By Steve Katz | September 2, 2009

Suppliers of film substrates have developed a wide range of products in order to meet the shifting needs of their label converting customers.

Flexcon's DigiPRO Prime line of films
Films are an integral part of a converter's arsenal. As substrates go, their attributes are attractive: durable, strong and versatile. Film suppliers to the label industry are perpetually at work, striving to meet the wants and needs of converters, whether it be offering products that are environmentally sustainable, have better performance and printability, and of course, are more cost effective. Cost is clearly a driver, and with film pricing being so closely related to the pricing of the raw materials used to make films – oil and petroleum – the market price can fluctuate. Here's what some suppliers are saying in regard to pricing:

"As with many petrochemical-dependent industries, plastic films are subject to the same roller coaster ride of highs and lows. In addition, other costs of raw materials are also increasing, creating a tightening of margins across the entire supply chain."

"Prices are becoming more competitive on commodity grades (BOPP/glassine) as more raw material suppliers enter the market."

One supplier maintains that pricing is not so clear cut, saying, "The economic environment has been an unprecedented time. Oil and petroleum drive input costs, and we saw tremendous pressure in price when their prices went up. But pricing is not solely tied to raw materials, and you can't draw conclusions. There are many factors that drive costs. To continue to be competitive, we've got to move down the cost curve, and sometimes you've got to get creative to do that. The challenge of today's uncertain economic times and the thirst for growth make us better and leads to better products."
What follows are descriptions of film substrates offerings from a variety of suppliers, as well as film industry professional's thoughts on the films market today.

Avery Dennison Fasson Roll

Nick Tucci, prime films director for Avery Dennison Fasson Roll, Mentor, OH, USA, says that the films substrate market has grown and continues to do so, and branding is playing a key role. "The market continues to expand beyond what we've considered traditional pressure sensitive applications. In particular, there's been tremendous growth in food, beverage and personal care. We have found that those who use our PS films are having success growing their brands, and this is very good news for our entire industry. Clearly, our customers are looking for differentiated products, which has been a specialty of ours for years. We are also seeing the migration toward thinner films, and we're being driven to creatively reengineer our adhesives and other laminate components," he says.

Renae Kulis, household and personal care segment manager, says the boundaries are being pushed when it comes to the applications films are being used for. "We've seen advancements in the use of pressure sensitive films in the home and personal care markets. We're looking at improving our precision of specifying the correct product per application to ensure the optimal performance for each product."

Kulis says that Avery Dennison's Advanced Film Center has been a great tool in discovering new opportunities. "We have researchers and scientists continuously looking for products to fit both broad and niche markets. This, in combination with field research with CPGs and design agencies, we have been able to create a push and pull system for new pressure sensitive technology," she says.

A beverage label application with Avery Dennsion film
"We have a broad portfolio of products that meets the needs of many labeling challenges," Tucci adds, noting that two of the company's more popular film products for label converters are Fasson Primax (white) and FasClear (clear) polyolefin film facestocks. "These films are specifically formulated, three layer co-extrusions that are mono-oriented in the machine direction – a combination that provides a number of benefits for both the converter and end user, including tight registration, faster press performance, reliability and accuracy, low wear diecutting, and optimal automatic label dispensing. The matte finish is designed to blend almost imperceptibly into a variety of substrates to create the impression of direct printing onto the container, also known as the no-label look," he says.

Fasson Global Co-Ex NTC & TC is another product that's popular among the company's label customers. It incorporates polymer blending, co-extrusion, machine-direction orientation (MDO) and cross-direction conformability into its design. According to Tucci, its attributes include clarity and printability equivalent to polyethylene, conformability superior to polypropylene, better press stability, excellent registration at high print speeds, and higher production yield due to more material and labels per roll.

Tucci points out that Avery Dennison continues to innovate, despite the struggles of today's economy, and in a way, in spite of it. He says, "The challenge of today's volatile economic times has driven our organization to think creatively about how our PS labels can continue to differentiate. We are intensely focused on the continued innovation of our product portfolio and our thirst for growth will drive this differentiation and advance our entire PS industry."

