Printing Tags

You can download sets of tags from Microsoft Surface Tags. This topic describes how to print and place tags for the best results. For more information about using tags in your application, see Tagged Object Recognition.


When tags are printed, they look like the following image.

Example tags

Example tags

Most laser printers can be used to print tags.

Ink jet printers that use a mix of cyan, yellow, and magenta to create black generally do not work. The three-color combination is typically invisible in the infrared spectrum. You should test all printing methods for their appearance in the infrared 850 nm wavelength.

Be careful that the tags cannot be rubbed off. Tags that are printed by using ink jet or laser printers wear off rapidly when they are used. If the tag printing wears off, you cannot use the tag anymore and the tag will smudge the display of the device made for Surface. For information about extending the durability of a tag, see the Top coats and protective layers section.

Do not use the Microsoft XPS Document Writer to create an .xps file for later printing of a tag. The XPS Document Writer introduces light gray lines that outline the small hexagonal areas of the tag. These lines can prevent the Vision System from detecting the tag.


Make sure that printed tags meet the following requirements:

  • The white dots must reflect infrared (IR) light. As a guideline, aim for a reflectance value between 73% and 86% of 850 nanometer (nm) IR light. High IR-reflective material is best. However, ultra-high–reflectivity whites (more than 86%) can cause "bloom," which impairs the vision system's ability to recognize the tag.

  • The dark region must not reflect IR light. As a guideline, aim for a reflectance value lower than 7% of 850 nm IR light (93% or more should be absorbed).

A single tag on a physical object with a background that is black or nonreflective of IR light provides the best tag-recognition performance.

Always test your mounted tags with your application running on a device made for Surface before putting the tags into production. Limited tests show that a background that does not reflect IR light or a black background that is at least 1 inch larger than the tag itself can improve how tags are recognized, even if they are on a background with reflectance higher than 83%. Expanding the non–IR-reflective area of your tag or around your tag can resolve bloom issues.

You can measure reflectance for surfaces with diffuse reflectance by using a reflectometer that has response in the near IR wavelength range (for example, the InspectIR-Vis instrument from Surface Optics Corp).

Printing Materials

For best results, make sure the only reflective areas on a tag are the white dots. The following materials can produce tags that function correctly with devices made for Surface. If you use these materials, your tags should work properly. However, always test new tag types in their final format before you distribute them.

High IR-Reflective/White

The following materials have high IR reflectance and are suitable for the light regions of the tag:

  • White office paper.

  • White Mylar (test for a blooming effect if the Mylar is too reflective).

  • White PVC.

  • White Styrene.

  • White print labels (for example, Brother TZ-261).

  • IR-reflective dielectric coating on PET film.

In general, most white paper works well. However, some are too bright and can cause a blur in the Surface Vision System.

Low IR-Reflectance/Black

The following materials have low IR reflectance and are suitable for the dark regions of the tag:

  • Laser printer black ink.

  • Pantone Black C.

  • Epolight 8771 IR absorbing ink.

Placement on physical objects

After you create a tag, attach it to something solid like a plastic card or heavy cardboard. Tags must be perfectly flat for the Surface vision system to detect them.

Whenever possible, place tags on IR-absorbent objects that do not allow light through from the external environment. A tag on an object that is infrared-absorbent typically performs better than a tag on a highly infrared-reflective item or on a clear item that allows light through. If you place a tag on a highly infrared-reflective surface or a clear item, the device made for Surface might have trouble recognizing the tag.

The infrared reflectivity of an object is not necessarily the same as its brightness to the eye. For example, some materials that appear dark to the eye can actually be reflective to infrared light.

Place tags on a solid, consistent background (for example, with no patterns or stripes). Use a dark-colored or non-IR–reflective background (except for red) instead of a light background.

Place tags on flat surfaces that help the tag maintain flush contact with the tabletop. Tags work best on physical objects that do not easily tip over while they move.

Top coats and protective layers

In practice, top coats such as UV print varnish and laminates can successfully improve a tag's durability and minimally affect the optical properties of the tag. However, many types of protective layers (such as a matte laminate) can significantly reduce optical performance. You should test any protective layer that you add to a tag to make sure it performs correctly.

You can test a tag using the RawImage Visualizer SDK sample application to see if a top coat is causing a blooming effect around the white dots. You can also use the Data Visualizer sample to see how well your tag can be tracked.

Ordering tags from third-party vendors

You can optionally order sets of sticker tags from third party vendors, such as GM Nameplate. If you do, make sure the vendor knows that you are ordering tags that will be used on a device made for Surface 2.0, and should not have a matte laminate.

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