Film Label Advancements

By Michelle Sartor | August 25, 2006

With a variety of film options, converters are able to meet the challe

Despite an increase in the cost of petroleum, which affects the prices of all traditional film products, the film segment of the narrow web industry continues to grow. Innovations are spurring film growth as well as the growing popularity of film use in certain market segments.

Most believe that packaging makes up the largest segment of film use. Derrick MacDonald, director of films product management at Fasson Roll North America, Painesville, OH, USA, says, "The largest film markets for narrow web include home and personal care, beer and beverage, security, and food labeling. The most popular applications are driven by consumers who are looking for convenience, easy handling and trouble-free portability." MacDonald expects 3 to 5 percent growth for films in the home and personal care industry and double digit growth in the beer and beverage industry.

Jim Carides, product development for Sunbelt Sales & Marketing Associates Inc., Atlanta, GA, USA, says, "The majority of opportunities are centered around personal care, durable goods, promotional labels, and automotive markets. Personal care has shown the greatest market potential."

Packaging trends on the shelf have helped the growth of film. Ed Jenkins, sales and marketing manager for labels and graphic arts Americas at Innovia Films, Cumbria, UK, explains, "One of the largest growth areas for film is the use of pressure sensitive labels in the beverage market with some notable key end users switching to polypropylene-based PS labels, primarily in the beer sector to achieve the no-label look and a premium product appearance and shelf appeal and ultimately market share."

Jon Knight, director of packaging, labels and technical business for Treofan America, Winston-Salem, NC, USA, says he's seen a lot of cut-and-stack wraparound labels with films, particularly in bottled water. He says this change was driven by the move of the primary container to plastic. "In the case of bottled water, it went from a glass to a PET bottle, which lends itself to plastic labels," he says.

MacDonald says the film industry is growing approximately 9 to 10 percent overall. Although film markets continue to grow, the growth rate may not be as steady as in the past. Kari Virtanen, film director at UPM Raflatac, Fletcher, NC, USA, who puts the growth at 6 to 8 percent, says, "The price increases in the film industry have maybe slowed growth a little bit." As an example, he says, on some packages the front label may be made from a clear film while the back is a paper label because of pricing in the market. He says, "People are so sensitive to cost that sometimes the film label doesn't offer the most benefits as before when pricing was closer to paper."

Jenkins breaks it down further: "The growth of films in the beverage sector of the PSL market is rapid (double digits), whilst in other areas of health and personal care the growth is more steady (single digits). As a film producer, it becomes increasingly more competitive and growth rates slow as the volume becomes even larger."

Tara Foote, strategic marketing manager for MACtac, Stow, OH, USA, believes film's growth is ongoing. She says, "There are certain market segments that are transitioning to film labels more quickly than others, but overall as the price gap continues to narrow between paper and film, we feel that usage will only continue."

Knight believes growth is quite rapid. Treofan America is investing $45 million in films for its Americas plant in Mexico. He says the company will be increasing its film production capacity more than 60 percent.

Types of film products

Films have many uses in consumers' everyday lives. Jim Parker, partner at Brushfoil, Guilford, CT, USA, says, "Customers that have specified brushed films for their packages or labels include 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Alcan, Clinique Simply, Gordan Ramsay's Just Desserts, JCB, Mercedes-Benz, Neutrogena, Old Spice, Superbits, Titleist, Warner Archives/Rhino Entertainment, and Zirh products."

Carides says Sunbelt Sales & Marketing Associates' products "can routinely be encountered in the personal care, poultry, outdoor power equipment, automotive, textile, electronics, logistics, nutraceutical, HABA/skin care, loyalty, and beverage markets."

Jenkins says that Innovia Films produces a range of biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) films for the self adhesive label industry in a variety of thicknesses, "covering clear, white and metallized appearances with uncoated, one- and two-side coated surface functionality, suitable for printing across a whole range of traditional print processes as well as newer digital print
A selection of products that use film for packaging. Photo courtesy of Brushfoil.

Plastic Suppliers, Columbus, OH, USA, manufactures EarthFirst PLA film, which is made of polylactic acid that is derived from corn. Rich Eichfeld, VP of business development, says, "EarthFirst PLA film is a revolutionary environmentally friendly plastic film used in the flexible packaging, labeling, shrink sleeve labeling, tamper evident, and windowing markets."

