As converters seek to grow their businesses, they are increasingly looking for new printing avenues. Flexible packaging stands out as one, and shrink sleeves is another.
“The use of shrink sleeve labels is definitely growing. As a consumer, you see shrink sleeve labels everywhere,” says George Pinter, partner at Klear Plastic Ventures. “The North American label industry has the infrastructure, technology and materials in place to support this growth now and into the future.”
Leslie Kozar, Avery Dennison’s senior marketing manager, Rapid Roll, states that shrink sleeves provide more real estate for brand messaging, with 360-degree labeling on complex curves. Shrink sleeves generate premium shelf appeal and allow brands to engage with their customers in new ways. In many cases, shrink sleeves are used for new product launches and a means to revitalize existing brands.
“Heat shrink is the fastest growing label technology, predominantly in RTD craft beverage, personal care and household chemicals,” says Kozar. “Shrink sleeve is one of the fastest emerging segments in the label industry, as brands are focusing on redesigning their packaging method for more aesthetically pleasing designs with 360-degree flexibility.”
In the future, Kozar believes shrink sleeves will incorporate tamper-evident and security functionality.
Even though shrink sleeves are most popular in the beverage market, there are suitable applications in a wide range of industries. “It seems shrink sleeves are becoming more popular every year,” notes Mark Hill, senior vice president, R&D, at INX International Ink Co. “I think every application can benefit. From small runs to large national brands, the ease of application and high-speed bottling lines can benefit from sleeves.”
According to AWA Alexander Watson Associates, a variety of materials are used to produce shrink sleeves. PVC accounts for 52% of the materials, while PET-G is the next most popular substrate at 26%. Converters will also use OPS, PP, PP/PO, PE, among others. More and more brands are utilizing shrink sleeves for seasonal labels, VDP jobs with varying art or personalization tokens, and even just-in-time requests–all of which can be facilitated by digital printing.
The popularity of shrink sleeves is apparent, too. “Walk into any grocery store and you’ll see for yourself just how popular this technology is,” explains Joe Calmese, chief business officer, Mark Andy Digital. “Shrink sleeves are a more realistic option for boutique, craft breweries as the minimums required when printing directly to the can simply don’t exist. There’s typically no need to keep a ridiculous inventory of cans on-hand for these smaller producers, especially when minimums are somewhere in the 100,000 and often have really long lead times.”
As shrink sleeves gain in popularity, the issue of sustainability will only continue to grow. “The biggest trend I’ve seen involves recycling, and making sure bottles and labels can be separated and recovered easily in order for the plastics to be reused,” says Hill.
Calmese adds that durability is a lesser-known benefit of shrink sleeves, as well. “Shrink sleeves are also very durable – providing new end uses for labels,” he says. “It’s not typically their primary purpose, but shrink sleeve packaging is also exceptionally good when it comes to the wear and tear that can occur during shipping due largely in part to the material itself and the reverse printing process on-press.”
There is a technical side to shrink sleeve seaming, too. The substrate can be printed via digital or flexographic presses, and then a heat tunnel is required to shrink the sleeve around the contours of a product’s container.
During the printing process, converters also need to determine the correct graphic distortion percentage based on the amount of shrink and container type. The ink must adhere properly to the substrate, as well. In addition, press operators must manage web and process temperatures while printing.
“During seaming, you need to make sure the seams are strong enough to survive the shrink process,” says Kozar. “It’s important to use the right seaming solution and possibly wicking equipment, for example, when digitally printing with HP Indigo.”
According to Calmese, this can be the most challenging part of the shrink sleeve process. “The learning curve for shrink sleeves is typically very challenging – but very rewarding,” he states. “It’s a complicated workflow that requires converters to invest in education like our Mark Andy technical seminars. Specific press operator training is recommended through Mark Andy University, and of course having world-class, proven equipment doesn’t hurt either.”
According to INX International’s Hill, his company offers inks for all types of shrink films, as well as multiple types of printing methods. These include gravure, flexo, solvent, and UV. In the future, shrink sleeves should only see greater adoption.
