Unless you’re a die-hard trial-by-fire kind of individual, at some point you’ll need to organize your ammunition. You may choose to do it at the last minute; while loading mags at the firing line, for instance. Or maybe you’re so organized you apply a FIFO approach to storage and use your ammo based on date of manufacture. I lean more towards the OCD end of the spectrum and, like many others, I employ a variety of military surplus ammo cans to organize and protect my gun food.
For the most part, I can recall what ammo lives in what can. But, as the number of cans in my collection has grown, the need for a labeling solution has become apparent. What I want is a solution that’s practically permanent…until it needs to be flexible.
Stickers are a little too permanent and can be messy, or lose their stickiness too quickly. Tape can work well, but rewriting labels over and over can be a pain. Then there are magnetic labels.
I hadn’t considered magnetic ammo can labels a serious option until one of the awesome guys from Freedom Munitions (FM) told me about their magnetic labels while at Northwest Shooting Sports Expo (NWSSE) this summer. I ordered a set the following week. Unfortunately, FM’s selection didn’t completely cover my required range of calibers/gauges so I also purchased a set of magnetic labels from AmmoCanMagnet.com.
AmmoCanMagnets.com (ACM), shown above, has been offering its wonderfully legible products for some time. They are well-rooted in the marketplace. Notice how the printed characters fill as much available space as possible on each magnet.
Freedom Munitions (FM) is a newcomer in the arena of magnetic labels, but is a favored ammunition brand throughout the firearms industry. It makes perfect sense for FM to bring a labeling option to its customers, as they are obviously buying ammunition which may need to be labeled. FM’s design incorporates characters that don’t necessarily completely fill the space in all cases; however they mostly do a good job leveraging space to avoid looking squished.
A basic comparison of the two company’s offerings makes it clear that newcomer FM is entering the market with a focused set of products closely matched to their ammunition offerings, while incumbent ACM has breadth and depth across their catalog after years of operation.
As I received each set, the first characteristic I examined was memory and curve of the magnetic material. This raw magnetic material comes on large rolls, causing the material to live in a curve until production. How the material holds this curve is its “memory.” The degree of curve across a batch of magnets may vary depending on where that specific section of material sat on the roll (farther from center = less severe curve).
Material with a lot of memory and curve will often peel away from its host surface at the corners or an edge. This occurs when the curve is stronger than the magnetic force within the material (relative to the surface you are attempting to attach it to) and lends the label less-effective due to loss of magnetic contact surface area.
The FM magnets had quite a bit of memory, exhibited through a substantial curve. The curve ran one direction in one size and the opposite direction in the other size. Affixing the magnets was easy, but they quickly began to peel away from the can as the memory kicked in. In most cases, the curve was more powerful than the magnetic abilities of its host material, leaving the label vulnerable to inadvertent detachment.
ACM’s magnets also had a noticeable level of curve and memory in the material. However, it was substantially less (and weaker) than that experienced in FM’s offering. The direction of the curve was consistent across all size variations of ACM’s labels. Their magnets also tended to lay-out onto the surface of the can well and stay flat.
I believe the difference in curve, memory, and resulting magnetic contact surface area can be attributed to the thickness of the magnetic material used. ACM’s material was roughly two-thirds the thickness of FM’s magnetic material. Thicker material can lead to more memory and curve in the final product. It can also make reversing a curve more difficult.
If you’ve ever used a surplus ammo can I’m sure you are aware of their not-so-perfectly-smooth sides and latches. And the side you want to label seems to always end up the side with the seam (which is why most people attach their magnets to the can’s latches). ACM’s thinner material is more flexible and, thus, more effective at adhering to uneven surface.
While curve, memory, and how they affect the label’s magnetic capabilities are the most important factors, there are some additional attributes to take note of. Color and clarity of printing are also important and varied between brands. FM had brighter printing, but was slightly fuzzy and inconsistent. ACM’s printing was dull by comparison, but crisp. Both brands are holding up well against scratches. I did drop and step on an ACM magnet, cracking the top of it and rendering it practically inoperable.
When we get down to brass tacks, things get a little interesting. FM magnets cost less – $0.51 less for the large/.50 cal variety; a penny less for the small/.30 cal size. However, that savings comes with a trade-off in the form of branding.
