A typical pressure sensitive label features a facestock, adhesive and release-coated liner. By definition, pressure sensitive linerless labels do not utilize a silicone-coated release liner or a dispensing agent for application. According to Baudry Bayzelon, international sales manager for Canada-based ETI Converting Equipment, a linerless label is essentially a tape. “It is a mono web product with silicone (release coating) on one side and adhesive on the other,” explains Bayzelon. “Obviously, if it is a printed product, printing must be done prior to any coating, so the web will be printed, silicone will be applied on one side, and the adhesive on the other side. Then, this coated material is wound on itself.”
UK-based Ravenwood Packaging is a leader in linerless labeling technology and commonly sees usage in food markets such as produce and meat. Jeremy Woodcock, technical consultant for Ravenwood, notes, however, that the company is constantly striving to break into new markets, including those outside of food.
For I.D. Images, a label converter headquartered in Brunswick, OH, linerless labels are useful in a wide range of applications, from health and beauty and food services to hospitals and medical markets. Linerless labels are suitable for aisle shelf labeling, price tags and receipts in the retail space, as well.
Release liners can be costly and are the source of a significant amount of waste. According to AWA Alexander Watson Associates, liners account for 19-20% of the total applied cost of a pressure sensitive label. AWA notes in AWAreness Report: Linerless Labeling 2017 that printers and end users can experience a 60% cost savings on each label reel. In total, linerless labels represent about 4% of the total current pressure sensitive label market. AWA also notes that variable information print serves as the largest market for linerless labels. This includes functional uses such as warehouse tracking and logistics.
According to Ravenwood’s Woodcock, there are two different types of linerless labels: the logistics form using Chemi-Thermal paper, which has little or no printing on it, and the decorative header label market, which Ravenwood supplies.
ETI’s Bayzelon adds that linerless products are common in the logistic and retail label markets, where they are thermal paper applications. Most direct thermal desk printers and hand printers will accept linerless materials, he says.
Hub Labels, a Maryland-based label converter, specializes in linerless labels. Although the company is exploring new markets, proteins such as fish, poultry and meat occupy the lion’s share of its work. In addition to sustainability and cost savings, John Doyle, linerless specialty segment manager at Hub Labels, says that there is a significant visual benefit to going linerless. He says, “What we focus on is presentation.You’re dealing with a marketing team that needs to tell a story. They need to have traditional information and create brand awareness. When we’re doing linerless, we’re literally putting a full-wrap label around a tray, and it’s giving brands the ability to market their product and tell a story. You have top panels, side panels, base panels, and then on top of that, once you take the whole linerless label off, you also have the backside of the label for space for additional content like recipes, coupons or a 2D bar code.”
According to Doyle, Hub Labels works with companies that have seen 12% efficiency gains by going linerless, including a customer that has sold over 19 million trays and noticed savings of $600,000.
Hub Labels has partnered with Ravenwood Packaging, which has developed a compact linerless coating machine, the Comac. “When we produce a linerless label, we’re reducing the adhesive by 85% and we’re reducing the silicone by 85%,” explains Doyle. “Just coming out of the gate, that’s 65% of material that we’re taking out of the equation.”
In addition, Ravenwood emphasizes that linerless rolls also weigh up to 40% less and take up 40% less space than label rolls with carrier backing paper, which equates to increased profits by decreasing shipping and storage costs. The labels run more efficiently and are quicker to change over than traditional self-adhesive with little or no waste, Woodcock says.
For Ravenwood, linerless labeling is a two-stage production. Labels are printed on a normal self-adhesive UV printing press using continuous paper, card or film. There is no diecutting required and no matrix to be removed, and the company states that the process is faster and more efficient than traditional self-adhesive production. The printed roll is then taken to the Ravenwood coater, where the silicone and adhesive are applied in stripes to match a template. The template is designed to fold around a tray or pack, and the fold lines determine the position of the stripes. Label rolls are cut and finished on the coater on a turret rewinder and are then ready for dispatch.
Ravenwood machinery can adapt in order to create linerless labels to suit many packaging challenges on a range of materials, including paper, film and card from 170 – 300gsm. The labels are wound on a roll or reel and feature a silicone strip applied to the top of the label, which prevents the adhesive from the underside sticking to the label below.
Spotlight on Sustainability
When linerless technology began to gain acceptance some 10 years ago, sustainability was a driving force. With lower costs, enhanced marketing opportunities and greater efficiency, sustainability is now just one of several key benefits. “There are less disposal costs,” says Ashley Clelland, marketing associate at I.D. Images. “Getting rid of the 50-60% of waste that comes from the liner and matrix means less product and waste ending up in landfills, which is a big benefit.”
Hub Labels sees a dramatic decrease in label waste by going linerless. Not only do linerless labels decrease the waste associated with liners and silicone, they allow for the maximization of labels on a roll. “There is so much to applying a pressure sensitive label with a liner,” says Hub Labels’ Doyle. “When a printer runs out of labels, they’ll end up throwing away about 20 labels to get that machine to rethread with new labels. With linerless, you’re wasting just one or two labels every time you change out the roll.”
There are also fewer required changeovers because printers can put more labels on a roll because of the absence of a liner. “Without the liner, you get up to 50% more labels per roll, which means longer runs, increased uptime, less time cleaning up and less changeover time,” adds Clelland.
