The brand owner is most concerned with creating and executing a shrink sleeve design that engages the customer at the point of sale. In order to execute a truly successful design, however, the brand owner must work closely with the structural designer, the graphic designer and the material supplier to select a container shape and design that meets the needs of the container filling line and can be applied and processed through a high speed shrink tunnel.
In spite of these considerations, the ability to utilize 360-degrees of the container’s surface presents amazing marketing opportunities for the brand owner. Figure 3.1 provides a great illustration of the opportunity that this labeling technology presents.
Figure 3.1 Comparison between a label (left) and a sleeve (right) used to decorate Barcardi Breezer. Source- Esko
Bacardi, the well-known spirits company, changed their Breezer design from a label (on the left) to a shrink sleeve (on the right) and realized increased sales revenues by doing so. In this instance, the brand owner had utilized roughly 25 percent of the surface area of the bottle to convey the brand message. With the shrink sleeve, the surface area usage increased to almost 100 percent.
Look and compare the two, and then make up your own mind. Which package is more compelling?
CONTAINER SHAPE AND SIZE
The size, the color and the shape of a product will determine the type of container to be used. Bacardi used an outstanding design and had the courage to select a shrink sleeve label to maximize product impact at the point of sale. However, the selection of the container itself, the primary package, should be a shape that the brand owner selects that translates and communicates the brand. The shape of the primary container becomes inseparable from the brand style and drives brand recognition, brand loyalty and ultimately product sales. A perfect example of that is Coca-Cola (Figure 3.2).
Figure 3.2 The Coca-Cola shape translates and communicates the brand. Source- Esko
In addition to aesthetics, shape can also incorporate function. It can be ergonomic, easy to grab, to hold on to. For these reasons, it is important to take a holistic and inclusive approach to the design process. Certainly, the design process needs to be discussed early on. What kind of shape is going to be used? This is typically a selection made by the brand. How does this decision translate down the production chain and all the way to the end; to palletisation? Sometimes by changing a design and making it a little bit shorter and maybe a little bit wider, it becomes possible to optimize the design for maximum shipping efficiency.
The Cape Pack software offered by Esko, for example, incorporates value stream mapping that analyzes process steps and identifies waste along the workflow. Walmart uses a similar methodology to optimize shelf space and to optimize shipping utilization, enabling more goods to fit into its shipping containers. In other words, with the right software, sound process analysis, and giving the container shape some additional, strategic thought, it becomes possible to increase the amount of product in a container or on a pallet by five to 10 percent, thereby optimizing revenues and profits. See Figure 3.3.
Figure 3.3 Cape Pack optimizes the shape to fit more products onto a pallet and shipping containers. Source- Esko
As mentioned earlier, in addition to the aesthetics, shape can incorporate function, which brings in the role of ergonomics in pack design. Figures 3.4 and 3.5 show two examples of this with the functionality of grip and the sense of touch coming into play. The value of tactile appeal and the ability to evoke positive associations through the sense of touch are important and value-adding dimensions to consider in your container shape and design. Because shrink sleeving provides a 360-degree canvas, some of that area can be used to incorporate tamper evidence; this and other functional design elements like child safety features add value to the package design, but shrink sleeve labels all come down to graphics – picking graphics that best suit and follow the container shape, and then pre-distorting the graphics to fit.
Figure 3.4 (left) and Figure 3.5 (right) show examples of how feel and touch can be built into the container shape and graphics. Source- Esko
With today’s state-of-the-art software, like the shrink sleeve plugin for Adobe Illustrator from Esko, the software will pre-distort the design to maintain perfect consistency after heat-tunnel distortion. State-of-the-art pre-press tools will support the production process and make sure the design maintains its integrity wherever images, logos, text or barcodes are placed on the 360-degree canvas.
As previously mentioned, the early stages of the shrink sleeve design process need to bring together the brand owner, the substrate supplier, a structural designer and a graphic designer. The message should be, ‘Think before you shrink’. Think holistically about the container to avoid any unwelcome surprises.
SHRINK SLEEVE PRE-PRESS WORKFLOW
There are many software solutions available today that can simplify the shrink sleeve workflow process, but, in general, pre-press consists of three steps (see Figure 3.6). The first step is to prepare the graphics. For that purpose, Esko has a software suite that conveniently plugs in to Adobe Illustrator and is intuitive to use and relatively easy to learn.
