When installing it is of course useful to label the wires to avoid having to trace them when modifications become necessary. I was wondering what people are using for this.

The following solutions I found unsatisfactory:

  • isolation tape: the glue is too "liquid"/"soft" causing the tape to slide on the wire and leave sticky residue. Also it tends to become even softer in warm environments and falls off over the span of a few years.

  • brown packing tape: while a good solution short term, the glue becomes hard and pulverises over the span of a few years causing the labels to fall off

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Use wires of multiple colours? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 29, 2012 at 10:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @FakeName, I assume you'd fail inspection with rainbow ground wires. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tom Paris
    Apr 30, 2012 at 10:08
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @TomParis - Oh god. I've worked on cheap Chinese products that use red wires as ground, and I seriously considered traveling to china so I could punch the guy who decided on the wiring harness layout in the face. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30, 2012 at 10:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @FakeName - Yeah, and the guy who decided Tantalums would have the + side marked with a stripe. There's a special place in hell for him. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30, 2012 at 15:50

3 Answers 3


Heat-shrink labels all the way. They never fade or fall off. But you may not be able to use them if the cables already have connectors at either end.

Heat shrink labels

You can get nice little labelling machines to write neatly on them.


Alternatively, try cable clips, which can be clipped on after the connector.

cable clips

Another great one is these twist on cable labels.

twist on cable labels

There are literally dozens of solutions to this problem. If you want to google it, the key words are cable identification.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I never saw these before. Sounds like a great idea. Though one has to be able to slide the shrink tube onto the wire, right? I.e. the labels cannot be applied after installation? \$\endgroup\$
    – ARF
    Apr 29, 2012 at 15:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ArikRaffaelFunke - That's right. I have added a couple more that you can add after the connectors. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 29, 2012 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rocketmagnet - Huh, never heard of heat shrink label printers. I've got 450 wires to do in my next project, and I don't think I would look forward to all that time with the heat gun. Your clip-on and twist-on labels are kinda bulky, a more professional-looking option would be vinyl stickers like the ones produced by the Brady label printer I use at work; the 3/4x1" labels wind around the wires quickly and look much like your first photograph. Will have to give some thought to the heat-shrink labels... \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30, 2012 at 1:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KevinVermeer - You can shrink them 10 at a time. Just slip them on all the wires, and blast them all with the heat. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30, 2012 at 9:31

I cut narrow strips from self-adhesive labels, which I wrap around the wire and stick the ends together so they stick out as a little flag. You can write a lot on a cm length!

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've got more than a dozen strips made like that, in cold areas too, that have lasted since the 90's. +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – Tom Paris
    Apr 29, 2012 at 10:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ What kind of labels are you using? Paper labels as used for addressing envelopes? \$\endgroup\$
    – ARF
    Apr 29, 2012 at 15:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ArikRaffaelFunke - Yes. \$\endgroup\$
    – stevenvh
    Apr 29, 2012 at 15:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do this with white electrical tape. \$\endgroup\$
    – tyblu
    Apr 29, 2012 at 16:59

I've actually struggled with this same problem. I have a small home music studio with a dozen MIDI, USB and audio devices. There is a rat's nest of cables and it's difficult to tell them apart.

My solution was to have some custom vinyl stickers made up. The nice thing about this as opposed to some of the solutions mentioned above is that I was able to customize the colors and patterns of the stickers so I can tell at a glance what is paired up with what.

The label printers are nice, but it is not really an ideal solution for quickly identifying cables.

  • \$\begingroup\$ How do the stickers stick to the cables? Like little flags, directly to the cable, on the connectors, or other? \$\endgroup\$
    – tyblu
    Apr 29, 2012 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @tyblu they are just strips. I wrap them around the connector of the cable. I am only using them for MIDI and instrument cables right now. I made some different themes like checkerboard and striped in matched color pallets so I could group devices together with a single color and have the patterns for left/right channels be separated. \$\endgroup\$
    – BrianV
    Apr 29, 2012 at 17:07

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