Label Applicator: Choosing a Labeling Machine Based on Label Type


The process of specifying labels will lead naturally to the next step: choosing a label applicator. 

Although you could reasonably be described as the world's leading expert on your product, getting it out to the world has led you through a jungle of packaging choices that you may have found daunting. Nevertheless, you persevered — deciding on the size, shape, and material of your can, bottle, jar, or other container — only to find yourself armpit-deep in labeling decisions.

Whatever label type you choose, you know it must contain the information consumers need (or the FDA requires), yet also have a striking design that will appeal to your target consumer.

You must deal with a myriad of other considerations too, e.g., what materials will your label use, what parts of the container will it cover, and how will it be applied? Fortunately, conversations with a good label supplier can help you sort through the confusing profusion of label types, materials, sizes, and application methods.

The process of specifying labels will lead naturally to the next step: choosing a label applicator. Selecting the right label machine based on label type (pressure-sensitive, shrink-sleeve) and location on the package container (top, wrap-around, front-back) can significantly reduce costs and boost productivity. Be sure to talk to a reputable label machine supplier such as Pack Leader USA to learn about your choices. But first, let's take a closer look at the labels themselves.

View Equipment by Label Application

Pressure-sensitive and Glue-applied Labels

Pressure-sensitive and glue-applied are the most common type of label, so we'll start with those. They may be broken down into different subtypes by face material, adhesive, and release liner.

Label face materials can be either paper or plastic. Papers come in highly glossy premium coated, glossy, or uncoated, while plastic face materials may be polypropylene, polyester, vinyl, mrPVC, or polyethylene. Each has advantages in cost, strength, and flexibility.

Label adhesives can be water-based, hot-melt, rubber, or acrylic. You'll select a label adhesive for its performance in chillers and freezers, resistance to moisture, UV light resistance, durability, and whether you want the label to be permanent or removable. Unlike most adhesives that go through a curing process and become stronger after application, removable adhesives remain in their initial state of adhesion and can be removed or repositioned later.

The release liner is the substrate that the adhesive-backed label face comes on. Since the liner's job is to hold onto the label until it is ready to be released onto a container, paper liners are coated with silicone. For machine application at high speeds, release liners are made from various plastics that are more durable than paper and have built-in release properties. 

Choosing a Label Applicator 

When you are thinking about how the labels you chose will be applied, the term "label type" takes on a different meaning. In guiding you to the right label machine, your supplier will need to know relevant factors such as:

  • Container size
  • Container shape
  • Number of labels to be applied
  • Where labels are to be applied
  • Speed of production

Once these basics are known, it's easier to narrow down which label applicator you need. Here's a useful breakdown of label machine types:


Wrap around labelers (labeling machines for round containers)


Top labelers (labeling machines for container tops)


Top & bottom labelers (PL-501-NL horizontal wrap-around labeling system)


Front & back labelers (PL-521 horizontal wrap-around labeling system)


Shrink sleeve labelers (SL Series labeling machines)

All of these except the last one on the list deal with pressure-sensitive labels. (We'll discuss shrink-sleeve labels later.)  Overall, your choices will be determined by the number of labels per container, location(s) where they’re applied to the container, and sizes of your containers and labels. You'll want to consider production speed, compatibility with your other equipment, and price as well.

What size machine do you need? We addressed that exact question in our April 2018 post Big or Small, We Label Them All, where you'll learn the differences between tabletop, standalone and professional machines. Once you've picked your labels and know how you want them applied, then you can drill down into the specifications to see which label machine is right for you. Choosing the right labeling equipment for your needs is crucial for successful product labeling, download our free guide to learn more.

Choosing the Right Labeling Equipment

Don’t Overlook Shrink-sleeve Labels

Unlike the traditional glue-applied or pressure-sensitive label, a full-body shrink-sleeve label is a pre-printed tube of thermoplastic material that's placed around a container, then heat-shrunk into place. Shrink-sleeve labels are the third-most common type of label behind pressure-sensitive and glue-applied labels, with 18% of the global market and growing, according to a 2018 market study. They're popular in the beverage industry, where their waterproof properties and contribution to package strength are highly valued. But they're also used in non-beverage packaging.


Here are some shrink-sleeve label advantages:

  1. Full-body shrink-sleeve labels give you a great deal more space to display information and attention-getting design since they cover the entire can or bottle. They may be combined with highly contoured bottles to better connect with consumers, affecting sales volume and brand loyalty.
  2. If you're replacing two traditional labels, or need a tamper-evident seal, shrink-sleeve labels may cost the same or less as separate labels and seals.
  3. Shrink-sleeve labels can save money by allowing lighter-weight cans to be used.
  4. Shrink-sleeve labels are simpler to apply, and therefore can be applied faster.

  If you've decided on shrink-sleeve labels, you'll need the right kind of label machine, combined with a heat-shrink tunnel, to apply them. Pack Leader's SL line of shrink-sleeve labelers ranges from the entry-level SL-10 for standard-sized cans, jars, and bottles, to the SL-77 for faster production, to the SL-301 for maximum speed, versatility, and flexibility for future growth.

To learn more, browse machines by label type on our website. 

Download Choosing the Right Labeling Equipment Guide