From an environmental standpoint, it's difficult to argue that there's a better labeling option. Not only is the amount of label waste significantly reduced, but so is paper consumption, freight, and storage costs, as well as the cost of waste disposal.
A common misconception among converters is the belief that special equipment is needed to print linerless labels. The labels are made via conventional printing methods. However, it's the point when they are applied where additional equipment may come into play.
There are distinct advantages to going linerless; some are more obvious, like waste reduction. Simply put, linerless labels take the release liner, an end user's waste product, completely out of the equation. That is substantial. There are disadvantages, though, and perhaps these are reasons why this obviously green option hasn't become all that prevalent … yet.
When label converters weigh their options, the bottom line – costs – are usually at the forefront of the conversation. Linerless labels provide a cost effective alternative to its linered counterparts. Taking into account the idea that a roll of finished labels has a good percentage of release liner, and it's easy to imagine how many more actual labels can fit on a roll. Certainly more bang for the buck. Lower costs can also be calculated by taking into account expenditures associated with weight, like packing and shipping costs. In terms of manufacturing efficiency, the number of roll changes during production is also significantly lowered. Also, because more labels are on a roll, inventory space is reduced.
One of the properties of linerless labels that add to a label's overall performance is in the release coating being applied to the face of the label. In addition to serving its purpose as the method for preventing adhesive from sticking to the face beneath it, the release coating also acts as a protective coating for UV, moisture, and chemical resistance, adding to a label's longevity. Also, labels can be printed on both sides since the release coating and adhesive is applied after the label has been printed.
Linerless labels also provide an important safety measure, particularly at the point where the labels are applied to a product, when traditional labels are removed from the release liner. Silicone release liners are slippery. Eliminating discarded release liner from the floor of a work environment is a step toward eliminating slips and falls and preventing injury.
Last, the environmental benefits are outstanding. Release liner is a waste product specific to the label industry. Eliminating liner reduces waste sent to the landfill or recycling stream. More specifically, it's silicone waste that's eliminated, a substance that is not so easily recycled.
Imagine that roll of household tape. It's self-wound, and as it's dispensed the user cuts the desired amount from the built-in cutter attached to it. The user will find that the shape of the piece of tape is either square or rectangular. The limited shapes of linerless labels could be considered a drawback to prospective end users. Linerless labels are limited in what shape the label can be due to the elimination of the liner to hold the label in place when diecut. Basically, manufacturers are limited to square or rectangular shapes. Also, in many situations, additional equipment is required to apply the labels.
The Nobac 500 from Ravenwood Packaging is used for applying linerless labels to fresh food products.
"The vast majority of linerless labels our machines are being used for are in the fresh food markets. Examples can be found in the packaging for chilled meat, fish and poultry, as well as plastic and glass bottles and jars," says Paul Beamish, managing director for Ravenwood Packaging.
"The Comac machine would be used instead of a slitter rewinder," says Beamish. "It coats the labels with silicone on the front and the adhesive on the back. It's like a finishing machine that uses silicone as the coating."
Beamish says the Comac works continuously through the roll at a pace of 450 feet per minute. Other features include various line widths from 3mm up to 25mm, a nitrogen inerted silicone system, and hot melt adhesive. The Comac is specifically designed to work with the Nobac, the applicator stage of the process.
The Nobac line of linerless label applicators is available in three models, the 500, 400v, and 125. The Nobac 500 sleever is specifically developed for retailers and packers. The sleever is an inline machine, designed for maximum flexibility and eliminates the need to turn the packs. The 500 model is the most versatile as far what types of constructions it can produce. It is capable of applying sleeves in five formats: top, top and side, top and two sides, C-wrap, and full wrap. In addition to sleeving fixed weight products, it has the option of linking the machine to weigh scales for variable weight products.
Examples of C-wrap linerless labeling applications from Ravenwood.
Beamish says the biggest drivers for linerless labels are cost, energy and environmental concerns. "In the UK, we have a very aggressive self adhesive label market and a very aggressive retail market. More labels in a roll reduce shipping costs, and there are far fewer stoppages in the workflow. Environmentally speaking, manufacturers in general have to be more efficient. In the UK, we're literally running out of space to stick waste into the landfills."
Paragon Print and Packaging, headquartered in Spalding, Lincolnshire, UK, is a label converter that advocates the use of linerless labeling technology as part of its corporate responsibility to environmental and social issues.
The company uses the machinery produced by Ravenwood Packaging to manufacture labels for the fresh food market in the UK and Europe. Paragon's labels are produced using a UV flexo press in conjunction with the Nobac and Comac coating and application systems.
"Our linerless label packaging system can utilize board, paper, and synthetic substrates, enhancing the system's flexibility," says Rick Smith, Paragon's marketing manager. "Our investment in a coater has ensured the quality and performance of our linerless label product. The coater applies the silicone face and pattern adhesive to the back of the linerless label product, which is the critical part of its construction. We believe one day all labels will be made this way," Smith says.
