Shrink Wrap

Shrink Sleeve labeling
By Greg Hrinya, Associate Editor | October 13, 2015 (Article sourced from

This growing market continues to mature across the globe.

Sleeves have become a popular labeling method. William Llewellyn, vice president and senior consultant at AWA Alexander Watson Associates, cited the industry’s growth during his presentation at the AWA International Sleeve Label Conference 2015. According to AWA, there were 9,770 million square meters of sleeve labels printed in 2014. Asia Pacific accounted for 64% of the global sleeve label market, while Europe was second with 20%. North America finished third at 12% market share. AWA states that 62% of shrink sleeve labels are used in the beverage market, while the food category ranks second at 22%.

Each market is experiencing growth, however. Asia Pacific is the leader in the clubhouse with a little over 7% annual growth, but even Europe – described by Llewellyn as a “stable and mature” market – is seeing 2% annual sleeve label growth. According to AWA, general growth rates are trending inline with those of the overall global label market. Much of that can be attributed to investments from major film manufacturers, especially with the introduction of new, more environmental friendly films.

“Shrink sleeve labels are one of the higher growth segments in flexible packaging,” says Cindy Collins, product manager, Rapid Roll, Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials, North America. “It has become a very popular choice for brand owners who desire more shelf appeal with very colorful designs and full body labels on all kinds of unique and curvy-shaped bottles.”

AWA estimates that, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.5% from 2013 to 2018, the sleeve label market is expected to produce 12,700 to 12,750 million square meters in 2018.

There are a number of advantages to shrink sleeve labeling. The primary benefit is the added branding space on a package. Multiple graphics, designs and colors can be used with the added space that the wraparound label provides. The labels are also tamper evident. Clear films designed for transparent shrink labels can better display the contents of a product like the liquid in a drink or the food in a plastic container.

“Shrink sleeves are growing at twice the rate of the industry at the expense of other technologies,” explains Andrew Hulse, vice president of sales and marketing at Accraply, a manufacturer of shrink sleeve converting equipment. “The fact that sleeves allow use of virtually the entire container to market the product’s features, functions and benefits really help brand owners set themselves apart. Brand owners are recognizing this and that is what is driving the growth. Converters and brand owners, however, need to maintain a strong focus on quality so that the end product is presented to the consumer with the highest possible level of shelf-impact.” Accraply’s machinery produces shrink sleeve labels for a variety of applications, including pharmaceutical, food, beverage, health and beauty, and packaged consumer goods.

In order to apply the shrink sleeve labels, Accraply offers a wide range of Vertical Feed and Carousel Feed machines, which cater to high speed or unique shapes depending on the customer’s needs, as well as shrink tunnels. Accraply also offers shrink sleeve seamers as well as high speed, continuous operation, inspection machines, doctor machines and film slitters.
prepress is critical

In order to understand the latest trends shaping the shrink sleeve market, it is important to first recognize the technology behind shrink sleeve manufacturing.

For starters, prepress software – from companies such as Esko – is a critical part of the process. To deal with distortion that occurs during the heating process, designers must plan for the final product and how it will fit the shape of various objects. Next, a label is printed on a given substrate. Following the printing, a seam is created to wrap around a physical object and then it is shrunk by heat. In many cases, a design will be created in anticipation of how it will shrink to a three-dimensional object.

According to Susie Stitzel, solution manager for design lifecycle management, Esko, designers follow three manual workflow steps when creating shrink sleeves: predict the level of shrink and digitize the subsequent distortion; based on this calculation, display the artwork distortion on the sleeve; and pre-distort the artwork to compensate for production.

Designers may sometimes place a plastic grid over an object and then apply heat to it. They can then simulate the heat’s effects and plan for the design. Other times, a designer will stay away from complex designs that do not translate well due to warping. Simpler designs may be much less likely to distort.

According to Esko, a CAD application exists that predicts horizontal and vertical distortions, and designers can then predict how a substrate will react in a shrink tunnel. The process takes the shrink tunnel, 3-D design and collaboration with other design programs into account. Prepress virtualization not only saves time but costly experimentation. Errors are avoided and mistakes can be corrected much more quickly.

According to AWA, Heat Shrink TD sleeves account for 87% of the sleeve market, while stretch sleeves account for 9%. ROSO MD Shrink Sleeves and RFS MD Shrink Sleeves make up the other 4%.

A distorted view
Distortion represents the major shrink sleeve challenge, especially in those labels with a seam. When the flat, 2-D label is applied to a curved surface, there is the potential that the graphics could become distorted, therefore damaging the integrity of the label.

Due to the multiple substrates used for shrink sleeve labels, the amount of shrink also varies. When heat is applied to the substrate, contrasting materials experience varying degrees of shrink.

In order to manage levels of shrink and problems that 3-D objects present, Stitzel says that companies will often need to conduct intensive trial and error experiments to get the label to near-perfect quality. Not only must the graphics withstand the heating process, but the bar code must also have the ability to be scanned. This process often results in longer lead times of up to six months.

Larry Moore, vice president, Partner Programs, Esko, believes that many companies continue to experiment with trial and error, which is a costly and time-consuming process. “Designing and printing shrink sleeves is difficult,” he says. “It’s complex and labor intensive, involving a number of trial and error steps to get the design right, resulting in much longer lead times. The way many people still create shrink sleeves is very tedious. They create grids on the shrink sleeve material, wrap it around the container, run it through a shrink sleeve tunnel, measure the distortion and try to anamorphically size graphic elements based upon these measurements. The design is tested – often requiring plates and press time – and usually rerun many times. It’s a very difficult trial and error effort, taking considerable time.”