In addition to packaging waste, linerless labels applied to food-safe SkinPacks deter food spoilage. “In the US, you see a lot of Styrofoam trays with plastic wrapped around them. As retailers become more serious about protecting food waste – 50% of the food is being thrown away – we can increase the shelf life by changing packaging,” says Doyle. “To do that, they’re going to be using our technology to protect the trays. We’re still in the early part of this change in food packaging, but it’s coming.”
Ravenwood boasts that on 2017 its Linerless Labeling System eliminated the need for the production of over 2,500 metric tons of siliconized liner around the world. “Sustainability plays a major role in the transition to linerless labeling, and many converters are waking up to the cost and environmental benefits,” says Woodcock. “Our paper and card go from the mill to the printer. No expensive conversion is needed such as adding a siliconized liner paper, which is high in energy as well as cost. This means less transport is required to make fewer journeys. And that’s not just in the UK, but on a global scale. Linerless offers an eco-friendly, efficient replacement for traditional self-adhesive labels and cardboard sleeves.”
Barriers to Adoption
In order to enter the linerless label market, converters ultimately need to make a capital expenditure on equipment that is unique to this application. “I think the barrier has always been that in order to get started with this technology, you have to buy specific equipment to apply it,” says Hub Labels’ Doyle. “Typically, you go to any label producer and they have a label applicator, which they had to pay for at one time. But they’ve forgotten that.”
Doyle adds that a $100,000 investment is normally required to enter this market. The onus is on the manufacturer to explain how this investment can generate an ROI in less than 12 months.
Ravenwood Packaging stresses that linerless labels require an all-in philosophy. “To switch from self-adhesive to linerless is a complete change – there is no halfway house,” stresses Woodcock. “Self-adhesive labels will not run down a linerless applicator and vice versa.”
Historically, a lack of available label shapes has impeded the crossover to linerless labeling. As I.D. Images’ Clelland notes, liners help with accurate diecutting and perforation, as well as providing a protectant for the pressure sensitive adhesive. “In the past, the only shapes linerless labels came in were square or rectangular, but with technological advancements, some converters have the ability to offer different diecut shapes,” she says.
Ravenwood has worked extensively to help remedy the shape issue, and it is less prominent today than in years past.
“In recent months, we have been busy developing this concept further,” adds Woodcock. “We are now able to shape the leading edge of the label for a totally bespoke and creative look across all label formats – a global first in shaped linerless labels. Earlier in the year, Ravenwood assisted Granby Sausages in finding a solution to not only meet its needs but in doing so, created a totally new label concept in the ‘Land of Linerless.’ This shaped label was the first of its kind to go on sale anywhere in the world.”
Thomas Dahbura, president of Hub Labels, says that the issue of shapes is largely overstated. “When you look at the packaging that a product goes into, people discuss shapes and it’s really a moot point because you’re putting the label on a square container that requires almost a full wrap. People like to bring that up as a shortcoming of linerless, but when you talk to designers, product managers and production people, it’s not something that comes up past the initial sell. But, they have introduced shapes because that is something that is often discussed.”
Even though shapes might remain a contentious topic for linerless, there is, ultimately, the issue of having enough volume to warrant the expenditure. “There are more possible shapes, but in a linerless mode, it is still limited,” says ETI Converting’s Bayzelon. “In fact, it is possible to do any label shape, but this will require specific equipment. Any traditional label can be converted and applied as a linerless label, it is only a question of having the proper machinery to convert and apply the labels, obviously this means having the volume to justify it.”
A Linerless Future?
New technology has spurred increased growth in linerless labeling. Even though the application range is expanding, the technology is still in its relative infancy, especially in North America.
I.D. Images’ Clelland believes the future of linerless labeling will include more mobile printing, liner manufacturer consolidation, better ways to recycle, and beverage labeling. Health and beauty aids and extended content labeling will also find their place in this market. “Plus,” she continues, “commercial and military aircraft fleets and new airline markets could utilize this technology. There will also be increased development and investment throughout the value chain.”
Clelland adds that the sustainability aspect of the technology – a drastic reduction in waste – will also serve to promote the proliferation of linerless labeling.
The team at Hub Labels believes there is plenty of room for linerless labels to grow. “We’re really still at the beginning of this technology taking off,” says Doyle. “If you go over to Europe and you take a look at what’s going on over there, they’re about six or seven years ahead of us here in North America.”
According to Dahbura, different markets lend themselves to different results. In Europe, shoppers tend to frequent grocery stores more often, whereas the US purchases in bulk. Meal kits and ready-meals, however, are starting to proliferate in North America, which could lead to a surge in linerless labeling. Better packaging could also lead to a reduction in food waste.
When Hub Labels invested in linerless technology nearly a decade ago, the company initially followed a tip from Avery Dennison. Dahbura tracked the technology and made the leap because of the potential future benefits. “It was what we believed was the future of packaging, and we thought it was going to have a big impact. So we jumped in,” recalls Dahbura. “I always like to say – from an innovation standpoint – linerless offers big-time innovation.”
“The future for linerless is extremely positive,” concludes Ravenwood Packaging’s Jeremy Woodcock. “It is a good news story for the printer and packer with the ability to run labels more efficiently with less waste. It is also a good news story for the environment, as is eleminates release liner and backing paper going to landfill with less energy required to get the raw materials to the printers. Further developments in materials and machinery will take place in the near future, opening up more opportunities and markets.”