“I see the market growing in the future,” says Hill. “More and more brands are turning to shrink sleeves as they expand their portfolios with new brands and new flavors. Consumers want variety, and this is an easy way for brands to deliver.”
Shrink sleeves: By the numbers
AWA has tracked the global shrink sleeves market for some time. According to AWA, the global market for sleeve labels in 2018 is estimated at 11,823 million square meters – equivalent to around 19% of the total global label market. The vast number of sleeves are categorized as heat shrink TD sleeve labels. As of 2018, heat shrink TD labels accounted for an estimated 10,488 million square meters, or 89%.
Meanwhile, 878 million square meters of stretch sleeve label technologies were produced, and ROSO MD sleeve labels measured at 407 million square meters.
The beverage market captures the lion’s share of sleeve applications, as beverages make up 66% of that 11,823 million square-meter volume. Foods come in a distant second, accounting for 19% of the market, while household chemicals and health and personal care products make up 7% and 5%, respectively.
AWA estimates the global growth rate for all sleeve label formats in 2018 over 2017 at 5.4%. The firm expects the market for sleeve labels to increase at a CAGR of 5.2% from 2019-2021.
Sleeves see their greatest market in Asia, as the region accounts for 65% of sleeve labels. Europe generates 19% of demand, while North America comes in at 12%.
A ‘hot’ beverage
Shrink sleeves have gained wide acceptance in the beverage market, and that trend is expected to continue. “We believe the beverage industry will continue to be a large and expanding user of shrink sleeve labels,” says Klear Plastic Ventures’ Pinter. “New types of beverages are arriving on the store shelves every day, competing for consumer acceptance. Shrink sleeve labels’ 360-degree graphics, upscale appearance and space for product and brand messaging provide a very important tool to help inform consumers and sell the product.”
As shrink sleeves see their usage grow, craft beers will serve as a key driver of the technology. “Shrink sleeves are making great inroads in craft beer,” states INX International’s Hill. “Small breweries can get short runs printed and then can easily hand-apply labels and shrink them. The flexibility to do this makes limited release beers look as professional as the large national brands. Craft beers can really take advantage of digital printing. It is just another extension of the customization of labeling these days.”
“Shrink sleeves offer craft brewers and ready-to-drink brands the opportunity to leverage up to 100% coverage on the package,” explains Avery Dennison’s Kozar. “This helps to engage consumers with their brand and messaging.”
Avery Dennison has developed a portfolio specifically to handle shrink sleeve applications. The Avery Dennison Rapid-Roll Shrink Film Portfolio consists of a variety of shrink films such as PET, PET-G, and PVC. Material thickness includes 45-50 micron, white, clear and light-blocking options.
According to Kozar, Rapid-Roll offers nine films available in Exact, stock and custom service programs. All standard products are printable via UV flexo and UV offset, with an ITC coated option available, as well.
The technology is not limited to the materials, either. Smaller brands opting for short runs will necessitate the need for digital and hybrid printing presses. According to Mark Andy’s Calmese, a digital hybrid press, such as Mark Andy’s Digital Series HD, does not limit shrink to longer runs.
“For digital, a true hybrid digital machine is required to run the sleeves at premium quality while maintaining high economic returns,” says Calmese. “The print stations need to print in perfect registration while the digital module will produce tiny dots to bend, shrink and mold over the bottle.”
He adds, “In terms of market segments, demand is there across many verticals but quite prevalent in, of course, the food and beverage and security and pharma sectors. Bulk purchasing is an emerging trend commonly seen in big box retailers, where many units are packaged together using a shrink application.”
Of course, any printing technology can be used to print shrink sleeves. For flexo, Mark Andy is now offering the Performance Series P9E – a flexible platform with automation – serving as a reliable solution for shrink sleeves. This platform comes in widths of 17, 22 and 26" to handle all of the format sizes needed.
Partnering with Kocher+Beck, a producer of precision cutting and printing tools, AB Graphic has acquired Spanish firm, Enprom Packaging – a labeling, converting and packaging equipment manufacturer. Enprom’s product range includes equipment for shrink sleeve converting, slitting and rewinding, label finishing, coating and lamination, and hybrid converting.
