There's an aspect of the labeling industry that is perhaps overlooked. In discussing labels, at the forefront there's usually a focus on evolving print technologies, the latest in substrates, inks and coatings, environmental sustainability, and ways to enhance brand awareness. What's sometimes is forgotten is the fun factor. Labels are fun.
Think of children, and the delight that they get when given stickers to play with – cartoon characters, animals, sports logos. Here, the label is a toy. Think of the adult, placing a bumper sticker on his or her car, broadcasting a statement to the world, be it political, personal, or just something that's downright funny. The point is, pressure sensitive products themselves are often fun, and can be something to play with.
Many label converters list "Novelty Labels" among their offerings. But looking into the category, it seems that to many label printers it's more than just kitschy products and kid's stuff.
"Novelty is defined by Merriam-Webster as something new or unusual," states Kyle Hoopingarner, sales representative at Seneca Tape & Label, Cleveland, OH, USA. "In regard to the label industry, I would say that novelty would stand for a new idea or use for a label. Because almost every company in any industry uses a label at some point in their operations, it is up to the mills and converters to seek out the different ways end users and everyone in between uses labels to fulfill their needs. The strangest applications and sales are sometimes found on cold calls when the prospective client is using some old labels they had laying around for an application they were never originally intended for. In order to make any idea marketable and effective, it must have function on some level," he says.
James Lowry, general manager for Lightning Labels, Denver, CO, USA, says that there are indeed many things that make a label a novelty. "Unique materials can make a label fit this category, which can include anything from holographic material to a cloth to a metal label. Sometimes it is the art itself, which is a depiction of what the label will be applied to. If a customer is selling a novelty product, often times they are putting novelty content on their labels. The last definition I would offer is the unique construction of a label that makes it novel, such as scratch-off or scented labels.
"A novelty label is a label that achieves the desired effect it was created for," Lowry adds. "Does it catch someone's attention? Does it get them to buy a product? Does it function in a unique way so the customer's process is more effective or cost-productive? If it achieves these things, then it is successful."
Novel materials and processes
The materials used to convert the labels go a long way in having the products achieve "novelty" status among a printer's product portfolio. And how these materials are printed and finished is also a key factor.
"One of our most popular label materials used to create novelty labels is a chrome material that enables our customers to enhance their label artwork with metallic design elements," explains James Lowry. "Printing artwork that is designed to take advantage of the unique properties of this material results in novelty labels that really stand out among other products created with different processes to produce metallic effects. Unlike these other processes used for this purpose – such as printing on top of non-metallic materials with metallic inks, or embossing foil label materials – our customers are able to enhance their labels with silver or gold elements by having us print non-metallic ink on top of our chrome label materials," he says.
Lightning Labels focuses heavily on product labels, so printing a customer's artwork is a primary focus. And Lowry notes that often times the way a product needs to be diecut can bring it into novelty status. "We have also had different requests for internal cuts on labels, which makes a label within a label, allowing customers to use a single label for multiple purposes. Such processes can be purely functional, or they might be promotional in nature. Industry-wide, we are seeing the potential for some truly fascinating novelty labels to be created as new technologies emerge. For instance, new materials are regularly being created that open up the possibilities for labels to be printed with brand new appearances, functions, and applications. Another example is the new forms of diecutting that allow converters to get really creative when it comes to creating novelty labels for their customers," says Lowry.
To converters, the novelty category crosses into others. And while some may initially think of these constructions as leaning toward the simple, it's not the case.
A notable trend that Dion Label Printing, Westfield, MA, USA, is seeing is in the medical labeling space. Stacy Santos, marketing manager and sales representative, says, "In the medical industry, label constructions are becoming more and more complex, while the graphics can be printed in straight 4-color process or even simpler than that."
Ink manufacturer Color Resolutions International, Fairfield, OH, USA, supplies label printers with products used in the novelty label market. According to James Ford, special projects technical coordinator, there's been a recent upswing in fluorescent colors. "It is a little funny, but it seems that when the economy is slow, we see more interest in fluorescent colors. When the economy is booming, there tends to be more interest in metallics, and less interest in fluorescents," he says.
The promotional and coupon sectors of the label industry are areas where novelty labels have a strong presence. According to sources like Advertising Age, Nielsen Media, and The Wall Street Journal, the evidence for distributing coupons is compelling. Each year, US consumers reportedly use about $3.5 billion worth. And reports say that 95 percent of all shoppers like coupons, 87 percent use coupons, 60 percent search for coupons, and 54 percent have stepped up the use of coupons. And a coupon is a printed product that many label converters offer – with and without adhesive.
A Lightning Labels novelty label for a zoo.
Seneca Tape & Label is one such company that does couponing work, and Kyle Hoopingarner says that customers are enjoying the results. "There are a few local restaurants and contract packagers that we have done coupon labeling for with printed, redeemable coupons, that allow the restaurant customers to peel the printed adhesive-free coupon from the package, pizza box, or sandwich wrapper it was adhered to," he says, adding that it allowed Seneca's customers to bounce sales back to individual restaurants and stores in a chain and generate more business.
