables, conduits, and equipment.

Wire Markers

Most of the time the specification calls for a machine-printed label. Handwritten labels are often not readable and the ink used on handwritten labels is subject to fading over time. Plus handwritten labels are so time-consuming that most electrical contractors will choose to print even temporary labels.

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On large projects, administrative personnel usually make the wire markers for the electricians using a desktop printer. This is a much more efficient use of electrician labor. Most of the time the information is already in an excel spreadsheet or can be easily created in excel and imported into the printer’s software. On smaller projects or punch lists, most contractors use a handheld printer. These printers can also make labels with incremental numbers and lists can be imported into them. Both types print many types of material, such as heat-shrink markers, self-laminating labels, and color vinyl labels.

Heat-shrink labels are flattened tubes made of cross-linked polyolefin. They must be applied before the connectors are put on the wire. It is also not necessary to shrink the marker, they can be floated on the wire. However, shrinking makes the marker stay in place better. Heat shrink markers are used in an industrial setting where environmental factors may cause adhesive failure. The sleeves exceed the minimum mark permanence requirements for SAE AS81531 (formerly MIL-M-81531)

Self-laminating adhesive labels are made of clear vinyl with a white printable area. The clear end is wrapped around the wire and back over the printed area thus protecting the writing from dust, dirt, moisture, cleaning, and other environmental conditions that might have shortened the label’s life. These labels can be applied after the connector is attached. They are usually used on a project where there are no environmental elements that attach adhesive.  When marking a very thin wire the label may fail as a result of being applied to a tightly curved surface. In this case, the label can be flagged (folded over the wire to adhere to itself) instead of wrapped around.

Strong & durable high-density polyethylene cable tags can be used to put an extensive amount of information on cables and wire bundles. They are fastened on with cable ties or harness lacing. For larger diameters, they usually run parallel to the cable and are fastened on both ends. For smaller diameters, they can be flagged by one end making them perpendicular to the cable.

Conduit Markers

Most electrical identification specifications call for colored adhesive vinyl for conduit identification. They often refer to ASME A 13.1 which is a highly recognized scheme for pipe identification that specifies label colors, text color/height, and overall label size. There may be stencils called for in older templates. But painting with stencils is time-consuming and messy.

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The newest and fasted method of conduit identification is rolled markers. Rolled markers are available in most colors, in sizes from .25”-10” in diameter. They are custom printed flat. Then they are put through a heat process and rolled to come out coiled. To apply them the user opens the coil to snap them around the conduit.

Buried Conduit must also be marked. A few feet above the conduit a vinyl tape is buried. The ASTM D 882 tensile test is usually the standard for the pull strength of the plastic.  The colors comply with the ANSI Z535.1 through ANSI Z535.5. Some barricade tape has a metallic stripe to be detected from the top surface.


Most specifications require equipment to be labeled with engraved labels and safety signs. Engraved labels have been manufactured by a rotary machine in the past, but the more modern equipment is a laser engraver. The electrical contractor submits an excel spreadsheet with the information to be engraved and it is imported to the software that drives the laser. The common method is to engrave the front of the layer of plastic. Leaving text in a contrasting color. The alternative is to engrave the back and paint the text. The resulting product is smooth on the front. These are perfect for a cleanroom application.

Warning, Caution, and Danger sign designs are to be in the format and colors specified in the Federal Safety Regulation 29 CFR 1910.145. All signs shall be made with rounded or blunt corners and shall be free from sharp edges, burrs, splinters, or other sharp projections. The ends or heads of bolts or other fastening devices shall be located in such a way that they do not constitute a hazard. Danger signs use the colors predominately red, with white text. Caution signs use a background of yellow with black text; and the panel, black with yellow text. Warning signs use predominantly orange with black text.  Signs can be adhesive vinyl labels, plastic or baked enamel on metal.

Most large electrical distributors do not provide custom marking services well. Their focus is on the larger dollar products. The best service for electrical identification products comes from companies specialized in this niche.

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