Which NFC Tag ?


An NFC tag is the combination of an NFC chip, an NFC antenna and something that holds it all together. Choosing which NFC tag you need for your project can make all the difference to it’s success. Here is some advice to get you started.

Your options

There’s no industry standard way of naming the different NFC items. However, to keep things simple, let’s call items like hang tags, keyfobs, disc tags and so on ‘NFC Products’ and we will reserve the term ‘NFC Tags’ only for stickers and inlays. For the sake of clarity, the term ‘NFC label’ will be considered the same as an NFC sticker.

For the purposes here, we are only going to look at the different nfc tag formats available on NFC stickers and NFC inlays. The primary difference between an NFC sticker and an NFC inlay is in the construction. Consider a basic NFC tag. It has an antenna, a chip and something to hold it together. If it has a single sheet of plastic holding it together, we’d call that an inlay. However, the open side where the antenna and chip is will not have any protection. So, to make it stronger, we can add another sheet of plastic on top so the antenna and chip are sandwiched between the sheets. That top sheet might be white, printed or clear. This is now a sticker.

Stickers always have adhesive (obviously), whereas inlays may just be a sheet or roll of plastic with lots of chips and antennas. To separate them, you may need to cut them up. There are special cases of inlays with double sheets of plastic and some with adhesive which is going to make things confusing.

It’s fair to say that if you are reading this, you almost certainly want NFC stickers because NFC inlays are delicate and are typically only used within the industry as part of a process of making something else.

When is an NFC inlay not an inlay ?

Some companies and retailers may refer to a sticker with a clear top layer where you can see the chip and antenna as an ‘inlay’. We think that just confuses things but there you go. We think it’s better to refer to the term inlay as a construction concept rather than an aesthetic one.

So an NFC tags is again… ?

To be quite clear, an NFC tag is a general term for both stickers and inlays. Again, if you are reading this you almost certainly want an NFC tag as a sticker !

NFC tag construction

NFC Tags (stickers and inlays) are constructed by attaching the NFC chip to a small antenna, usually made of very thin aluminimum. This is fixed to a plastic substrate (thin sheet of plastic) to keep it together. The variation of tags arrives partly in the size and design of the antenna itself but also the construction of layers of plastic and adhesive that make up different types of tag.

Stickers, labels, wet inlays, dry inlays.. ?

Aside from the choice of NFC Chip, your choice of NFC tag also involves size, construction, antenna and an optional layer so it can be used on metal.