UPM Raflatac

Kari Virtanen, film business director for UPM Raflatac, Mills River, NC, USA, talks about the company's films business and the recent trends he's observed. "Film products are still gaining market share compared to paper products for a number of reasons. The market trend is moving away from special constructions toward more standardized products. Also, in order to be more green there has been an interest in downgauging films in cases where it is technically possible," he says, noting areas where there is particular growth. "There is also a trend in the food industry to use more PSA labels instead of wet glue-applied to improve shelf appeal. The beverage industry and the health and beauty industry are other big areas for growth in film labeling."

Virtanen says that when it comes to UPM Raflatac's film offerings, one of the goals has been to make the buying experience easier and simpler for label converters. "Raflex Plus Clear TC is delivering exactly what the customers and end users need from a film label. It is 2.2-mil thick conformable film, making it the lowest caliper conformable film in the market that can be dispensed without using overlamination films. It can be used in multiple applications, especially in the health and beauty end-use area. This makes it a standardized product, thus eliminating the need to use several different products in different applications and simplifying the supply chain. The use of BOPPs is also growing in areas where conformability is not an issue," he says.


Cheryl Caudill, corporate communications and graphics market manager for Multi-Plastics, Lewis Center, OH, USA, says that film substrates have evolved to the point where they have changed how people view pressure sensitive products in regard to packaging. "As an unsupported film supplier for over 30 years, we are finally at a point where label converters can offer more than pressure sensitive labels, tickets or tags. With film presses and other technologies, label converters can add flexible packaging to their offerings. These same packages that once needed a pressure sensitive label can now stand out on the shelf when the entire package is the printed label. This plastic package offers an aesthetic appeal over a paper label and in some cases improved product performance characteristics by extending shelf life," Caudill says, adding that this has been the greatest focus for the future growth of the label segment of its business.

A major milestone for Multi-Plastics occurred last year when the ExxonMobil Chemical Company named it as their national distributor for oriented polypropylene film products. "This arrangement gives small to medium size converters the ability to purchase the same quality films with the feasibility to react quickly to future opportunities providing slit-to-order rolls and swift delivery options," Caudill says.
"In addition to our mono-web flexible packaging products, we introduced paper and film-faced laminated pouch constructions about a month ago. Our film-faced structures vary from the mainstream sealant of choice due to our manufacturer's ability to create highly specialized sealants without adding additional costs. This co-extrusion process allows us to introduce DiversaSealT sealant technology to the industry," Caudill adds, emphasizing that DiversaSealT enables the customer to use one structure across multiple applications.


FLEXcon, headquartered in Spencer, MA, USA, prides itself in being able to take films, specialty topcoats, adhesives and liner, and create customized products for its customers. "We can mix and match from a wide range of materials and we have the experience with working with so many different products," says Michelle Ostiguy, product manager for FLEXcon's product identification business team. "We're an application driven company, and we're in every market, providing converters with a one-stop shop for materials."

Ostiguy says that performance and cost have always been the considerations when it comes to FLEXcon's product development, and in response to this, the company features its VBS program for its product range. VBS stands for "Value, Better, Supreme," and products are classified in one of the three categories. "The Supreme line is our Cadillac of products, while those that are in the Value range are lower-cost options," she explains.

A THINflex film application from FLEXcon
In order to meet the demands of its customers that want greener products, while maintaining the high performance capabilities required for food, beverage and prime label applications, FLEXcon has reengineered its THINflex PP 160 HC TC-332 to include a 0.92-mil PET liner, TRACrite 92, says Rick Harris, product manager, product branding business team. The 1.6-mil clear BOPP film, he says, offers a 20 percent reduction over the standard 2.0-mil clear product. TRACrite 92 also offers a cost reduction of 8 to 24 percent depending on the liner used.

Brian Ayers, new business development manager, discusses FLEXcon's range of options and areas where there's been particular focus. "We've traditionally been strong with our durable label, and high temperature products, but we have a really broad range of options. Lately, we've been trying to focus on our specialty niche products like high temperature, reflective films, UV resistant films, and also specialty embossed films," he says, adding, "DPM's (Durable Product Marking) have been a mainstay for us – our line of both vinyl and polyester films are very popular. The durable product line continues to be one of focus."