Reviewing Figure 3.6, you will see that the lower left hand corner shows a file format called COLLADA. COLLADA is an XML-based three-dimensional asset exchange schema, and the acronym stands for ‘Collaborative Design Activity’. It is an industry standard file format to exchange three-dimensional design files, just as PDF is for graphics data. Invented by Sony over a decade ago, this open source file format is widely used in the industry today. Any files with the filename extension ‘.dae’ (digital asset exchange) or ‘.zae’ (zipped asset exchange) can be exploited in three-dimensional design applications like Maya, Rhino, MODO, and Cinema 4D. All of these high-end three-dimensional design applications can generate assets in the COLLADA file format.
Figure 3.6 The shrink sleeve design, origination and pre-press process. Source- Esko
Once we have created our primary container shape in the COLLADA file format, the next step is to add graphics and prepare for the sleeve pre-distortion. Esko has a software application called ‘Studio’ for this purpose. This is a standalone software application on Mac or PC where a virtual sleeve is applied onto the primary container. This is where the typology, the three-dimensional landscape, can be determined.
Think of it as a landscape. That intelligence is now used to pre-distort the graphic design in such a way that, after shrinking the printed sleeve in a shrink tunnel, the design looks just as it was originally intended.
At this point, you can create a virtual pack shot of your shrink sleeve design, even before producing a physical mock-up or starting production. This visualization is a key component in the review and approval process with the brand owner. As this step comes early in the design process and all design objects are dynamically stored in standard formats, it is still very easy to modify the design of both the primary container and the graphics design without accruing any manufacturing costs whatsoever.
The usefulness of these virtual pack shots goes beyond the review and approval process. Once the package is approved and ready to go to production, these pack shots can be used in the go-to-market process, being featured on e-commerce web shops or appearing in social media campaigns long before the first dollar is spent on actual manufacturing.
The exchange of virtual pack shot in the review and approval process happens again with a standard file format, this time using standard PDF. The PDF file format has the ability to incorporate three-dimensional data. Acrobat Reader, the free version, can visualize this three-dimensional information on screen, enabling the operator to review all 360-degrees of the container, just like any other stakeholder in the supply chain can.
The disadvantage of using standard PDF is that not every aspect of the finished container can be visualized. Finishing and embellishments like coatings, varnishes, foils and embossing are all visual effects that materialize when interacting with the light sources in a certain location, e.g., in a retail environment. As such, Acrobat cannot show the light casting off the substrate on to a surface or show the shininess or transparency of the substrate.
To close this gap and enable virtual evaluation of material and finishing effects, Esko has brought to market another plugin for Adobe Illustrator called ‘Studio Visualiser’. With this tool, there is not only an on-screen, realistic visualization of a primary pack with the sleeve applied, but there is also the option to output high-resolution pack shots. The software supports a choice of lighting environments for a more realistic pack shot and for product movies. Effectively, in the review and approval process, this software tool enables communication of hyper-realistic bottles in a store environment, typically done over a digital movie file format like .mov or .mp4. These file formats are viewable on mobile devices, meaning that the review and approval process is no longer limited to the confined space of an office.
CREATING CAD DATA AND SUPPLYING ARTWORK
What has been described so far is finding the balance between what is required and what is desired. In essence, the starting point is CAD data: three-dimensional data describing the primary package, be it a box, a folding carton, a display or a bottle. In paperboard packaging, the CAD data are easy to see: take a box, unfold it and what you end up with is the die-line, which can be seen on the left hand side of Figure 3.7.
Figure 3.7 Creating a dieline for a box or folding carton. Source- Esko
The CAD data for a container and the die-line for a three-dimensional design, however, are much more complex. Moreover, it is not possible to cut open a canister and unfold it. A typology needs to be followed to create CAD data such as the one shown in Figure 3.8.
Figure 3.8 The complex die line for a container. Source- Esko
Sometime the CAD data for such containers originate from the container manufacturer or from the brand owner or agency. There will be specification sheets for the containers, whether bottles, jars or tubs; sometimes it can be created from the outline of the container with the measurements; sometimes it can be created from a CAD drawing; sometimes it can be created by scanning. Each of these will be discussed in the next few paragraphs. The challenge (Figure 3.9) is to take a flat graphic design and be able to position it on the three-dimensional container die-line, ultimately creating the three-dimensional decorated container image. Regardless of how the container die-line is created, it will always require a file and physical samples. In other words, the three-dimensional graphic design will always be created on a two-dimensional rectangular canvas.