Eric Buchroeder, vice president of marketing, sales and technical services at Technicote Inc., Miamisburg, OH, USA, believes PLA films will increase in popularity in the marketplace. "PLA film has excellent clarity and strength, but it is compostable when exposed to moisture and heat," he says. "This is an innovative product which combines earth friendly performance with the potential to be resistant to cost changes due to oil price volatility."


Working with films poses different challenges for converters than working with papers. Besides the different aspects of printability, Virtanen points out, the plant's machinery has to be set up for film. Other types of inks are used with films, and diecutting and hot stamping are different between films and paper.

Knight cites thinner plastic substrates and static electricity as the main challenges with using films. He says, "Basically, if a printer has equipment which was designed for paper printing, sometimes that can be quite a challenge to run plastics. Machines can be modified or we see several printers investing in new equipment to enable them to run thinner plastic materials."

Carides says, "Typically converters may encounter drying limitations associated with aqueous inks, imagers and coatings when selecting film based substrates rather than paper based materials. Adhesive splitting and topcoat adhesion are also concerns for many converters."

Tara Starck, product manager for Protect-all Print Media Inc., Darien, WI, USA, believes that surface tension levels can be challenging when working with films. She says, "Surface treatment of most films is important for adhesion of inks, toner and adhesives. Uncoated films, such as HDPEs [high density polyethylene films], need to have a surface tension of 36 dynes [a measure of surface tension] or higher to accept most flexo inks. Dyne level of films can lessen over a period of time, which causes an issue with shelf life. To overcome that problem, printers and converters can add a corona treater to their press that can increase the dynes to an acceptable level for printing."

According to Jenkins, "Traditional challenges are related to printability, which are easily overcome by utilizing top coated films with dedicated print surfaces. Additionally, running dimensionally stable materials that do not stretch and have sufficient strength for high speed converting can be a challenge, but are overcome by fundamentally understanding the type of film being used, its properties and the manufacturing process used to impart those properties."

Although there are issues with films, some believe they are not as prevalent as before. Rick Harris, market product manager for FLEXcon, Spencer, MA, USA, explains, "The challenges today are a lot fewer than in the past, partly because the presses are better and the dispensing equipment has improved. Also the products we supply (combinations of film, topcoat, adhesive, liner) are carefully designed and recommended for specific markets and specific applications, and that helps to eliminate many issues."

Pressure and demands

As with any type of product, converters and their customers have certain demands when it comes to films. According to MacDonald, "Converters expect reliable and consistent performance of film materials across a variety of presses and a variety of print methods. Consistency is critical to allow them to run with confidence. They also expect competitive pricing." Converters' customers have similar expectations. MacDonald continues, "Customers expect high performance — clarity conformability, print
Films need to be able to withstand consumer use, which includes squeezing, moisture and fluctuating temperature with shower products. Photo courtesy of Avery Dennison Fasson Roll.
methods — all at continuing lower costs. Cost is a priority."

Virtanen agrees. "Consistent quality is critical from the brand owner's point of view," he says. He believes that converters can only achieve faster application speeds with films of consistent quality.

Knight says that having labels with the right stiffness is something demanded of converters. He adds, "Customers are also asking for some applications where inks are water resistant because the label itself, a plastic label, is water resistant." Films are also known for a high gloss look so Knight says that is another issue that suppliers need to be aware of and able to provide.

Jenkins explains, "We operate in an industry where the demands continue for higher performing materials at lower applied cost: faster, better cheaper. Higher productivity, higher material throughput, ultimately lower applied cost. Material quality and consistency are significant factors."


The cost of producing label stocks had risen steadily in recent years, partially because of the increasing cost of oil. Although oil prices affect the cost of doing business in many industries and on different levels, because films are petroleum based the film segment may be more greatly affected. Buchroeder, of Technicote, says, "Films have increased on the average of 25 percent since January 2004 and other packaging materials have risen 13 to 15 percent."

Kurt Schramer, strategic business development director for MACtac, says, "If the material is petroleum based, costs will continue to rise. Some of the costs will be passed through. Cost reduction through optimized processes (higher speeds and lower waste) plus down gauged raw materials will continue."

Parker, of Brushfoil, says, "The films will continue to cost more, resulting in converters having to come up with more efficient ways to do what we do so our prices don't necessarily have to rise accordingly."