Along with DPM Aply 1000, a VBS Supreme product, selections from the DPM product line include special adhesives that bond well to varying surfaces and shapes, including rough textured surfaces, low-surface energy plastics, and powder-coated paint. DPM products are also backed with a lay-flat moisture stable polycoated release liner ideal for sheet-form converting.

Another product line the company offers is COMPUcal Excel. It has cross technology printability via thermal transfer, conventional printing methods, and laser impact and ion deposition technologies. It features compatibility with conventional inks, has superior durability and is resistant to the harshest chemicals and solvents. The matte topcoat extends die and tooling life giving four times as many die revolutions before retooling than traditional matte top-coated labelstocks, the company says.

FLEXcon has also recently unveiled two new polypropylene films for its DigiPRO Prime product line. The 2-mil topcoated hard clear and the 2.3-mil topcoated hard white films feature FLEXcon's V-882 high performance permanent acrylic adhesive and a natural Kraft release liner. This VBS Value product, like other offerings from the DigiPRO PRIME films, are specially engineered for narrow web HP Indigo presses, providing an additional print option for prime label applications in markets such as health and beauty, household/chemical, and over-the-counter pharmaceutical products.

Ostiguy says that in light of the current economic downturn, FLEXcon has seen an increased interest in its line of pre-slit products. "Also, presses are being engineered for short runs, and the pre-finished goods are a perfect fit for those," she says. "The pre-slit offering allows you to reduce your warehouse inventory and save on costs when you need less than whole-web widths. In addition, taking advantage of the pre-slit program can reduce shipment lead-time to the same day when the order is placed before 2 PM EST and the next business day when orders are placed after 2 PM EST. The program has really created quite a buzz."


Arjobex, Charlotte, NC, USA, produces Polyart, a family of synthetic papers for the packaging, label and other markets. Polyart is a high-density polyethylene film with a matte clay coating on both sides. David Manny, North American converting and flexo sales manager, says Arjobex has increased its focus on diversifying its portfolio. "We're seeing a much greater diversification of our available substrates. In years past a customer would purchase a specific product and make it fit the customers' application. These days, with much more focus on customer needs, we have a wider offering to accommodate the customers' specific applications," he says.

Manny says that most Arjobex customers for PS grades are looking to specialize with C1S and/or C2S products. "Thicknesses are also becoming more widely utilized. In years past, a 3-mil product was the only choice offered to our PS customers, but now we're selling 3-mil up to 13.5.

"The primary feature to any plastic PS or tag substrate is performance. The customer requires the material to do something specific and is willing to pay for that benefit. Polyart is made for high graphics in harsh environments, and using it will ensure that the printer is able to achieve optimal graphics on a substrate that will endure whatever environment the end user will place the product in," he says.

Digital printing and sustainability are label industry trends that continue to gain momentum, and Polyart's evolution reflects this. "As print technology evolves and improves, we are updating Polyart for use in as many of the new technologies as possible. HP Indigo, solvent inkjet and UV cured inkjet are all up and coming technologies in which Polyart is frequently used. We are also seeing the emergence of greener print engines that use less heat for printing. This is allowing Polyart to run on applications where it was once limited by higher heat technologies," Manny says.


Christopher Paskey, VP Roll Label Division, Ritrama, Cleveland, OH, USA, says that there continues to be a great need for both general and specialized film substrates for PS label constructions. "As packaging design gets more sophisticated and creative to capture consumer attention, film gets used more often, taking advantage of the many properties that make it a versatile facestock – clarity for the no-label look, film color options, strength and durability to handle unique diecuts, etc. In addition to decorative labels produced on film for consumer goods packaging applications such as beverages and cosmetics, film also excels in security label and durable label applications," says Paskey.

Because there are now so many different types of films to choose from, Paskey adds, designers and label printers have to pay careful attention to make sure that the correct film is chosen to match the requirements of the end use application. "It is more important than ever to work with a supplier partner who is well versed in films so the right product is chosen at the onset, thus reducing the time and money associated with product design and development," he says.

