High-quality, high-gloss graphics—delivered by CAD, which can predict distortions—are today achieved with UV and LED flexo on heat shrink sleeves. A particular advantage of LED flexo is that the lamp systems are cold, and therefore do not induce any shrinkage in the film while it is being printed. Digital print technologies have also moved into the heat shrink sleeve print mainstream, from the realms of pilot printruns. Their ability to provide highly customized/personalized labels has added an extra dimension to the overall range of attractions provided by heat shrink sleeve labels.
Stretch sleeve labels represent 8 percent of current global demand by sleeve label format, and are currently most used in Europe. They are a popular solution for prime labels on larger containers and can also be used to create separate tamper-evident container cap closures.
Modified PE films are the primary materials chosen for stretch sleeves. Films are available that provide for deformation of up to 40 percent, and they also offer environmental advantages in the recycling of labeled PET bottles. In Germany, for example, they are the preferred choice for the labeling of bottled water, as they are easier to remove and impose less thermal strain on recycled and refillable PET bottles, adding to bottle life.
RFS and ROSO MD shrink sleeves, delivered on the roll in printed flat webs, shrink only in the machine direction, and together claim just 5 percent of the total sleeving market. PP/PO films are widely used in RFS MD sleeve label and ROSO applications.
Global Sleeve Label
Market by Region, 2017
Polypropylene films are the most common choice for ROSO MD labels, and recent developments with specialist co-extruded polyolefin films—PS/PE—have improved the degree of shrinkage and enhanced the recyclability properties of PET containers labeled with RFS MD shrink labels.
This is still an emerging technology and, as developments in materials (e.g. higher-shrinkage PET-G MD shrink films) and in-label application methods continue, AWA forecasts annual growth to 2020 at around 4 percent, with growth in the well-established ROSO MD labels at 3.6 percent.
Sleeve Label Regional Markets
The largest geographical market for the sleeve label format as a whole is the Asia Pacific region, with an estimated 65 percent share of global demand, and with China the largest single-country user. It is also the home market for heat shrink TD sleeve labels, with the initial development of the technology having been based in Japan, which is now in itself a mature market for sleeving technology.
Europe is the second-largest regional user of the sleeve label formats, with around 19 percent of the global market—and estimated to have grown by 5.5 percent in 2017 over the prior year.
North America is the third-largest consumer of sleeve labels, with 11 percent of global demand, much of it in heat shrink TD sleeve labels. As with Europe and Asia, demand is estimated to have grown by 5.7 percent in 2017.
Other identifiable current geographical growth centers for sleeving technologies are South America, India, and to a lesser extent, eastern Europe.
Sleeve Label Awards 2018
AWA Alexander Watson Associates launched its Sleeve Label Awards in 2014 to reward quality and originality in the design, production and application of all types of sleeve labels. Now, four years later, it maintains that 2018 winners prove how innovative and technically superb this industry is.
Here are highlights of the presentation:
- Sleeved Cans: One of the fastest-growing sectors for sleeve labeling delivered two winners: Safety Seal Plastics of Canada, for One Love beer cans. Judges said, “Graphics that mimic the strokes of an artist’s brush on canvas, incorporation of technically challenging holographic and tactile effects, coupled with the complex use of matte and gloss finishes, put this sleeved can in a league of its own.” Additionally, they cited, “Flawless execution of a very creative and ambitious sleeve.”
Recognizing a sleeving project that makes an environmental contribution, judges again singled out Safety Seal Plastics of Canada for another beer can label—Big Spruce Tag! You’re It! sleeves. Excellent use of perforation and tear tape to facilitate sleeve removal for recycling the can after use was applauded. Of significance: “Quality was not compromised to secure environmental credentials”
- Heat TD Shrink Sleeves: Masterpress of Poland took the award for the limited edition Stock Carbon Prestige vodka bottle. Judges commented on “simple elegance of this presentation, which is not only eye catching, but exudes prestige.” They also said, “Depth of design and technical execution is among the best we have ever seen”
- Innovation: FTA member Phenix Label of Olathe, KS won for the Restless Spirits Distilling Co’s GullyTown whiskey bottle. Judges indicated that they felt they were looking at a truly original combination of design and imaging, and described the winning sleeve as, “a storybook label that calls us to know more about GullyTown!” They added, “Monochromatic copper colors, punctuated with vivid blue and white accents and the clever use of the river as a window to the contents, exude the historical significance of this product. The feeling of textured/hammered copper that is achieved through a reverse-printed tactile coating is not only creative, [but also] solidifies this label as distinctive and innovative”
Note: The AWA Global Sleeve Label Market Study 2018 from AWA Alexander Watson Associates provides an update for all involved in the complex value chain on current status and trends for the future. The new study details its subject by label format, materials, technologies and regional volumes, with useful input on the changing market structure and trends within the sector. It concludes with a current directory of the industry’s base of films, inks, resins and adhesives, labeling systems, and sleeve label printers.