What You Need to Know About Shrink Sleeve Labels


Shrink sleeves provide 150% more labeling real-estate for only a 25% price increase vs. traditional labels.

If you're planning to launch a new product with a splash, or just want to breathe new life into an existing product, consider wrapping your head around shrink sleeve labels. While we have nothing against regular wrap-around and front/back labels (here at Pack Leader USA, we sell plenty of 'em), increasingly our customers who sell products in cans and bottles see the value in shrink sleeve labeling and are moving in that direction.

Shrink sleeve labels introduce versatility and flexibility into your labeling, allowing you to have a variety of labels digitally printed in smaller quantities while maintaining a stock of unlabeled cans, jars, or bottles. They can also give a boost to brand awareness and increase sales since their eye-catching appearance can lead shoppers to pick your product from the shelf.

Watch SL-10 & SL-77 Shrink Sleeve Labeler Instructional Videos

Shrink-sleeve labels introduce versatility and flexibility into your labeling, allowing you to have a variety of shrink-sleeve labels digitally printed in smaller quantities while maintaining a stock of unlabeled cans, jars, or bottles. They can also give a boost to brand awareness and increase sales since their eye-catching appearance can lead shoppers to pick your product from the shelf.

Watch SL-10 & SL-77 Shrink Sleeve Labeler Instructional Videos

What is a shrink sleeve?

A shrink sleeve is a pre-printed tube of thermoplastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polypropylene terephthalate glycol (PETG) material that is placed around your container before being passed through a heating chamber, known as a shrink tunnel where the heated plastic softens and molds itself around the contours of your container. 

 Shrink sleeves were initially applied to the neck and cap of bottled products in the 1960s, to create a tamper-evident seal that served to reassure consumers that the contents of the container were safe. As technology rapidly developed, industry leaders were quick to see the potential advantages of a full body shrink sleeve label to maximize space for eye-catching graphic designs and vital information that helps to sell products. By the 1990s, full-length shrink sleeve labeling could be found on products from over-the-counter medications and supplements to beverages, food products, and more.  

Bottles, cans, and jars covered with shrink sleeve labels not only look great but are reinforced by this second skin, and can be lighter in weight than containers designed for conventional labels. They're also completely waterproof and can be applied to unusual shapes that can't take a standard flat label.

Shrink sleeve materials are improving, too, with newer plastics allowing more than 75% shrinkage to cover the most extreme package shapes. And significant advances have been made in printing technology, which may be done on digital or flexographic presses. Text and graphics are printed on the inside of the sleeve, and allowances are made for distortion so that everything comes out looking right once the label is shrunk into place. 


Key Features & Benefits of Shrink Sleeve Labels

Studies have shown that consumers are drawn to products with unique shapes and bright eye-popping graphics. Shrink sleeve labels offer superior print quality, flexibility, and surface area to create product designs that fly off the shelves. The rapid rise in the popularity of the shrink sleeve label is due in part to the following unique features, all of which contribute to a more aesthetically appealing and practical labeling solution.

360-Degree Container Coverage

Shrink sleeve labeling offers the opportunity to maximize your printable space. This means you have the maximum amount of space for imagery and designs as well as ingredient lists, use directions, benefits, selling points, and more. 

Superior Print Quality

Significant advances in printing technology, like digital and flexographic presses make it possible to print high-quality graphics in vibrant colors. Text is crisp and clear, and because designs and text are printed on the inside of the label, they are protected from scuffing, fading, and water damage.    

Flexible Fit 

The latest shrink sleeve materials are capable of up to 75% shrinkage allowing them to easily conform to the contours of even the most extreme package shapes. Bottles, cans, and jars covered with shrink sleeve labels not only look great but are reinforced by this second skin, and can be lighter in weight than containers designed for conventional labels

What products are best for shrink sleeve labels?

Because shrink sleeve labels are waterproof, the beverage industry favors them for their packaging. Other industries using shrink sleeve labels include producers of nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals, wine, spirits, and beer, household products, and industrial products.

Content_ShrinkSleeveClearLablesThe durability and ability to withstand moisture make shrink sleeves an excellent choice for packaging household cleaning products such as detergents and cleaning agents as well.  

Can shrink sleeve labels reduce costs?

While shrink sleeve labels give product packaging a high-end custom look and feel the process itself is more practical and price-conscious than one might assume. According to Resource Label Group, a label company, shrink sleeves deliver a 150% increase in label area at a cost of just  25% more than traditional pressure-sensitive labels. That increase in label surface real estate opens the door to incorporating more of the factors that drive sales, making it easy to justify spending a little more on production to make a lot more in higher sales revenues.


Cost Effective Production

Shrink sleeves are printed on continuous rolls of plastic film, allowing for optimal material utilization. The film is cut into sleeves that precisely match the container's dimensions, minimizing excess material waste. Products that require tamper-evident seals can combine the label and the extra protection into one production process.

Because the material shrinks to fit snugly around the contours of each container there is no need for excess material to be trimmed away. This ultra-efficient use of label materials reduces waste, making shrink sleeve labels a cost-effective production solution that can match and potentially lower production costs compared to traditional labeling methods.

Simplified Inventory Management

Shrink sleeves can help lower costs through simplified inventory management as well. Shrink sleeves can conform to a wide range of container shapes and sizes, allowing manufacturers to use a single sleeve design across multiple product lines or packaging formats, eliminating the need to stock and manage separate label inventories for each variation.

This one-size-fits-all quality helps to streamline the production process eliminating the need to stock different sizes and types of labels. For those who perform in-house printing, it eliminates the need to purchase and maintain different types of labeling equipment. 

Increased Packaging Speed

The shrink sleeve labeling process is digitized from the start and lends itself to automation. This makes the process of applying shrink sleeve labels less labor-intensive and faster than the process of applying many traditional label varieties. 