One way to reduce costs is down gauging. This refers to the practice of using thinner film materials to cut cost. Virtanen, of Fasson Roll North America, emphasizes, however, that the film's performance must be maintained in order for the practice to be successful.

Knight, of Treofan America, believes the increase in petroleum costs has heightened interest in renewable types of packaging since the price gap is closing. He says, "Biophan PLA film is an area where we have not seen large price increases due to the feedstock being corn and not petroleum based. There is a great deal of interest at the moment for renewables, for the package and the labels for the package."

Robert Weber, national sales manager for Multi-Plastics Inc., Lewis Center, OH, USA, believes rising oil prices have a more universal impact. He says, "Petroleum prices affect everything in our lives and overall this increases the cost of 'doing business' in our personal life and business. Petroleum will in some way even affect the process for producing the new corn resin, PLA. There is just no simple solution."

Although solutions may not be simple, companies are trying to reduce their costs. Harris says, "At FLEXcon, we've tried to counteract as much of the oil price impact as possible through Lean Manufacturing, intensified efforts to reduce waste, and increased production of certain products that will provide price benefits to customers through economies of scale."


PLA films, which are in a category known as biopolymers, have brought with them some other technological improvements that can benefit label manufacturers. Eichfeld says, "The introduction of biopolymer films has given the converter as well as the brand owner a choice when it comes to which plastic substrate to use. A few examples of the properties biopolymer films offer are: lower initiation shrink temperatures, improved shelf life, increased productivity, natural dyne level of 38, superior scratch resistance, FDA compliance, and heat tolerance up to 142º F, not the 104º F stated by others."

Weber believes films themselves haven't changed that much recently. Instead, he says, "It has been the inks and adhesives that have adjusted over the years."

MacDonald agrees, saying, "Recent improvements in ink chemistry have enabled faster curing and better ink adhesion to a variety of film substrates." He adds that there have also been some innovations with films themselves. "Another area of interest is the recent development of lower cost semi-conformable films that fit a broad application area between the fully conformable and rigid films. These films offer some of the advantages of both film types and may allow some product consolidation to take place," he explains.

One change in the use of films is the thickness of film material. Virtanen says that down gauging has grown in popularity as a way to reduce costs. He says that previously films were 2 mil and now they are thinner, in thicknesses such as 1.2 mil. The liners have also gotten thinner according to Virtanen. He says they were 1.5 mil, but now are 1 mil in some applications.

Knight believes the introduction of multi layer films has offered significant advantages. He says that now many films contain five layers instead of the traditional three. "You can add different functional layers. Those layers can benefit either the printer or the end user or both. You can also engineer films with greater stiffness, which facilitates down gauging, the name of the game
Using a clear polypropylene from FLEXcon, Precision Printing & Packaging, Inc.  produced this no-label-look label for Anheuser-Busch. Photo courtesy of FLEXcon.
in saving cost," he says.

Harris, of FLEXcon, points out, "Films have been kept in the forefront by improvements in top coating to meet the demands of UV and other technologies, 12-color printing stations, inkjet, hot stamp, and thermal transfer."


As film continues to grow in popularity, more varieties are available to converters and their customers. MacDonald says, "The range of film family choices has expanded to include polyethylene, polypropylene, polyester, polystyrene, and vinyl products; along with the variety of film processing techniques co-extrusion, resin blending and various forms of orientation — blown, cast, MDO [machine-direction orientation], tenter frame."

Conformable labels made from films for squeezable containers have become more popular. Virtanen explains, "A frigid label will create wrinkles easily. You have to have a softer label to have the same premium look no matter how many times the bottle is squeezed."

According to Carides, "The past few years have seen a tremendous increase in synthetic face sheets, film calipers, cavitated films, co-extrusions, laminations, and performance topcoats."

Films can be versatile. Jenkins says, "The choice of films available is still as vast as ever, from highly temperature stable polyesters to vinyls stabilized for outdoor applications to general purpose polypropylenes and polyethylenes through to sustainable PLA, cellulose and other bio-materials."

Films will continue to evolve and be a strong part of the market. Even currently, films can fulfill the needs of converters. Weber says, "The label converter probably can find a film product for basically any application that someone can imagine." The future holds more possibilities.