"We have also adapted other uses of the same application by printing bar codes and other scan-able information on the under-side of the coupon being redeemed," he says. Working on this application, Hoopingarner learned something – the product he was able to provide was not only good for his customer's business, the customer was also saving money. "While developing this type of marketing material with the customer, he mentioned that it was less than half the cost of the printed brochure/flyer type coupon he was using. Not only did it save him money, it was 'stuck' to every product the end-user purchased as opposed to marketing materials being sent in the mail or stuffed into newspapers," he says.
Promoting products can be a novelty label's main goal, and perhaps nowhere can this be more evident than in the beverage sector. Hoopingarner notes that some projects Seneca is involved with include scratch-off, black light-detectable, dissolvable stock, and temperature sensitive inks – like the well-known Coors Light beer label whereby using thermochromic ink, "the mountains turn blue" when the beer reaches the perfect, cold beer-drinking temperature.
"The food and beverage industries – with a greater emphasis on beverage – have had the highest demand for novelty and custom work for difficult applications. There is and should continue to be a large potential for growth in both of these industries," Hoopingarner says.
Joe Schlinkert, director of technology, CRI, says, "There is continued demand for thermochromatic inks, both the novelty reversible types and the more indicator types. On the printed electronics front, CRI's Product Development Lab continues research into alternative conductive ink materials to bring costs down to a broader commercial scale."
CRI offers a new anti-microbial protective coating for a wide range of applications, well suited for labels and decals used in the food packaging, medical and pharmaceutical markets. "Also of high interest is the low extractable UV-curable overprint used for low migration on items such as water bottles. Scratch to smell, thermochromatics, photochromatics and coin scratch reactive inks as well as CRI's color-wave inks, color-changing inks based on the angle of view, are all widely used for the novelty market," Schlinkert says.
Falling into the novelty category are pressure sensitive items that are just plain fun. There are all kinds of stickers on the market targeting children – and some glow in the dark, have a particular smell, or are adorned with some sort of fun effect.
Dion Label prints temporary tattoos. While designed for fun, these products require some special consideration. "The entire construction of the tattoos present challenges in terms of functionality, comfort, product lifecycle and skin grade adhesives," explains Stacy Santos. "All components must work together to provide a tattoo which will function and last. Our tattoos last for multiple weeks, including through sweaty workouts, showering and normal everyday use. And the tattoos easily remove without having to use abrasive chemicals or solutions," she says.
"We also offer coloring book inserts and worksheets," Santos explains. "We print intricate sheets with custom diecuts that are inserted into coloring books and informational booklets. These sheets are made up of multiple, custom diecuts that can be colored on. Also, the adhesive is suitable for clothing and other surfaces, so labels can be removed easily."
And then there are bumper stickers. While perhaps peaking in popularity decades ago, they're still around, and often a part of a label printer's repertoire. Santos says that at Dion, the complexity of the bumper sticker artwork, number of colors, and quantity to be printed will determine whether to print flexo or digital. "Since most bumper sticker requests we receive are basic one or two colors, they are normally printed flexographically. The most important factors to consider for window decals and bumper stickers are the adhesive properties of the material and how they will affect the window or car surface in the future and also the fade resistance provided by the inks and the UV lamination covering the inks. For bumper stickers, we use a specialized fade resistant lamination to protect bumper stickers for up to five years," she says.
Melissa Boehm, customer service for MR Label Co., Cincinnati, OH, USA, also points to the value of having a variety of different converting capabilities in the novelty sector. She says, "In the novelty label business, every label is unique. Being able to offer your customer's a variety of print methods under one roof is extremely desirable. MR Label Co. offers its customers flexo, digital, and screen printing, along with an offline finishing department, and complete in house prepress. Thus, we have an extensive assortment of substrates, ink systems, and raw materials to give any customer the label they desire.
"By having all of these capabilites under one roof, and offering a variety of print methods, we can give our customers prototype samples of their label," Boehm says. "This helps ease our customer's minds as they can test the label on their product, and verify if it's aesthetically pleasing and practical for their application."
Name It allows end users to personalize their beverage labels.
The essence of a novelty label can lie not only in its ability to amuse and entertain, but also its way of providing some sort of special effect. R Solutions, Solon, OH, USA, is a company that does a good job in providing both.
The company has come up with a fun labeling concept that allows end users to personalize their beverage labels – without using a writing instrument and without damaging the label. The product is called Name It, and its patent pending design uses a thin layer of paraffin wax sandwiched between two layers of plastic to create a writing window.
"A consumer simply needs to put pressure on the label with their fingernail to write a custom message. Any impression on the top piece of plastic will cause the wax to stick to the back of it and will show the dark color of the wax, just like the Magic Slate boards we had as children," explains Rob Adelstein, managing partner at R Solutions. "The writing is removed the same way. Just pull the top piece of plastic back and the image is erased."
Name It can be made as part of a label or it can be made as a separate label that is attached after the product already has its normal label applied. "We will work with labeling companies to advise on how best to incorporate the technology with their labels," Adelstein says. "To be clear, Name It licenses this technology to manufacturers – Name It does not manufacture the labels themselves."
Adelstein adds that Name It is compatible with any current labeling material, and apart from beverages, is a good fit for any product that would be enhanced by personalization and customization. "This concept is new to the labeling industry and the patent pending technology is available immediately for licensing to any company that would like to apply it to their products or to offer it to their labeling clients," he says.