April 30, 2019 | Mark Andy Inc.

Application at a Glance: Shrink Sleeves

Sleeve labeling is one of the hottest markets in print. Everyone is either printing them or evaluating options to get their operation in a position to capture that business. This market relatively new to the narrower converters, with gravure and wide web printers historically specializing in the application. But as run lengths continue to reduce across all packaged good sectors and technology becomes more application agnostic, “label guys” are getting a piece of the action.

What’s a Shrink Sleeve?

Put simply, shrink sleeves are packaging vehicles that are printed and shrunk using heat or steam to fit perfectly around a contoured container. To accommodate for the shrinkage, a distortion is applied to the artwork in the pre-press stage, using software from market leaders such as Esko, to deliver a 75% average distortion level to accommodate the complex contours of the container shape. To the naked eye, the off-press product will appear illegible, but this is actually the intended result and a product of the sophisticated software and press technology used to make an application like this shine to its fullest potential when shrunk.

Extended Gamut sleeves for water cans printed on the Performance Series P7

Once printed on a flexo or digital hybrid press, rolls are then funneled to the next step in the production workflow, which is seaming. Seaming can be done many ways and is typically managed in-house by converters using solutions from vendors like Accraply. After seaming, production is full steam ahead – no pun intended. Once with the packager, they are applied to the product and run through a steam tunnel to shrink on the intended vessel and shipped to store shelves.

A Growing Market

Now that we know a little bit about the technical process, let’s dive into the market. According to AWA, industry packaging authority and keynote speaker at Mark Andy’s 2019 Shrink Sleeve Seminar, sleeve labeling accounts for roughly 18% of the global label market. Much like various other segments of print, think your short runs or flexible packaging applications, shrink is growing year over year and is the third most popular labeling construction method globally. Its compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is about 5.5% and expected to remain steady in AWA’s two-year forecast.

What’s Pushing Demand?

The drivers of shrink growth are twofold. Both Brand Managers and end users give preference to the packaging vehicle, albeit for different reasons.

Brands are shifting focus from labels to shrink and one of the main reasons is messaging space. To illustrate this, let’s take your standard beverage bottle. Pressure sensitive limits you to certain branding space and often requires both primary and secondary labels to get key brand attributes and regulatory items across. When covering the entire product with moldable packaging, brands have nearly 60% more “real estate” on the product to get messages across.

So why would a consumer care about a shrink sleeve? The kicker is, they don’t! To the consumer, it’s all about products that elicit an emotional response and jump off shelves, and what better way to do so than with a uniquely shaped container with a full-bodied label? With more coverage, there is a heightened chance for a more positive response to a product. Well worth the estimated 25% price jump brands see (and converters reap!) when switching from labels to shrink. Shifting from subliminal preference, many consumers also prefer the moisture resistance, brighter coloring, and unique shapes that go hand in hand with the bulk of shrink applications.

Where is it Growing?

With the demand there, I’m sure you’re wondering where you can get a slice of the pie. Shrink is becoming increasingly popular in a vast majority of end-use segments, primarily in Food & Beverage and well as personal care products. The application is also maintaining its dominance in the security and pharmaceutical sector, with tamper evident seals being the common byproduct.

Additionally, as bulk purchasing becomes a bigger trend in the Americas (AKA everything you buy at the big box retailers like Costco or Sam’s Club), using sleeve applications to package multiple units together to push sales volume is another strategy that brands are using and converters can benefit from.

Geographically speaking, Asia Pacific is one of the regions that shrink sleeve applications are taking off. This is a result of material availability, low labor costs, and a booming increase in the demand for packaged goods. Generally speaking though, no matter where you are it’s likely you have a local client (even more likely an existing client) who is purchasing shrink or investigating the transition into the application.

Ready to Get Started?

Getting into shrink production is more than just distortion software and new business. You need the right technology, supplies, and workflow to bring it all together. Luckily, the Mark Andy team developed a comprehensive workshop curriculum aimed at people looking to take the plunge into this new market.