According to Hulse, the challenges presented by shrink sleeves also necessitate proper training in order to effectively handle potential problems. “The most significant issue is training and knowledge of the overall process of shrink sleeve label production – from container and film selection through to graphic design and final shrinking,” he says. “The process for shrink sleeves is different from other label types and that has to be taken into account. However, as brand owners, converters and decorators understand the benefits, we see the adoption of the technology continue to lead the market.”

“As with any label technology, there is a learning curve and some processing challenges,” says Collins. “PVC and OPS have very limited shrink potential and require shipping and storage in climate-controlled environments, which can contribute to the total cost to provide these films. As the films get thinner and thinner, they can present challenges on press and certainly with the seaming and application process.”

Esko, as a developer of packaging design and prepress software, offers Studio Toolkit for Shrink Sleeves in an effort to simplify the process. “Studio Toolkit for Shrink Sleeves fits into existing design and prepress workflows, saving hours of operator time and weeks of design lead time,” explains Moore. “This can generate the brand owner significant revenues if a product can be launched earlier and save the trade shop thousands in costs.”

According to Moore, prepress software like Studio Toolkit prevents designers from “working blind.” The algorithmic pre-distortion processes handle complex cases of distortion. The Toolkit accommodates asymmetrical shapes and multipacks, and works in 3-D from start to finish.

“The converter creates, scans or imports – from a CAD file – the container shape into the software, enters the shrink film material characteristics, and the software digitally shrinks the sleeve around the container,” explains Moore. “The digital shrink sleeve model is then used in Studio Designer to design new artwork – or apply existing artwork – directly on the shape.

New world of shrink
Shrink sleeve converting is not immune to the new trends and technologies effecting the label market. Much of the market’s growth can be attributed to sustainable developments that are more protective of the environment.

This beverage bottle shrink sleeve label from Syracuse Label & Surround Printing was a 2nd Place winner at the 2015 TLMI Label Awards.
While 54% of the materials used for shrink sleeves are PVC, PET substrates are increasing in volume at 23%, according to AWA. Foam films are also being used, as they provide insulation, tactile and graphic benefits in the food and beverage markets. Llewellyn also stated that the US and Europe are “actively addressing concerns on recyclability of shrink sleeve labeled PET containers.”

Avery Dennison, a global supplier of substrates and adhesives, offers PETG and PVC materials for shrink sleeves. In addition, there are several more specialized options such as white, matte and PETG with optical brighteners. “Our wide variety of product options allow our shrink sleeve labels to work on simple curves for items such as sodas, juices and teas, as well as spray handle bottles which require a lower shrink force film,” explains Collins.

Avery Dennison’s film substrates can be run on all standard seaming equipment. The equipment can be adjusted based on the film type and processed accordingly. According to the company, it is very important to have the right seaming technology and volume to match the type and caliper of film being processed. Once seamed, it must dispense at the heat tunnel for applications.

As with other segments, shrink sleeves are becoming more sustainable and eco-friendly. “The use of shrink sleeve label technology reduces total packaging weight with less use of boxes or additional packaging,” explains Collins. “The shrink sleeve is easily removed for recycling without the use of adhesives, which can contaminate a recycling stream. Shrink films also continue to get thinner, which will lighten the load in our landfills. There are PLA shrink films being introduced in the industry that are commonly used for tamper evidence or bundle packs due to low shrink properties, but they will contribute to a better environment.”

“It is important that the NA market follows the lead of Japan, and increasingly Europe, and adds perforation to the sleeves so that they can easily be stripped from the container as part of the recycling process,” says Hulse. “This is a trend that continues to grow, as well.”
“The trend is that more and more brands want to create shrink sleeves and get away from plastic containers,” adds Moore. “The industry is thinking greener, with glass bottles – and even cans – using shrink sleeves as opposed to full plastic containers.”

Collins sees digital printing as the next technology to impact shrink sleeves. “Although digital-ready films require specialized processing to seam, they allow for more options with individualized labeling or more targeted marketing,” says Collins. “Food and beverage have dominated shrink sleeve growth historically, but you now see it becoming a preferred label for personal care products and cosmetics, as well as pet treats.”

As Muenzer noted at the TLMI Tech Conference, shrink is no longer a niche industry. “It’s not going anywhere,” he said. “It’s not growing double-digits, but it’s growing in the high single digits. It’s growing bigger than pressure sensitive, and we as an industry, as suppliers, we have to have solutions for shrink. In Asia, shrink represents 35-39% of labels. We need solutions for shrink.”

Avery Dennison offers new full-can labeling option
Avery Dennison launched a new option for can labeling at Labelexpo Europe 2015. AeroDress technology is designed for low-volume production runs and allows both late-stage differentiation and the relabeling of obsolete printed cans.

Rob Groen in ‘t Wout, segment leader HPC & Beer and Beverage, says that the AeroDress label overcomes a number of existing

obstacles and offers brand owners and converters new opportunities for can decoration. “Direct print needs high volumes, and alternatives such as roll-on-shrink-on and shrink sleeve are not compatible with printing techniques such as foils and silk screens,” he says. “Our AeroDress solution offers a new approach: a viable labeling technology that covers a can completely and delivers an outstanding end result.”

Suitable for both aluminum and tinplate cans, the AeroDress technology is a self-adhesive labeling solution that is compatible with a wide range of printing techniques, including letterpress, flexo, gravure, silk screen and foils. A newly designed white filmic facestock shrinks to fit curves at the ends of a can (with a shrink ratio up to 20%), to ensure a premium brand image.

Because it is a self-adhesive labeling technology, it can be implemented with minor modifications to labeling machines – involving no more than the addition of hot air equipment, used to shrink the label and dress the can.