Niche Market No More: In-Mold Labels Strengthen Brand Recognition, Cut Waste

Market watchers’ examinations of the in-mold label (IML) trade point to promising growth over the course of the five-year period stretching from 2020-2025.

General consensus places 2020 business volume just above $3 billion globally. Forecasts set compound annual growth rates (CAGRs) at between 4 percent and 6 percent. North America is seen as outpacing that performance and charting upward of 8 percent improvement each year. At the start of 2026, projections hint at business approximating $4.1 billion.

Specifically, Markets & Markets sees 2020 value at $3.2 billion. Mirroring its assessment is Reports & Data, while Coherent Market Insights’ forecast comes in at $3.3 billion. Ever so slightly different growth rate projections lead those same analysts to conclude that five years down the road, the market value will be somewhere between $4.01 billion and $4.06 billion—a range of less than $500,000 and a deviation of less than 1 percent.

Food, beverages and household cleaners are dominant categories in the in-mold labeling sphere, where flexography leads all other print processes in market share.
All photos courtesy of Yupo Corp

That’s good news for several FTA printer members that have long demonstrated expertise in the craft. Namely: Amcor, Multi-Color Corp, Inland Packaging, Smyth Companies, CCL Label, TC Transcontinental, WS Packaging, Bemis, Printpack and Edwards Label.

Driving that growth, by unanimous agreement: increased demand for eco-friendly, high-performance labels that strengthen brand recognition and identity. Durability of the synthetic substrates printed on gets consistent mention and reinforcement as a defining characteristic. Excellent dimensional stability inherent in the product resists curl and edge welding. Flagging and peeling is not a worry.

Among the bragging rights:

  • Colors pop
  • Print clarity and fidelity is outstanding
  • Images reproduce with razor sharpness
  • Materials are moisture, chemical and scratch resistant
  • Films and pseudo-papers do not tear

Available in opaque, clear and metallic, substrates allow flexographic printers to work with recessed panels, inclines, asymmetrical features and applications like hot foil and fluorescent and metallic inks. They provide a tactile touch and no-label look. One resulting critical advantage: freedom to create blow-molded bottles/containers of any design or shape in a fully recyclable decorating solution that dispenses with both liners and adhesive glue. Benefits here are obvious—added efficiency and less waste.

Substrate manufacturers familiar to FTA members that hold significant market share are: Yupo Corp, Acucote, Avery Dennison, ITW, Granwell Products, Arjobex and Hop Industries.

Lucrative Opportunity

Transparency Market Research did not offer a business segment forecast for 2020-2025, but it did make observations relative to the operating environment. “IML eliminates the need for post-production labeling and offers various advantages, such as maximum print quality with high resolution, recyclability, high resistance to humidity and scratches, and non-susceptibility to wrinkles. Other advantages are high transparency, waterproofing and permanent moldability.”

Its research team notes, “IML is currently a niche market; however, it is expected to expand significantly in the next few years. IML offers various benefits, such as low packaging weight, high durability, recyclability and protection against humidity. These factors, in turn, act as drivers for the market. Rise in the demand for packaging systems with low weight and high aesthetics is projected to augment the demand for IML.

“Growing concerns about environmental pollution are prompting manufacturers to adopt recyclable materials, typically in plastic in-labeling, and to use resins from renewable sources,” they continue. “These factors are expected to provide lucrative opportunities to vendors to invest in sustainable and eco-friendly label products in the next few years.” Their conclusion: “Rising consumer inclination toward aesthetic appeal of packaging and labeling is fueling the demand for IML in North America.”

Eco-friendly, high performance, polypropylene and flexographically printed—in-mold labeling is set to see demand rise 8 percent annually in North America. Among leading end-use segments: household products.

Coherent concurs. “Increasing customer preferences for comparatively lighter and aesthetically appealing packaging is expected to drive IML manufacturers to invest in innovative technologies. Rising environmental concerns and the need for reducing pollution has resulted in adoption of sustainable materials and resins that have been derived from renewable sources as packaging options.”

Flexo Fusion

Fior Markets chose to break out market shares for select geographic regions, filmic materials, molding methods, ink choices, influential product categories and preferred print processes. Its statement contains this perspective: “IML is defined as the process to fuse high-quality graphic images on plastic containers while molding. It involves printing high-quality IMLs at a comparatively low price. Some of the major end-use applications benefited are household, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, paint and cosmetic containers.”

Researchers describe the process further and say, “With IML, a label is properly positioned in the cavity prior to the injection of plastic. After material is injected, it is allowed to cool, with the label becoming an integral part of the container.” Of note, “Synthetic paper shrinkages nearly match those of the container, which assists in eliminating defects. Furthermore, synthetics fit the 100 percent recyclability bill, as they exhibit identical chemical characteristics as the polypropylene (PP) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) packages and can be processed as one.”

Analysts explain, “Film IMLs develop far fewer defects on the container than do paper IMLs. Most IML substrates for packaging applications are polyolefins, such as HDPE, common choices for blow molding are HDPE, cast PP, or other co-polymers, which all are very heat sensitive. When it comes to injection molding, the preference is oriented polypropylene (OPP), which has better heat resistance features. Labels for injection IML do not need an adhesive because the injected plastic, at high temperature and pressure, fuses with the plastic film label during the molding process.”

“Rise in the demand for packaging systems with low weight and high aesthetics is projected to augment the demand for IML.”

Transparency Market Research

Fast Facts

Both Fior Markets and Reports & Data report that flexographic printing holds and will continue to control the largest market share based on printing technology. Reports & Data places that share at better than 30 percent; Fior Markets puts it at better than 40 percent.

Geographic-based demographics catch the attention of both groups of analysts. Fior Markets says, “Europe dominated the global IML market with 43 percent share in 2020. North America is anticipated to grow, owing to the changing government policies about sustainable labels, which has positively impacted the performance of the IML market.” Reports & Data adds, “North America is projected to grow at the highest rate through 2026 at a CAGR of 8.2 percent, owing to changing government policies on sustainable labels.”

All analysts agree food and beverage applications dominate the market. Its share falls between 40 percent and 45 percent. In a similar vein, PP has the largest market share in volume and value on the basis of material at a CAGR of 5.7 percent, according to Reports & Data. Fior Markets maintains its share comes in at just under 50 percent.

Its analysts note, “The UV-curable inks segment is growing with the highest CAGR of better than 40 percent.” Water-soluble and thermal cure inks do hold a place, as do others.” Another significant point made: “The injection molding process represents 46 percent of the market.”

Elaborating on the last point, Reports & Data says, “Injection molding technology is, in terms of volume and value, the most widely used production process for IML among other technologies. IML is used in injection molding applications to promote three-dimensional effects on various products—food and beverages, cosmetics and automotive parts.”

Pop, sizzle, shelf appeal, name recognition and brand identity all come together in unison through IML, as a container is molded, shaped and labeled at the same moment in time. Brands, printers and consumers have all taken notice. As a result, the format continues to gain acceptance and favor. Popularity is yet to peak.