Figure 3.9 Regardless of the shape of the container, the design will be created on a two-dimensional rectangular space. Source- Esko
Apart from the container manufacturer’s CAD data, the starting point may be a two-dimensional illustration, as shown in Figure 3.10. On the left is a drawing from the tub manufacturer. From this shape, we can create an outline in Illustrator, thereby giving us a container profile. It is even possible to take a picture of the container and upload it into Illustrator to outline the container profile.
Figure 3.10 Creating a profile from a drawing or catalogue. Source- Esko
Once traced, a toolkit called ‘Toolkit for Labels’ allows the profile tracing to revolve 360-degrees, creating a three-dimensional design in just seconds (Figure 3.11). It is not necessary to know all of the high-end design programs, but the disadvantage of this is that it only works for symmetrical products like, for example, a water bottle or anything that can revolve around the Z axis.
Figure 3.11 Creation of a three-dimensional container using Toolkit for Labels. Source- Esko
Figure 3.12 shows a profile shape in Adobe Illustrator. Select the ‘revolve’ option and a window will pop up to set the axis, indicate which material is going to be used . matte plastic, glass . and allow for color to be added.
Figure 3.12 Using Esko Toolkit for Labels, a profile can be revolved into a shape. Source- Esko
Next, this information will be incorporated into the three-dimensional model to bring the concept to life.
Non-symmetrical shapes present a greater challenge than do symmetrical ones, but we can rely on sophisticated software to handle these types of containers as well. Just as Apple offers music, videos and applications in the iTunes store for its users, Esko offers countless container shapes in its Shapes Store, which are available for download. Figure 3.13 shows just one page (of almost 20 and growing) in the Shapes Store.
Figure 3.13 A whole range of shapes can be downloaded from the Shapes Store. Source- Esko
A fixed library of primary container CAD data has its limitations, however. One such limitation is that the designs are not ‘parametric’, meaning that if, for example, we download a European glass jar, the jar may have a 250g capacity. But what if we need a 300g or 500g jar? In fact, there is a way that we can work around this. Simply download the 250g shape from the Shapes Store, which runs in Illustrator, and select ‘File’, ‘Open’, from Shapes Store. Download the shape and bring that into MODO, whose logo you’ll see in the lower left hand corner. Once in MODO, simply change the container specifications. The biggest challenge is understanding how to bring an object from the Shapes Store into MODO and change it: the best way to do so is by extruding it in a Z axis or make it more elongated in the X or Y axis.
The last element to discuss pertains to odd shapes that cannot originate from a revolution or from a library download. Three-dimensional scanners, such as the one pictured in Figure 3.14, can handle these odd shapes with ease. At a cost of roughly $3,000 to $4,000, they are a relatively low-cost investment. To use, the odd-shaped container must be first sprayed with a white opaque ink. The container is then placed on the Lazy Susan that rotates very slowly as an eye in the scanner scans the container. Once the object is fully scanned, which can take up to an hour in high resolution, it can be uploaded into one of the software components to be cleaned and optimized.
Figure 3.14 An example of a three-dimensional scanner. Source- Esko
Additionally, some websites like Turbo Squid offer designs for $30 to $40, all of which are uploaded by a network of designers. You can download these designs and customize as needed.
APPLYING THE SHRINK SLEEVE TO THE CONTAINER
With the three-dimensional container created, we will now turn our attention to applying the sleeve to our container, which we do in Toolkit (Figure 3.15). When we open the file (in either OBG or COLLADA file format), we determine the best method for applying the label to the container using the X, Y and Z axes. We can also step and repeat the container shape to create, for instance, a six-pack or a 12-pack of the container (see Figure 3.16).
Figure 3.15 With the container shape created, the next step is to determine how the sleeve will be applied to the container. Source- Esko
Figure 3.16 Step and repeat the container shape to create a six- or 12-pack. Source- Esko
Once we know how the sleeve needs to wrap around the container, the next step is to specify the production parameters, i.e., layflat, slit width, positioning, seam and shrink parameters, all of which are shown on the right hand side of Figure 3.17. The first item listed at the top of the panel on Figure 3.17 is the circumference, which gives the following options: layflat width, which is the circumference of the bottle without the seam, or layflat with the seam. If the packaging buyer or the creative agency provides these dimensions, they can be verified at this stage.
