Shrink sleeve labeling has become one of the fastest growing trends in packaging decoration over the last few decades. Shrink sleeves adorn a multitude of products across many industries, including food, beverages and pharmaceuticals, as well as personal and household items.

Much has been written about the benefits of shrink sleeve labeling, such as the ease of adding tamper evidence, as well as the boost it can give to brand awareness and shelf appeal for customers via great graphic possibilities. They can enhance your brand’s impact, incorporating bright, attractive colors and designs over the entire surface of the product while providing more coverage than any other labeling type. Not only that, but unique, eye-catching container shapes pose no problem because shrink sleeve labels work well even on complex container shapes.

With traditional labeling, using stock bottles for a wide variety of products isn’t always a possibility. With full body shrink sleeve labels that cover 100 percent of the surface area, using plain stock bottles for all of your products can be done with relative ease. No label liner material needs to be managed, as is the case with pressure sensitive labels.

Most labels, like pressure sensitive labeling, require strong adhesives that may not be recyclable and environmentally-friendly. Pressure sensitive labeling uses materials like siliconized paper and filmic liner, face sheet paper and plastic, adhesive emulsion acrylic, solvent, and rubber bases. With full body shrink sleeve labeling there are fewer materials in the recycle stream compared to sensitive labeling. Full body shrink sleeve labels can be made using materials that are completely eco-friendly and, in some cases, biodegradable. By using eco-friendly shrink labeling film and bottles, brand owners will be able to market products as safer for the environment — an attractive option for many environmentally-conscious consumers.

Requires Less Changeover Time

Since shrink sleeve labels can be used on stock bottles for multiple products, little time is required to transition the packaging line to labeling a new product. If failures do arise, the products on line are easier to manage as there are no die cutting issues. Overall, products using full body shrink sleeve labeling are easier to rework. Users don’t have to worry about high permanence adhesives, common with other types of labeling, which are normally solvent or acrylic bases.

In the end, this not only saves you time and money, it also allows you to more rapidly adapt to the demands of your customers and quickly shift to producing new products when supplies run low.

All of this adds up to a label that dramatically enhances your product’s market presence, making it much more likely to be noticed by potential customers at the point of purchase, as well as for entire duration they have it in their homes.

Users will want to be 100 percent confident that shrink sleeve labeling is the right method to support the brand. A great way to do this is by testing labels through actual shrink tunnels before making the final decision. But how does shrink sleeve labeling work? For those who have never used shrink sleeve labels on their products, or even those who do but don’t understand the process, we break it down for you here.

Types of Shrink Sleeve Applications

The first thing to understand is the different types of shrink sleeve applications: full body, partial body, or full body with tamper evidence. Full body shrink sleeves provide 360-degree coverage from tip to toe of the packaging. This is especially useful over complex curves or when there are large differences in container diameter. A tamper evident feature also can be added to full-body sleeves at minimal additional cost by extending the sleeve over the cap and adding a horizontal perforation. Tamper evidence adds a layer of security, especially important with medicinal or food products, increasing consumer confidence in your brand.

Shrink Labeling Films

Successful shrink labeling starts with the film selected for the shrink sleeve. There is a range of available shrink materials that vary in grade, cost, and shrink characteristics. The type of film chosen will depend on a number of factors, the most important being the shrink curves. Shrink curves illustrate the percentage of shrinking that occurs at specific temperatures over specific time periods in a controlled environment.

Each type of film has its own shrink curve. Labels printed on the incorrect film will not do the job and may result in excessive downtime. It is best to prototype the packaging by testing various film types, running them through the actual shrink tunnels.

Sleeve Application Machinery

The first step of the sleeving process involves products running through a sleeve applicator. These machines apply the sleeves with printed graphics onto the product, including orienting the graphics on non-round containers. There are many models of machines that will apply shrink labels, at a range of line speeds from 50 up to 800 containers per minute. 

Shrink Tunnels

Shrink tunnels are a key part of the process of a successful shrink sleeve label application. These are the devices that conform the label to the package surface using some type of heat source.

There are three main types of tunnels for shrinking labels: convection hot air, infrared radiant, and steam. Steam tunnels require a steam source such as a steam boiler. To achieve the optimal shrink results, a combination of heat sources may be necessary.  Using multiple zones allows you to focus heat of differing temperatures at specific points on the package to get the desired effect.                                 

Prototyping The Package

When introducing a new package design, you’ll need to be absolutely certain the new graphics enhance your product and build your brand. With test runs through a shrink tunnel, using both containers and labels, you can see exactly how shrink sleeves will appear on the product — and how the new graphics impact the package appearance. This will give your packaging team confidence in the decision-making process.

Achieving an unblemished appearance of the shrink sleeve can be tricky. While shrink sleeving is ideal for complex shapes proving it out under production conditions is critical. By testing the shrink sleeve labels on the actual product, and shrink system you can make sure the package graphics and design work as well as intended.

Full body shrink sleeve labels, when extended up over the closure with a perforation, easily provide you with a built-in tamper evident seal. This allows customers to rest assured that the product was never opened or tampered with in any way before it was purchased. If the application of heat shrinkable tamper evident seals is new for your product, testing in a shrink lab will offer the ability to see how these seals appear on the packaging. It also allows the ability to test various perforation patterns for optimal ease of opening by your customers.

Testing Under Production Conditions

Having beautiful graphics on a product means little if you can’t meet market demands and keep production costs low. Conducting test runs of your product through real production tunnels at actual speeds will prove that your dream package can be manufactured in a practical way.

Creating the correct specifications for label height and size will determine final appearance of your product. It is very important to take into account both the container and sleeve tolerances to get the desired result produced at high line efficiencies. Verifying these calculations by testing through shrink tunnels is the best way to do this. Finally, having correct sizes ensures that the sleeve labels can be applied on automatic application machinery.

Shrink sleeve labeling offers tremendous advantages for decorating your products. However, it is important to be thorough and methodical when determining label sizes and material substrates, as well as finding the correct tunnel system to produce the packages that customers desire. Prototyping as a first step is worth the time and effort, and will help assure a successful project and startup.