Ravenwood Packaging is currently working with a US company, Beamish says, and is anticipating the establishment of new business arm. "Ravenwood Inc. will sell and support the coaters and applicators in the US. The first coater sale has already been agreed upon to a US label printer and high profile customers in the US are already looking at the benefits of the Nobac system."
NAStar, based in Middleton, WI, USA, is a provider of pressure sensitive adhesive products. The company has an extensive product line geared directly to the linerless labeling market. In fact, at Labelexpo Americas in September, NAStar unveiled its LinerlessPS product line, pressure sensitive products utilizing the company's temporary adhesive.
John Short, marketing director for NAStar, says that the company's temporary adhesive is ideal for linerless applications. "All of our linerless products have a version of our temporary adhesive. It will stick to glass and other smooth surfaces and will remove cleanly. It will also stick to rough surfaces like wood or corrugated," he says. Additional characteristics of the temporary adhesive include its capability to be printed on, allowing converters the ability to print on the face of a label as well as the adhesive.
The adhesive is available full gummed or pattern coated. It will stick to damp, cold and irregular surfaces and does not build adhesion. "Our temporary adhesive is hydrophilic – water friendly and moisture loving. When you print on the adhesive with water based flexo ink, it doesn't affect it. This aspect makes it ideal for window labels and two-way signage applications. We've also done very well in the re-positional note market." Short says.
NAStar promotes its LinerlessPS product line as ideal for warehousing and distribution, food service, manufacturing, retail, as well as window labels. "But it also has some unique alternative applications. It's great for extended content labels and some customers use it as a release card alternative," Short says.
Short says he sees linerless labeling as a growing trend. "It's picked up for us. We're selling a lot more product and our line has recently increased. We now have a direct thermal option." He says he notices converters' trepidation when it comes to new products and technologies. "Anything new is going to be questioned. People ask 'What do I need to do?' The label printer doesn't have to do anything special to go linerless. All you have to do is clean your press."
Of course a conversation about linerless labels has to involve sustainability talk. Short points to the green features of NAStar's LinerlessPS. "No liner means the elimination of waste. Our temporary adhesive is re-pulpable so the entire label can go through the recycling stream. Not only that, but in general, you're going to see some cost savings of around 30 percent."
Zebra Technologies, Vernon Hills, IL, USA, is a company that produces a broad range of printing products, linerless label printers included. Zebra's linerless label printers are available in desktop as well as mobile models, for a variety of applications.
Glen Williams, Zebra's senior product manager, desktop printers, talks about the company's linerless product line and the advantages the printers provide. "As our customers strive to become greener, linerless becomes a more attractive option. The linerless versions of our LP 2844 and LP 2844Z are our most popular linerless printers," he says.
Zebra Technologies' LP 2844
The QL220, 320, and 420 provide another example of Zebra's linerless label printers and the advantages they provide. This is a mobile printer line, the type of printer that can be easily attached to the hip, making it an ideal product for shelf labeling, price marking, and warehouse applications. "Mobile products are different. Users do not want a trail of liner creeping down their leg as they're working, Release liner waste in this type of working environment is a serious safety hazard," Williams says.
Williams says that while there are several benefits to going linerless, it's critical to maintain a clean printer roller for optimal performance. "With our linerless products, you have to make sure the roller is clean. This is to ensure that the roller doesn't gum up with adhesive causing the substrate to adhere to it creating a jam. You're going to go through platen rollers a lot quicker when using linerless media. System maintenance is critical," he says.
Zebra's rubber platen rollers are located directly below the printhead. They help create pressure to drive the labels through the printer, thus ensuring clean printouts. The company offers platen roller repair kits that include three sets of replacement parts for the platen and peeler bar.
In addition to the environmentally friendly aspect of going linerless, Williams points to Zebra's printers as being a cost effective option. "Our printers eliminate the need for a dispenser which reduces the costs. People save on costs when an entire operation can be removed, and our linerless label printers do just that," he adds.
According to Williams, most of Zebra's linerless label printer sales are taking place outside of the US, in places like Latin America and Europe. "I think it's more application driven than region driven," he says. "They're great products for anyplace where you want to get rid of the liner."
Catchpoint Ltd., headquartered in Linton, UK, with a subsidiary, Catchpoint Inc., located in Piscataway, NJ, USA, has developed a patented technology designed specifically for the application of linerless labels. The concept is based on scientifically calibrated microperforations trademarked as "Catchpoints."
According to Mike Cooper, business development manager, Catchpoint allows licensees to offer the "dual functionality" of applying both linerless and conventional self adhesive labels with minimal changes, allowing end users great flexibility. (Cooper notes that the technology is still under development.) "Linerless has secured a few niche applications, and some label printers have had the courage to invest in the essential material coating capacity necessary to deliver the environmental and efficiency benefits," he says.
Simon Moy, CEO of Catchpoint Inc., emphasizes the company's focus on delivering a what he feels are a broad range of proven applications that should encourage further investment and enable printers to be less dependent on release liners. "We aim to retain the ease of label application benefits with a reduced environmental impact, hence enabling printers to grow in a more sustainable manner. Currently, over half of self adhesive input materials never appear on the consumer package, creating significant waste and a damaging carbon footprint."