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Inventory Fundamentals - Lesson 4
Unique identifiers for each item - how and why

Your theatre may have a few hundred items or many thousand.  Many items look alike or actually are alike (how many pairs of black pants do you have ?)

Each item should have a unique identifier so you know which one is which.    Knowing this is good for:

    ●    Keeping each performer’s costumes in the right place during a performance
    ●    Checking out / Checking in costumes - to make sure you credit the right person for bringing back the item
    ●    Getting an accurate count of all the costumes / props in the collection

To make it easy to identify each item it should have a tag or label with the School or Theatre Name, the item’s unique ID (1258 for this tag) and a barcode (which is just a visual representation of the number).

The barcode makes it easy to find, check items out or in.  A Barcode reader is just another input device for the computer.  Pointing the scanner at the barcode and clicking the button on the scanner will write the number - in this case 1258 - at the point in the computer where the cursor is. 

If you are using a database with a “Find” or “Search” feature you can:

    1) Put the cursor in the 'Find Costume By ID' field, 

    2) Scan the tag (with the red line across the barcode)

    3) The scanner will write the tag ID into the program and will find and display the record.

In general most numbering systems will have sequential numbers.  For example:   The first tag is 0001, the second one is 0002, then 0003, etc.  You can include letters to create a code for the items such as MM (Music Man) MM-0001 or Men's Suits MS-001.  Creating a code can be helpful when you are looking at a garment or prop but requires a lot of extra work on your part to plan and order the tags.

Look up the section in the Theatre Inventory Database User Guide (click here) to see more discussion about the rules for creating Tag ID's.

Inventory tags have to be ordered from a company that specializes in garment tags.  The tags have sequential numbers that can only be printed with special software.  The compostition of the label material is very specialized and designed to withstand washing and dry cleaning.  Adhesive labels for props, sets, shoes, and equipment also need to be printed by a company with the equipment, software and label material that can withstand a lot of wear and tear and abrasion.

There are several things to think about before ordering and applying your tags and labels:

1) What are you going to put tags/labels on ??


    Costumes?   Accessories ??  Shoes ??
    Set pieces?

    Equipment ?

2)  What text or logo do you want on your tags?  Here are a few examples:

3) What type of tags/labels to buy:

    There are many vendors who will print custom inventory tags.  Here are a few types that are commonly available:


    For Garments:

        Iron-on tags - fabric tags that are ironed on with a very hot iron

        Sew-in tags - fabric tags that are sewn in - usually by machine.


            Be sure to check that the tags can be washed, dryed and dry cleaned many times without coming off or losing the information that is printed on them.

    For Shoes, Accessories, Props, Set pieces

                Adhesive Labels - these should be some sort of plastic material - not paper.  They need to be durable through lots of handling.

            Adhesive labels can be placed on the item itself - like in shoes or on the back of a picture frame - or they can be placed on a shipping tag - like an Avery Shipping Label (available at office supply stores).  


4) What would be a good starting number for each type of items you are going to inventory ?

    1)   Many costume/prop shops start with 0001 and each tag/number after that is just the next number in sequence.


    The advantages of this method are :

    a.  You can place tags in any garment using the next number available.  When you order tags you don’t have to worry about how many to order.


   The disadvantage of this way is:

    b.  You have to look up the item in the database to know what show it was used in or the size or the storage location, etc.  

    2)  Other shops put the Production Name in the number:

    For Little Shop of Horrors you could use:  LSH-0001 , LSH-0002, LSH-0003
    For Our Town you could use OT-0001, OT-0002, OT-0003 


   The advantage of this method is that you can look at any item and know what show it belongs to.

    The disadvantages of this approach are:

    a.  You have to make a rough count of how many tags you need before ordering.  You don’t want to order 250 tags and realize half way through the project that you really need 750.  You can always order more but it is better to have what you need to start with.

    b.  There will be many items that are used in lots of shows and you don’t want to label it for one show and then not be able to find it when you need it for another show because you can’t remember what show you put it in.



Once you have the tags and labels there are still more things to plan ...

A.  Who is going to put the tags/labels in?  


   Applying the tags and labels is very important and should only be done once.  If a garment or prop is incorrectly tagged it is time consuming to remove the tag and apply another one.  It could also damage the costume or prop by removing the tag/label.

    The team applying the tags need to be trained to:

     Understand how to apply the tags.  

          The Iron-on tags have to be put on with a very hot iron.  If the iron isn’t hot enough or enough pressure isn’t applied the tags will come off in the wash or dry cleaning.  

          The Sew-in tags have a top thread and bobbin thread - make sure that the color of the thread isn’t showing on the outside of the garment.  If you use black thread be sure that the thread is far enough away from the barcode so the barcode reader doesn’t get confused.  (See example on next to last page)    

B.  Have instructions on which tags go on which garments.


    If you are using a sequence of tags for one set of garments - be sure to have that instruction written down.  

    Since the Iron-on tags require such high heat they are not appropriate for all fabrics.  Have the sew-in tags set aside to be used on the nylon, acetate, delicate or lace fabrics.

C.  Cut only the tags that are need for a few costumes at a time.


    Tags and labels come on rolls of up to 500 tags per roll.  If you were to cut them all you could easily lose tags as they fall off the table easily or can get caught up with other tags or fabrics.  You or your school may need to spend more money to order more tags if a lot of them are lost.  

    If you get them mixed up you can apply them out of number order.  This may not be a problem but if you have no plan for the tags but it can be if you are trying to keep groups of numbers together.

D.  Have instructions on where to place the tags in the garment


    Everyone needs to know where to place the tags.  It is a good idea to meet with the Costume Shop manager to discuss where the tags should be put on each type of garment.  Consistency in placement of the tags helps everyone - those who are put the tags in and those who are looking for the tag later.   You don’t want someone to place 2 tags in the same garment because they didn’t know where the first tag was placed and think it needed to be tagged.  ?  


Download the Resource Guide / Worksheet below.  It is a very simple worksheet to identify where in each type of garment to place the tag.  For example - in a suit coat or jacket you don't want to put the tag at the back of the neck.  If an actor took off his/her jacket during the show  the tag will be seen by the audience.  It is better to place it inside the front pocket.


Place this worksheet in the Costume Shop so everyone knows what to do.

E.  Schedule when people are going to be doing the tagging

    It is a good idea to create a schedule so enough people can be at the costume shop to apply the tags.  You can get more tags applied if you have a team working together.  One person applying tags is good but a team working together makes it better.  Once a tagging session is done - keep a log of what was completed.  

What have you added to your binder?

  • Resource Guide - How to Apply tags

  • Resource Guide - Worksheet for Tag Placement

What’s next ?

    Computer Basics - Lesson :  Drives, Directories and Files

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