It is difficult to comprehend that until relatively recently there were only two choices when it came to applying a label to a pack, for example, licking a pre-gummed label or getting out the glue pot.
Today however, there are a wide variety of methods used to decorate a pack and it is very easy to make assumptions about the colorful livery that brand owners adopt to make their product attractive to the consumer.
A key aim of this series of articles is to explore most of the commonly used methods of pack decoration, explain why a particular method is used, examine the key characteristics, as well as the processes and technologies involved in producing the finished decorated pack.
We will cover four key categories of product decoration (see Figure 1.1).
Figure 1.1 Main product decoration technologies
Direct decoration involves the application of unsupported liquid ink directly onto the pack or product.
Direct printing using both analogue and increasingly digital methods, is being used for a wide variety of applications and it has evolved for use on high throughput production lines.
With conventional direct printing, ink can be applied to the pack or packaging material using a variety of printing techniques, but in most cases the ink carrier comes into direct contact with the pack or product and the image is transferred under pressure.
Direct digital printing which is especially suitable for drop on demand inkjet printing is a significant growth area and will be dealt with in Chapter 3.
This non-contact process allows ink to be transferred directly onto the product with no contact being made with the pack surface.
DECORATIVE LABEL TECHNOLOGIES
Unlike the direct printing methods, labeling involves the application of an identifying or descriptive marker that is attached to a product or pack usually via an adhesive.
The three main labels systems that will be discussed are pressure sensitive labels, where the adhesive is already coated onto the label, glue-applied labeling where the adhesive has to be applied during the application process and in mold-labels where a label is inserted and attached to the pack whilst it is being manufactured (see Figure 1.2).
Figure 1.2 Summary of the common decorative label technologies used for pack decoration
LABELING – A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Attaching a label or descriptive marker to a product is perhaps the earliest form of product decoration. Since their first appearance the role of the printed label has been transformed.
The use of labels today is more diverse and wide ranging than ever before, covering more label processes, technology solutions, materials and requirements than at any time in the previous history of labels.
Almost every week sees new label solutions and requirements and even the once paper-only label may now be found in metallic foils, metalized papers and films, in plastics of all kinds, in synthetic papers, metals, fabrics, on rubber, and much more.
From one or two basic mechanical printing processes label technology has advanced to the stage where virtually every printing process – from letterpress to offset, flexo and UV flexo to screen, gravure to hot stamping – can be found. Increasingly label manufacturers and users are producing labels with a variety of digital printing technologies.
We will uncover the story behind each labeling system including systems that integrate labels into plastic packing during its manufacturing process (known as in-mold labeling).
The function of the label is simply to say what is inside the pack and in some cases to visually enhance the pack.
The label has multiple functions.
It needs to provide the consumer or user with all the necessary regulatory information . name of the product, ingredients/contents, manufacturer/supplier contact details, weight/volume, health or safety information, usage instructions, etc., and provide a means to market the product. The information provided on almost all labels today is governed by comprehensive national or international legislative requirements.
It is easy to speculate on when the earliest paper labels may have been used … a piece of papyrus stuck on an earthenware pot 3,000 years ago or a hand-written label on handmade paper made by the Chinese 2,000 years ago. In the fifteenth century paper had become more available, allowing the label to be widely used.
The earliest known 'printed' labels were used during the sixteenth century for bales of cloth. By 1700 printed medicine labels were in use, and possibly wine labels in Italy.
Paper-makers were probably the first to use wrappers with a printed design in the center.
It may be these designs were cut out and used as labels.
Until the end of the eighteenth century labels were printed by hand on wooden presses, using handmade paper.
In 1798 two inventions led to the proliferation of labels: the paper-making machine, invented in France by Nicolas-Louis Robert; and the principle of lithography, discovered by Alois Senefelder in Bavaria.
By the 1830s labels were used on all forms of packaging material and on a wide range of products. The next revolution was to be color printing (Figure 1.3).
Figure 1.3 An explosion in beverage label printing occurred from the end of the 1800s and throughout the 20th century
Color obviously enhanced the label greatly, but it was expensive to have labels colored by hand. Developments progressed to find an effective, but inexpensive way to print in color and in 1835 George Baxter patented his method of color printing from wood engravings. By the 1850s the process of chromo-lithography (printing on stones using a system of dots and solid areas) had been developed.
Shrink sleeve labeling is a growing technology, initially used to band two or more packs together for promotional purposes, which has since evolved to encompass the decoration of individual unit packs.
Labels are produced in sleeve form from specially formulated films which are capable of shrinking biaxially around a product.
Shrink sleeve labeling was originally developed in Japan in the 1960s in order to produce shrinkable cap seals for tamper evidence on sake bottles.
Later this was used to band two or more packs together for promotional purposes, before extending to the labeling of individual unit packs in the 1980s.
Sleeves provide 360 degree graphics around a pack offering surface protection from rubbing and a high degree of label security (Figure 1.4).
Figure 1.4 Heat shrink sleeving provides 360 degree graphics on Smirnoff Sours. Source- CCL Label
The 4 main sleeving formats used today will be covered in detail here.
These formats are:
Pre-welded shrink sleeves
Reel-fed wrapround sleeving
Roll-on shrink-on sleeving (ROSO).
The use of pre-printed flexible materials in the primary decoration of products, offers a convenient way of integrating packaging and marketing requirement into a single system (with no need for any additional labeling).
The use of printed filmic, paper or foil materials formed into wrappers, packs, pouches, lids, bags or sacks etc to cover or contain a product has many distinct advantages over other decorative packaging.
In effect the wrapper itself acts as both the packaging and the label and therefore requires no further decorative input. It is therefore low cost, light and disposable and is an extremely attractive option for brand owners.
Flexible materials can be difficult to convert and there are some issues to consider where the packaging material is in direct contact with say a food product.
We will explore a number of flexible packaging systems in use and their roll as a carrier of product decoration and branding in a variety of market sectors.
MARKET STRUCTURE & TRENDS
Traditional wet-glue applied and pressure-sensitive (self-adhesive) labels make up approx 76% of all labels used globally, but while the growing usage of plastics in packaging has stimulated the rise of filmic pressure-sensitive labels, it has also opened markets for the newer labeling technologies.
Sleeving technologies (shrink, stretch, wraparound and roll on shrink on) are increasing with a share of 17 percent, in-mold with a 2 percent share, with other labeling technologies making up the balance of the market at 5 percent (see Figure 1.5).
Figure 1.5 Global label market by technology. Source- AWA
Pressure-sensitive and sleeve labels represent the fastest growing segments of the global label market, with digital label printing now the fastest growing print technology worldwide, with 30 percent of all global label press investment in 2014 being digital presses.
The market for flexibles which accounts for the largest sector of global package printing is expected to achieve growth rates of +4.5 percent annually until 2020.
Rapid growth in recent years has been driven by an array of innovative new origination, print image carrier and press technologies, as well as developments in flexible packaging substrates which have seen quality decorated films become ever more attractive in a consumer-driven world.
Single or re-fill pouches, in particular are being used for an increasing range of products, from liquid detergents to beverages and lubricants – and this is expected to continue to grow rapidly (Figure 1.6).
Figure 1.6 Printed flexible pouch
Each labeling and decoration technology, their role and relevance to different packaging formats will be covered in depth in this book.