Figure 3.17 Specifying the production parameters. Source- Esko
Positioning of the seam is the next step of the process, with the key question asked being, ‘Where should the seam be positioned?’. For a 360-degree container, this is perhaps an inconsequential question, but for a detergent or window cleaner trigger bottle container, the question bears greater importance. Generally, we opt to place the seam on the side of the container adjacent to where the wrist engages with the bottle and away from the graphics. At this stage, we have the ability to visualize the seam in the software; we see it as a line. The software also allows us to enter a different view mode where we can position and turn the seam to the precise location we want it in a way that it does not interfere with the label graphics.
The final step involves inputting the material shrinkage parameters, both in the machine direction and the transverse direction, into the software, taking into consideration the effects of the heat tunnel. Shrinkage always depends on the material being used, of course, and the stiffness of the material, not to mention a friction factor that takes into consideration how easily the sleeve slides over the substrate.
When we enter these variables into the software, what follows is a truly interactive process. Click on the ‘Start’ button and the process unfolds before the operator’s eyes. The simulation shows in real time how the CAD data of the shrink sleeve conforming to the container. The operator also has the ability to review the process at varying speeds.
Once rendered, it is now possible to preview the layflat of the sleeve and save the CAD data of the sleeve (Figure 3.18). It is also possible to toggle between the layflat in two-dimensional and three-dimensional formats. When in two-dimensional format, we have the exact label measurement readouts, which the graphic designer and illustrator will need as they add graphics to the sleeve. They will then know precisely how to position the graphics and which areas to avoid, e.g., the seam area.
Figure 3.18 The sleeve can be saved and measurements can be provided for the graphic designer as they begin the process of adding graphics to the sleeve. Source- Esko
In Figure 3.19 is a visual depiction of the flat sleeve graphic in Adobe Illustrator. We will open this file in the File menu and review the recently-created sleeve, which is in COLLADA format. What happens next using the Designer Studio software within Adobe Illustrator is quite incredible: we see in Figure 3.20 a preview of the labeled container. This is the decisive moment where structure and graphics come together for the first time in the design process. The beauty of this is that we see how the structure and graphics converge before placing a single container into a heat tunnel, which results in significant efficiencies and cost savings to the process.
Figure 3.19 The sleeve graphics in Adobe Illustrator. Source- Esko
Figure 3.20 The container structure and graphics come together for the first time. Source- Esko
Proper distortion of the sleeve artwork is possibly the most difficult aspect of shrink sleeve label design, and the amount of shrink necessary depends on the shape of the container. If we review Figure 3.21, we can see that the label design will require significant distortion in the center and towards the top of the container; in other words, we observe distortion in the Z-axis from the top to the bottom of the container.
Let’s take a look at the graphic of the strawberries in Figure 3.21. The Photoshop operator needs to select specific graphic elements and look at the crop size of the strawberry to achieve the perfect distortion. The operator can continue by selecting other elements on the container and working in a similar fashion.
Figure 3.21 Artwork, text and images can easily be distorted using the Esko Studio for Shrink plugin. Source- Esko
Figure 3.22 provides us with a visual of what the finished product will look like, and it takes into account the different styles of distortion, which pertain to the angle from which we view the sleeved container. For instance, if the container is looked at straight on and is then rotated and viewed from the side, is the graphic going to follow the shape? How will the graphic appear from varying angles? Again, the software allows us to take these perspectives into consideration and to fine-tune for these nuances.
Figure 3.22 An image in Illustrator of what the decorated sleeve looks like. Source- Esko
Another option within the software is to accommodate for different lighting environments. Looking at the bottom right window in Figure 3.23, it is possible to select from a number of lighting environments . from a supermarket aisle to an airport, a warehouse or outdoors. Each option offers its own lighting environment, and each option will provide a different type of reflection on the shrink sleeve material. It is even possible to stage the product in a virtual retail environment where the operator can walk through the aisle, select the product (or any other product on the shelf, for that matter), look at it, and place it back on the shelf. All of this is possible with Store Visualizer, a software solution that offers Virtual Reality (VR) helmets and touch screen support, taking this experience to an entirely new level.
