In packaging, conformity is not necessarily a negative value. Unlike individuals who dare to be different, when it comes to labels, conformity is an advantage for the shrink and stretch materials that can contour to the innovative sizes and shapes of beverage packaging. And the results are the same as a person with pink hair or a trend-setting style: the ability to stand out from their peers.

“The biggest advantage for sleeves, either shrink or the newer high-elasticity stretch sleeves, is the ability to showcase a brand-specific bottle design, which today is imperative in this very crowded market,” says Alcyr Coelho, vice president of sales and marketing for PDC Europe Sleeving Systems – Americas.

Lou Iovoli, vice president of sales and marketing for Hammer Packaging, Rochester, N.Y., suggests that packaging design often is what first piques consumer interest.

“Brand messages and product claims may close the sale, but it’s the color and shape of the product that first catches the eye of the consumer,” Iovoli says.

Shine on

For some marketers, a stand-out bottle shape is not enough to ensure a product shines on the shelf. For those willing to embrace shine, several shrink label suppliers can provide just that. Hammer Packaging, which entered the shrink sleeve market that occupies 30 percent of its business four years ago, has the ability to laminate with foil.

A patent-pending foil-laminated shrink and holographic foil are among the many options available through North Branford, Conn.-based Brook & Whittle Packaging Solutions, which includes Packstar. The company also offers cold-foil shrink, silk-screen shrink and a full range of film materials and specialty inks, the company says. 

Overnight Labels, Deer Park, N.Y., is able to print foil on sleeves as well as print metallic and holographic images in a variety of options, explains Don Earl, the company’s president. Overnight Labels manufactures everything in the United States and uses water-based inks on its shrink labels, which are environmentally friendly, he says.

MRI Flexible Packaging, Newtown, Pa., offers metallic options in matte finish as well as special metallic silver with a chromium look, says Jim Mallon, vice president of sales and marketing for the company. He highlights some applications in which a customer requested a combination of dull and shiny metallic finishes for combined eye-catching properties.

Fort Dearborn maintains a dedication to next-generation packaging solutions, such as specialty inks and coatings, explains Gwen Chapdelaine, marketing director for the Elk Grove, Ill.-based company. It offers metallic, fluorescent, glow-in-the-dark, thermochromatic and pearlescent inks as well as matte, acid etch, scented and tactile feel coatings, Chapdelaine says.

However, there’s more to the package than an innovative bottle shape and colorful graphics. Hammer Packaging offers a seam on shrink sleeves that is 29 percent narrower than what is typically found in the market, Iovoli notes. This allows for a smoother seam with almost no edge lift and more attractive graphics with edge-to-edge ink coverage and without color separation, Iovoli says.

‘Can do’ attitude

With so much of the label business based in custom projects, suppliers emphasize their priority on customer service.

At Fort Dearborn, its technical services group works with customers to ensure that the appropriate film is chosen to meet the customer’s needs and application requirements, Chapdelaine says. The company also offers a variety of labeling materials, including PVC, PETG, high-yield PETG white film, OPS and EarthFirst PLA films. The technical services team also is able to support customers with innovation, business development, application support, pre-press/graphics and training, she says.

“Our ongoing technical support and service from concept to final distribution ensures the success of customer projects,” Chapdelaine explains.

Likewise, Hammer Packaging’s technical research and development team works with customers every step of the way, Iovoli explains. For a client that is sure of its design, the company is a G7 Master Printer, which means it can share its press conditions with a client’s designers so that they can create a proof that will match the output of its presses, the company says.

For hands-on projects, Hammer Packaging uses EskoArtwork Studio Designer Toolkit software to be able to work with a digital drawing of a package, or for unique packages it can mock up a digital drawing, design a label with the proper specifications for material and production type, and share a 3-D video of the digital product sample with the customer. From this the customer is free to make tweaks based on their preferences, Iovoli says.

“This software is able to do the math behind the scenes to be able to give your group a way to visualize the project at a very low cost as opposed to: Let’s print it, bring it to a plant, put it on a bottle, shrink it and then ‘Oh we don’t like it, we want to change this, this and this,’” he says.

Once a design is chosen, Hammer Packaging’s offset printing method carries no charge for offset plates, which lowers the entry costs, Iovoli notes.

Brook & Whittle also offers 3-D pre-press technology to allow brand managers to view and manipulate a 360-degree mock-up of the product as it would appear on the shelf. The technology is among the company’s staple offerings, which also include green material option EarthFirst NGO PLA shrink-sleeve materials as well as a range of printing capabilities, including UV Flexography presses in varying sizes including 10-inches to high-volume, high-speed 40-inch press.