Each FM magnetic label bears their website URL, whereas the ACM product is branding-free. The FM branding doesn’t bother me one bit. The URL isn’t distracting and I am very happy with FM’s ammo. In fact, I found it useful to pair my ammo cans that held Freedom Munitions ammunition in them with the magnetic label bearing the FM branding. Now I have quick visual access to both caliber and manufacturer information. And with this material you can always trim the magnets to your liking.
To make things just a little more interesting, ACM includes a free ACM advertisement magnet with every order. And if you’re an NRA member, you can check a box at checkout and receive a free NRA magnet. These do have ACM website URLs on them in relatively small font. Each person must decide the value of these freebies for themselves.
Magnetic labels are suddenly feeling really complicated so let’s just use the things…
Above, a small number of unlabeled ammo cans with a variety of calibers. Below, the addition of Freedom Munitions and AmmoCanMagnets.com magnetic labels allows for much quicker identification.
After testing the magnets for over a month on a variety of ammo cans ranging from single 7.62 NATO belt cans up to 20mm cans, it was clear that both brands of magnetic labels have their shortcomings – as does the surface of a typical ammo can. Magnetic labels do afford you the opportunity to quickly rearrange and relabel the contents of your ammo cans without a mess or new supplies. The biggest drawback I found was the propensity for the labels to fall off during handling.
However, the FM magnetic labels had a higher frequency of performance issues, I believe due to the thicker material. The flexibility afforded by the thinner ACM labels allowed them to adapt to more surface inconsistencies, and thus, they are my top choice. Personally, I will continue to use both labels, taking care to use the FM labels as a tool to identify Freedom Munitions rounds.
Specifications: Freedom Munitions Ammo Can Magnets
Price as Reviewed: $0.99/each (small & large)
Sizes Tested: Small & Large
Color Tested: Yellow on OD Green
Ratings (out of five stars):
Quality of Printing: * * *
Letters and numbers are slightly fuzzy. Spacing is okay. Colors are mostly bright, but inconsistent.
Memory/Curvature: * *
FMs labels held a high degree of memory and curvature. It adversely affected the product’s performance and is the biggest issue still to overcome. Massaging the curve seemed to help somewhat.
Magnetic Capability: * * * ½
The magnetic backing of these labels is strong enough to do the job. However, the memory of the material is overpowering.
Variety of Labels: * * *
The labels are available in a limited number of calibers. The selection closely matches FM’s ammunition selection. No additional calibers, gauges, or ‘other’ labels are planned at this time.
Variety of Sizes: * * * *
FM took a standard approach to sizing – one size each for .30 cal and .50 cal ammo cans. They do not offer supplementary or custom label sizes.
Overall: * * *
Freedom Munitions’ magnetic ammo can labels are a nice addition to their line of products. Clearly they pair well with their ammunition. I am disappointed by the product. Given this is FM’s first magnetic label offering I am confident we will see updated versions in the future.
Specifications: AmmoCanMagnets.com Ammo Can Magnets
Price as Reviewed: $1.00-1.50/each (.30 cal/.50 cal)
Sizes Tested: .30 cal, .50 cal, .50 cal Half-Height
Colors Tested: Yellow on OD Green, Yellow Stencil on OD Green, Black on OD Green, American Flag, NRA
Ratings (out of five stars):
Quality of Printing: * * * *
Letters and numbers are clear and mostly crisp. Spacing is good. Colors could be a little brighter.
Memory/Curvature: * * * *
Some obvious curvature and memory existed, however they were overcome by the force of the magnet. Over time, the curvature began to relent a bit and new memory formed.
Magnetic Capability: * * * 1/2
The magnetic sheeting used in these labels was strong enough to overcome the memory and curve of the material. However, the labels did fall off on occasion when bumped or brushed against.
Variety of Labels: * * * * *
ACM boasts over 500 magnetic label combinations. Their variety of choices is relevant and wide.
Variety of Sizes: * * * *
Two basic sizes help keep things simple. The .50 cal half-height is a nice addition. It would be great to see additional sizes for their non-caliber labels.
Overall: * * * *
AmmoCanMagnets.com has a great selection of magnetic labels. Based on their selection and quality of printing, I expected the magnets to be more powerful. ACM’s ability to create custom magnetic labels is one capability that helps set them apart.