Figure 3.23 The software allows for the selection of different lighting environments. Source- Esko
Taking this simulation process even further, Adobe Illustrator allows us the option of selecting different label substrates to understand, for instance, what the design looks like on a PVC film versus a transparent film. A list of standard materials, much longer than can be seen on the window in Figure 3.24, is available for selection, and the results can be communicated to the customer for approval.
Figure 3.24 Use the window to select one of the many substrate options available. Source- Esko
We can accomplish this by exporting a COLLADA file that includes graphics (Figure 3.25). When this file is uploaded to a web-based collaboration solution, like Esko WebCenter, for example, all stakeholders have the ability to review the final design together virtually, saving on shipping costs and reducing the production process costs.
With the project managed in WebCenter, stakeholders have the ability to create multiple iterations and review many versions until everyone is satisfied.
Figure 3.25 Export the COLLADA file and save to Esko WebCenter for further review. Source- Esko
Figure 3.26 shows an example of how interactive tools like Studio integrate with a web-based collaboration and approval solution called WebCenter. All operations happen from within Adobe Illustrator, but in the background, WebCenter will run automated workflows to ensure that external partners are invited to view the design in the browser of their choice. Invitees can even review designs via their mobile device or tablet.
Figure 3.26 The file can be approved in WebCenter using any browser or mobile platform. Source- Esko
Studio can also combine and manipulate different shapes together, such as we see in Figure 3.27. This example combines a carton with three containers, which represent three different flavors of honey in one cardboard container. We typically see combinations like these when the brand owner launches promotional campaigns for the product. This mock-up can be created by bringing the components together in Studio.
Figure 3.27 Esko Studio Toolkit combines different shapes. Source- Esko
Figure 3.28 shows an example of a sleeve being created for a six-pack. This type of sleeve will take a bit longer to render, though, given the complexity of the calculations.
Figure 3.28 Applying a shrink sleeve design to a six pack. Source- Esko
A finished multi-pack of dog food cans is shown in Figure 3.29. The label going around the cans was applied in Adobe Illustrator. Step one involved measuring the six cans in this multi-unit pack. Step two involved applying a shrink sleeve wrap around these six measured cans. Step three involved applying graphics to the shrink sleeve.
Figure 3.29 A finished shrink sleeve multi-pack of dog food cans. Source- Esko
How are barcodes included in the design of the shrink sleeve label, and what factors must we consider when applying them and determining their positioning on the label? Esko offers tools to apply the barcode within Adobe Illustrator. Supported barcodes include all standard barcodes, QR codes, UPC codes and smart barcodes.
What considerations need to be taken into account when positioning barcodes? First, place the barcode on the least curved position of the container; it is necessary to make sure that the barcode is readable. Electronic barcode readers can determine whether a barcode is readable, and barcodes can even be graded for their readability. To do so, a more robust solution called Automation Engine is required. Automation Engine is powered by GlobalVision, a set of tools for the automated inspection of barcodes, braille text, and spelling. A spelling checker is available to spell-check designs in background, as part of an automated workflow.
Second, position the barcode vertically rather than horizontally on the label. In doing so, the barcode becomes less susceptible to shrinkage distortions that may render it unreadable.
Third, do not position the barcode too closely to the seam. Doing so could affect readability as the risk is present of clipping part of the barcode off. These points, which are summarized in Figure 3.30, all seem fairly intuitive, but never assume that all stakeholders follow these rules. Designers sometimes do not work closely with the sleeve converter, or the revision process is not always as thorough as can be. In other words, things can – and do – go wrong.
Figure 3.30 Barcode positioning considerations. Source- Esko
To summarize, the brand owner, the converter and the graphic designer must all work in tandem to make this complex and nuanced process work, and to deliver a perfect shrink sleeve label whose design aligns perfectly to the contours of the container it is decorating. Fortunately for all of these stakeholders, we have seen advances in software that allow us to not only create a beautifully-designed shrink sleeve label, but also allow us to simulate the transition from a two-dimensional design to a three-dimensional work of art that captures the consumer’s attention and compels them to purchase the product, which is the reason we opted for shrink sleeve labeling in the first place!