One of the most common errors in label creation is mistyping (i.e. a 'typo'). Doing this with critical label information at print time can cause BIG problems. Most brands of labeling software can help prevent user typos by using a process called masking. This article explains how input masking works and provides some examples on how this label design technique can prevent costly mistakes.
What is Input Masking?
...a stencil for your data input that keeps you 'within the lines'!
Most leading brands of labeling software allow you to apply Input Masks on to your data. The masks act as a logical template in that they force the user to enter the data according to the rules of mask. They can be as simple as 'only allow numbers' or as complex as triggering a Visual Basic script.
Simple Input Masking
Rules to follow to mask the input of a date:
- Only numbers are entered
- Slash marks indicate how many digits need to be entered for each value (e.g. "01" or "1" for January)
- Set Min and Max number of digits so the user is prevented from typing too much (e.g. "2017" when they should enter "17" for the year)
Serial Numbers and Lot #s
Usually product serial numbers follow a specific format.
Example of how to mask a lot number
As you can see in the image above, the lot number is created by combining the plant ID, production line letter, and a sequential product batch number. For this client, the Lot number needs to be entered into the software at print time. Simple input mask rules that can be easily applied here might include:
- The first two characters MUST be alphabetic
- The last three characters MUST be numeric
- The length of the input cannot exceed 5 character
- The length of the input cannot be less than 5 characters
More Complex Input Masking
You can often take Input Masks to another level by masking for specific values. For example, in the lot number example above, why not restrict the user to only enter valid plant locations? For the client who owns the label above, they only have 4 plant locations (L, D, T, V). Limiting the user to just those values eliminates the possibility they accidentally enter any other value (e.g. A, B, C, etc.). Same can be done with the product line ID. For the "L" plant, there are only Lines A-F. If we mask the second digit to only allow A-F, then it stops the user from accidentally entering other values.