Mike Burton, managing director and owner of ABG International, says, “Acquiring Enprom offers an exciting opportunity for us to strengthen and expand our offerings in web-based processing and will allow us to enter into new market segments, with reduced risk.”
Lars Beck, CEO and owner of Kocher+Beck, adds, “I am impressed by the skills and experience of the Enprom team, which will help to speed up and streamline the development of the next generation of winding equipment.
“At the same time, shared structures, synergies and a worldwide network of distribution partners will help all three businesses to be faster to market,” he adds.
ABG’s Matthew Burton, sales director, and Joseph Orozco sat down with L&NW to discuss the benefits of shrink sleeves:
Q: What are the main benefits of using shrink sleeves?
Orozco: Shrink sleeves completely cover the container from top to bottom, making branding possible from all angles. They can incorporate easy open or a guarantee seal on the same label, thereby protecting the contents from being tampered with. The container cannot be opened without being noticed. The use of this type of security seal is commonplace in pharmaceuticals and food product packaging. Shrink sleeves provide increased resistance from impact, thereby protecting the label during shipping and handling. The sleeves also protect the internal product from moisture, water and abrasion, increasing product conservation. They are also reverse printed, preventing scuffs and making it harder to scrape off the color. They can also provide stand-out promotional opportunities, including multipacks, cross-merchandising, promotional band and on-pack sample promotions.
Q: How can AB Graphic’s technology help converters looking to get into shrink sleeves?
Burton: AB Graphic has multiple solutions for shrink sleeve label production. For finishing digitally-printed shrink sleeves, ABG has multiple solutions for coating and embellishing shrink sleeves. For narrow web (350mm wide), ABG can provide coating solutions for the high slip varnish and apply whites with their flexo units on the Digicon Series 3 platform. ABG can also offer turnbar solutions for shrink applications where coating is required on both sides of the web. ABG can add embellishment to the shrink sleeves, such as cold foiling and high build screen effects, with the high-speed flat-bed screen module on the DS3. For the finishing of shrink sleeves, Enprom provides a wide range of products for shrink sleeve finishing. These products include seaming machines and inspection machines for shrink sleeves.
Q: What are the most challenging aspects to shrink sleeving?
Burton: Printing, because you have to keep the web cool, as the material is designed to shrink under heat. Finishing is also challenging, with seaming accuracy, lay flat width, slip characteristics of varnishes for application lines.
Orozco: In addition to those mentioned above, several factors can influence here. In the case of a sleeve seaming machine for shrink sleeves, the finishing is very important. This can influence the type of material (purity, although sometimes customers say that the material is pure, sometimes it is not 100% pure and is mixed, greatly influencing the finish), and another challenging factor is the application system.
Q: Where do you see shrink sleeve technology in the future?
Orozco: The Asia Pacific market is estimated to register the highest CAGR, largely attributed to the mounting demand for beverage and packaged food in China, India and Asian countries. Shrink sleeves entered the European market shortly after penetrating the Asian market, and Europe accounts for some 20% of the world label market today, though European sleeve labeling growth is forecast to be somewhat uneven over the coming years. North America followed Europe’s lead with shrink sleeves several years after the technology took hold there, but the diffusion and growth in North America happened at a consistent rate. Still a slightly smaller market than Europe, North America now has multiple market players and is forecast to gain further momentum, with future manufacturing investment. Latin America and some parts of Africa are the most recent to adopt shrink sleeve labeling technology. The growth of the market in these regions is expected to be somewhat sluggish between 2017 and 2021.
With the market penetration of shrink sleeves in Asia Pacific being very high, the industry has its sights set on achieving the same level of penetration in Europe and North America as in Asia Pacific. The rate of growth depends on green policies and consumers’ approach to plastics in the future and whether countries can sort their recycling infrastructure out. If they can, there is a good chance the growth rate will increase, as there are green credentials if the shrink and the container are made from the same material. This can all be melted and reused.