The packaging timeline is shortened further by eliminating the need to stop production and change materials or equipment each time a new product run begins. When using shrink sleeve labels the time required to switch between product types can be performed quickly with few manual changes allowing for an increase in the products labeled per hour. 


Beyond the reduction of production and inventory costs, shrink sleeve labels can also offer savings in terms of a reduction of pollution and potential contaminants for increased sustainability. Shrink sleeves are increasingly being crafted from environmentally friendly materials that can be recycled with the original container. Shrink sleeve labels that are not recyclable are often perforated for easy removal so the container can be recycled sans label. As an added advantage, using shrink sleeve labels reduces the need to add colorant and UV inhibitors to the closures and containers themselves, lowering costs and potentially making packaging and products safer for consumers and the environment.

Increasing Efficiency with Shrink Sleeve Labeling

Transitioning to digital shrink sleeve labels can help streamline production, reduce reliance on manual labor, and minimize production downtime. The versatility of shrink sleeve label printing allows your team to pivot quickly from product line to product line for a faster packaging process, increased output, and reduced production costs. 

Enhancing Branding Opportunities with Shrink Sleeves

The shrink sleeve’s 360-degree container coverage maximizes printing real estate so you can ensure that your products leap off the shelves with plenty of graphics, vibrant colors, and promotional marketing. Shrink sleeves also open up a wealth of opportunities to get creative with your container shape as well. 

Then there is the wow factor. A much-cited 2011 study of packaging by AC Nielsen for the Eastman Chemical Company showed that shrink sleeve labels combined with highly contoured bottles create a strong emotional connection with consumers that enhances sales and brand loyalty. Women and early adopters were up to three times more likely to purchase beverage products so packaged.

 As technology continues to advance rapidly, this consumer appeal is destined to expand even further with the latest shrink sleeves sporting advanced design styles like cold foil stamping and embossing. UV metallic and glow-in-the-dark inks offer even more ways to flex your creative muscles. 

The digitized printing process used to create shrink sleeve designs allows brands to easily create different variations of their core brand without breaking the bank. Brands can create holiday, sale, and special edition labels with just a few tweaks to their computerized design, allowing for a more cohesive and consistent brand image from batch to batch and product to product. 

Improved Durability and Protection

Shrink sleeve labels are more than just a pretty face for your packaging, the superior materials and inks used in the shrink label process offer robust protection as well. The modern thermoplastics and inks are capable of shrugging off spills, exposure to UV light, and the wear and tear of shipping with ease so your products stay secure, safe, and looking as fresh as the day they were made no matter how many days they have been languishing in the stock room. 

Streamlined Production 

The stabilizing and strengthening impact of shrink sleeve labeling is so solid that many product manufacturers have been able to significantly reduce the thickness of the container walls in their packaging. Why does this matter? Thinner walls mean lighter, and often less expensive containers. Some customers have reported being able to shave as much as 42% off their total product weight. 

Because most shipping charges are calculated, at least in part, by the weight of the items being transported, reducing the weight of your products can cut down on shipping and transportation charges as well. 

Smoothing the Transition to Shrink Sleeve Labeling

As beneficial as shrink sleeve labels may be, making a packaging or labeling change is never a small ordeal. Whether you are an established brand looking at switching over to a shrink sleeve label, or you are a young brand that is still scaling up your packaging and labeling capabilities, you are going to want to go slowly and research your best options before leaping into a change with both feet. 

Here’s a brief guide to walk you through some of the most important considerations. 

How Well is Your Current Packaging Operation Performing?

Business owners should start by conducting a thorough assessment of their current packaging operations to identify areas where shrink sleeve labeling could enhance efficiency. 

Ask yourself the following questions to assess how your current labeling process is performing.

  • How fast is your current labeling process? (measured by the average number of labels applied per hour) 
  • Can your current labeling system easily accommodate containers of different sizes or shapes?
  • How often do you have to stop production to correct a labeling error?

Your answers to these three questions will provide you with a solid baseline of your current labeling power and act as a frame of reference for the potential gains you could achieve with an upgrade. 

Partnering With a Reliable Shrink Sleeve Supplier

The shrink sleeve label industry is still in its infancy and innovation is happening at a rapid pace. Partnering with a reliable label supplier is a must to ensure that you are always able to access the most advanced products the industry has to offer. 

A dependable supplier should have deep knowledge of the industry and be able to offer guidance and support from choosing your initial shrink sleeve materials to transitioning or upgrading to a newer shrink sleeve printing machine. The best suppliers will often offer staff training sessions to ensure that everyone on your team understands how to apply shrink sleeve labels and care for your labeling equipment properly. 

 Choose a supplier who offers the highest-quality shrink sleeve materials. The quality of the material used in your shrink sleeve labels will determine how long your labels last, how well they can withstand moisture and damage, and how strong the seams are.

You will also want to partner with a supplier that is versatile enough to offer the full range of printing techniques and finishes so you can remain at the cutting edge of the latest consumer trends in labeling and ensure that your products are able to stand out from the competition on the store shelves. 

Choosing Your Shrink Sleeve Printing Machine

When you are ready to make the transition to the latest shrink sleeve printing machine you will find a knowledgeable and supportive partner in  Pack Leader USA.  Our team of professionals is ready to help you pick the right labeler for your product line.

Pack Leader USA provides a line of shrink sleeve label machines, including:

You can customize your shrink sleeve labeler with cutters and different-sized mandrels to precisely fit the label to your containers, printers, and other options. 

To learn more, visit our resources page where you'll find links to spec sheets and instructional videos for the SL-10 and SL-77 Shrink Sleeve Labelers.

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