In December, Brook & Whittle installed a comprehensive combination digital finishing system that allows beverage-makers to create high-quality samples, limited-edition and promotional products, it says. The technology is able to incorporate screen printing with foil lamination, hot foil, cold foil, spot color, sequential numbering, variable data/images and more to differentiate a brand, the company notes.

Brook & Whittle also installed a 12-color rotogravure shrink-sleeve press at the beginning of this year that it says is the first in North America. The 12-color press will allow Brook & Whittle to use surface coatings and varnishes while allowing 10-color designs, according to the company.

MRI Flexible Packaging is expanding its capabilities with the impending installation of a state-of-the-art press early this year. The system is known as extended gamut printing, Mallon says, and is able to create 95 percent of possible colors for shrink or stretch labels on a six-color process.

“It will enable us to look at customers with lots of SKUs and be able to conduct combination runs,” Mallon says.

On the press, the company is able to run two processes at a time, which can save on the plate costs, improve efficiency, lower pre-press costs and help them achieve the look they’re after, he adds.

To complement the new press, the company also plans to upgrade its pre-press capabilities with new plate mounting and a direct-to-digital system with a coating system. This is capable of creating high-definition plates that will create a finer dot and narrow the gap between flex-graphic and gravure printing, Mallon explains.

For customers big and small, Overnight Labels is willing to “hold their hand” through the process of label development, Earl explains. The company is capable of manufacturing short runs, even running as few as 50 labels for a customer, he says. In addition, Overnight Labels has its own steam tunnel, which enables it to fully test label applications as well as create the finished package at its facility, which can be beneficial if a company is in need of a sample for a pitch meeting, Earl notes.

“If somebody wants to literally make more than a working prototype and make the product, we can put it on the press, we can print it, we can seam and then we can put it through our steam tunnel,” he explains. “It’s not like shrinking it down with a heat gun; it’s literally the same as the process people are going to go through when they have their product made by a co-packer.” 

Stretching boundaries

With the popularity of shrink labels, some companies are developing stretch options that mimic some of the well-regarded shape-hugging characteristics of shrink labels. At Pack Expo 2011, MRI Flexible Packaging introduced its C-Fit stretch sleeve. Mallon explains that the label technology was previously popular for larger format containers, such as gallons, but MRI Flexible Packaging developed a new film with higher elasticity for improved applicability on single-serve packages. The C-Fit stretch label is able to give the look of the shrink sleeve at a decreased carbon footprint and lower price, Mallon says.

“The C-Fit is a whole gamechanger for stretch,” he says. “It takes stretch into an area that it typically has never been considered, which is more the single-serve, high-speed environment that typically if you wanted that 360-degree look, all you could choose from is shrink.”

The stretch technology innovation has been answered by labeling equipment manufacturers that have released models complementary to the C-Fit label. Krones offers a model that’s optimized for this technology, Mallon says. In addition, PDC Resource Group, which was formed by PDC International, Norwalk, Conn., and France-based PDC Europe, offers a line of sleeving machines that range from small to high-speed applicators.

“We have developed high-speed shrink sleevers able to achieve 500 applications per minute on a single head equipped with a unique cutting system using blades that last months instead of days,” PDC’s Coelho explains. “We also engineered a complete line of stretch sleevers able to apply the new high-elasticity PE material in speeds from 50 to 600 bottles per minute, making this technology accessible to all sizes of companies — not only large ones.”

Coelho predicts that the new high-elasticity PE film will allow smaller companies to create their own brand-specific container design because of the cost savings of using a lower cost film that does not require heat tunnels. He notes that the stretch film is popular in Europe with low-cost, high-volume products, such as drinkable yogurt and water. These European products have been able to roll out in uniquely shaped bottles due to the stretch-sleeve label, he says.

Eco options

Although the designs stand out on the shelf, shrink and stretch labels are not the most eco-friendly options because they require removal prior to the package recycling process. To improve this, some suppliers are working on downgauging films, while additional label-makers are designing features that would help to separate the labeling materials from recyclable bottles.

Brook & Whittle notes that the use of shrink sleeves is three times as high in Asia and twice as high in Europe compared to the United States. Its popularity in Asia is attributed not only to aesthetic appeal, but also to the use of less material and advanced product protection qualities of the all-over label. In addition, the company’s Andy Sharp, former president of Packstar, explains that in Japan, 90 percent of shrink-labeled packages have a vertical perforation, and consumers are aware of the need to remove the label prior to recycling the package. He predicts that this trend will become more prevalent in America as government pressure increases for manufacturers to be more socially responsible.

Hammer Packaging’s Iovoli also would like to see the trend catch on domestically. “We’d love to put perforations down the side of all beverage sleeves and have someone try and spearhead with the American consumer that you should really peel off that sleeve before you throw that bottle in a recycling stream,” he says. BI