Ritrama has its own branded line of film facestocks specifically engineered for squeezable packaging applications such as tubes and bottles. "Our ClearFlex and WhiteFlex products are the optimal solution for tube labeling, especially for applications that require crimping," Paskey says, adding that there's more to film substrates than polypropylene. "As polypropylenes get most of the attention in the world of film labelstocks, polyethylenes tend to get lost in the mix, but polyethylene films also offer a nice balanced set of properties and work well for many flexible applications and should be considered."

Paskey stresses the importance of establishing healthy, strong relationships with both suppliers and customers alike. He says, "We are continuously developing and refining our product offerings to match the needs of the market. We have very good relationships with our film suppliers, so we can work together to bring solutions to market where they are needed. Our international presence also helps us as we can reach out globally to find a solution if one is not readily available at home. More important, we have a mindset geared toward custom product development so we are able to quickly and efficiently work with our customers to source unique films and match them to the application requirements."


Kevin Foos, VP sales and marketing for Acpo Ltd., Oak Harbor, OH, USA, says the film market is growing about twice as fast as the overall growth in the label segment, and branding is playing a major role. "Key growth markets in film are in food and beverage. These markets view pressure sensitive labels, specifically clear, as a way to 'premiumize' their brands. Also, within the food and beverage segment you have continued SKU proliferation within brands which lends itself to pressure sensitive labels. Lastly, as private label brands continue to make inroads into name brand market share, they are looking to upgrade their brands – and they're doing this with films," he says.

Another trend Foos points out is a shift from linered overlaminates to self-wound, where converters are saving costs and reducing waste. "Converters are discovering they can get the same performance and aesthetics from a self-wound without the cost and waste of a liner. Also, since they have the ability to thermal transfer print on some of the specialty self-wound overlaminate grades; they have been able to replace a lot of UL approved products. In addition, we have seen double digit growth in the use of extended content labeling which, in many instances, requires a self-wound overlaminate to hold down and secure the booklet labels."

Kim Sponseller, national inside sales and marketing manager, says Acpo's self-wound polyester overlaminates fill a specialty niche in the market. "For example, our 600T is a thermal transfer PET product which affords the customer the benefit of thermal transfer printing on the overlaminate with a cost savings advantage over using a linered material. Our UL-recognized PET item, 692, is certified to meet UL requirements in label constructions and our 691V PET overlaminate contains UV screening inhibitors prolonging the color retention of labels exposed to UV rays.

"For our polypropylene products, we offer several clear finish grades with varying film and adhesive thicknesses for general purpose and specialty applications. Our thicker self-wound overlaminates: 505C, 505E and 505F, are popular in the pharmaceutical and industrial market for extended content labeling. We offer a matte self-wound overlaminate with a dull finish that facilitates bar code scanning; the ability to write on the overlaminate, and it provides a soft-touch feel," Sponseller says.

Acpo also manufactures a 5050B, a self-wound polypropylene commonly used in high speed labeling applications or identification. It has an optical brightener for photoluminescence and allows the label to glow when exposed to black light.

Klöckner Pentaplast

Jim Mullen, shrink films business manager for Klöckner Pentaplast, Gordonsville, VA, USA, talks about the success the company's had with its shrink film products for labels, specifically the Pentaprint E749/22, a high-shrink polyester film with multiple shrink characteristics for all full-body shrink labels, in particular highly contoured containers.

A Klöckner Pentaplast shrink film beverage application
Mullen says that due to the multiple shrink properties, the E749/22 films can be more broadly utilized than other polyester shrink-label films. "The films are engineered for 75 percent shrink properties and are ideal for highly contoured containers. The high performance surface characteristics of the film further enhance printability and allow a myriad of graphic schemes to be utilized," he says.

"E749/22 shrink-label film is developed to meet customers' requirements for a film that shrinks uniformly and provides superior graphics," says Mullen, films. "Along with our existing vinyl and polyester shrink-label films, we continue to provide innovation for our customers by offering the broadest selection and most cost-effective solutions in the industry."

"These films have really been somewhat revolutionary and have allowed us to grow dramatically. There's less wrinkle and more uniformity. It's a great lay-flat film and printers love it. Shrink is no longer a niche in the industry, it's mainstream now."
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