Linerless Labels

By Jack Kenny | July 11, 2005

End users who purchase and apply linerless labels know what it means to reduce waste.

Study a roll of Scotch tape. The adhesive is on one side, and it sticks to the top face of the stock below it. There's no liner. That's the way linerless labels appear in roll form, though often in larger sizes.

Linerless labels are popular in specific markets. They require special application equipment, and many of the companies that purchase them from converters subject them to additional printing processes, whereon variable information is printed.

One of the most obvious and most significant distinctions of linerless labels is that they produce no waste in the application process. For end users, the absence of the silicone-coated liner represents savings, adds to inventory space, removes a safety hazard in the plants, and presents an environmental benefit.

Moore North America, of Grand Island, N.Y., is a converter of linerless labels, and one of its customers is the United States Postal Service (USPS). The labels involved are for re-direction of mail — change of address indicators — that appear on the front of the envelope with a bar code and the new address. The USPS elected to go with linerless labels primarily to save money and to do away with the waste associated with liners.

"Going to linerless cut $12 million a year in costs for the postal service," says Joseph Langan, business development manager for Moore North America. "We worked with Bell & Howell, who developed the printer/applicator for them. There's no waste at all, and the government was happy with that concept."

Around the world
The postal service, Langan says, had calculated that a year's worth of the old liners "would wrap around the earth 5.7 times, and that it amounted to two million pounds of solid waste a year." In addition to the $12 million in product cost savings, the USPS estimates that it earns another $6 million a year in productivity improvements by using the linerless products.

"We have seen our linerless business begin to grow dramatically," says Mike Bevis, senior director of marketing for Monarch Marking Systems, Dayton, Ohio. "When it comes to shipping and storage, we're saving our customers in the vicinity of 35 to 40 percent, because they are now doing away with the liners.

"One of the top two logistics providers in the nation does not use linerless labels at this time," Bevis adds. "Because folks are labeling the packaging in the delivery trucks,they are standing ankle deep in liner. That can be slippery, someone has to tear it off and put it in a container, take it out to the Dumpster, and haul it away." Another company, he said, employed two people around the clock to empty liners from printers. "We figure that 400,000 tons of liner waste goes into landfills every year."

Volume is another advantage. Offering an example, Bevis said that at a recent sales presentation the Monarch people brought in two palettes of rolled labels, one with liner and the other without, each containing the same number of labels. "There were 1.7 million linered labels packed into 48 cartons on one palette. The same amount of linerless labels were on the other palette, and there were just over two-thirds of the number of cartons." From that perspective, he adds, the savings is about 37 percent.

"We're putting a full-court press on our linerless business," says Langan. "The environmental awareness is becoming more prevalent. In Germany and other European countries, liners have to be disposed of as hazardous waste — and that's expensive."

Moore sells linerless labels to grape growers in California, who label styrofoam and plastic containers out in the field, right where the pickers work.

"They used to have liner all over the field," Langan notes. "It was unsightly and not good for the environment. They have eliminated all of that waste now."

"A linerless label doesn't cost any more than a linered solution," Langan adds. "In fact, in quantities there is a significant savings." Moore has received about 50 U.S. patents relating to the construction and manufacturing of linerless labels and ancillary products.

Cutting and applying
Linerless labels are printed using conventional methods on narrow web presses. For some customers, such as those who market window and glass products, they can be printed on both sides.

After the ink, the release coating is applied to the top side of the substrate, and the adhesive follows below. "That minimizes adhesive contact with roller mechanisms throughout the press," Langan says.

One of the limitations of linerless labels is shape. Because there is no liner, because one label is attached to the next in line, shapes are limited to squares or rectangles. Cutting of the labels takes place during application; machinery used to apply the labels use various methods of cutting, such as scissor cuts or tear bars.

Linerless label manufacturers can put a micro-perforation on the products, along with a sensor mark on the back so that the applicator can see where the labels are to be separated from the roll. Moore uses a keen-edge perforation. "When they are separated there's no ragged edge," says Langan. The company has been looking into the future possibility of utilizing laser cutting systems, "but the technology is not there yet."

New linerless products
Labels without liners come in several types, depending on the use to which customers intend to put them. "We see growth in the direct thermal market," says Langan. "More printers are available that will handle a linerless label." Such a process requires acquisition of an system to accompany the label, so growth is slow but steady, he reports.

"In the warehousing market they are using direct thermal labels," Langan says, "with the people on the floor wearing portable printers. The advantage to linerless is that you have 65 percent more labels on the roll, and no trail of liner throughout the plant, which is a safety issue. There are many documented cases of people slipping on liners and injuring themselves."

Moore North America produces a direct thermal linerless product that contains a protective coating over the face, which gives it resistance to moisture and UV light, allows for the deposit of ink, and extends the life of the printer up to 25 percent, according to Langan. Within the printers, the rollers contain a plasma coating, so that the adhesive will not stick to internal parts.

Moore recently introduced a thermal transfer printable linerless product. "Some people are leery of using direct thermal," Langan says. "With the heat, the time, and exposure to UV light, the product can become yellow, fade and become unreadable." The thermal transfer stock "is brand new, and we're expecting good things from it. We canvassed our customers in shipping departments and found that thermal transfer was something that many people desired."

So far, Moore has developed only a repositionable adhesive for the thermal transfer product. "We haven't solved the permanent adhesive problem yet," says Langan. "With a permanent adhesive, you're asking the adhesive not to adhere to the face, but you want the inks and coatings to stay where they are."

Adhesives for linerless labels vary in performance capabilities. "The adhesives are different," says Bevis of Monarch Marking Systems. "In foodservice, a freezer adhesive is needed, for example. In some areas, they want removable adhesives."

"We absolutely see growth for linerless labels," says Bevis. "The waste is out. It saves money and time and labor. By doing away with the liner, we're turning a lot of heads, and we're making inroads."

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