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Wrap-Around vs Shrink Sleeve Labels — What's Best for Your Craft Beer

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Labeling is essential in the craft brewing industry. It's not just about putting your brand name on a can or bottle — it's about telling your story, showcasing your unique flavors, and standing out in a sea of competitors. With so many breweries competing in the market, a well-designed label can make all the difference. 

When it comes to labeling your products, choosing the right equipment can have a significant impact.  One popular option for creating a visually striking presentation is the use of shrink sleeve labels. These labels, applied with labelers like our SL-301 for example, offer a great solution for a 360-degree full-can design. This means you have maximum space to display your branding, tell your story, and list your ingredients. 

Wrap-around labels are another great choice when it comes to labeling beer cans and bottles. These labels stick to the can securely with the help of adhesive. Although there are some lighter and thinner beer cans today, advancements in adhesives, pressure-sensitive, and wrap-around labels are designed to withstand even the harshest conditions. This allows your label to stay secure around the bottle no matter what,  displaying your designs, brand, and list of ingredients. In this blog, we will take a look at wrap-around labels and shrink-sleeve labels to determine which is a better fit for your craft brewing needs. 

Looking at the pros and cons of each label type will help make your choice easier.

Packaging lines need to move swiftly. Empty bottles go in one end, and heavenly, rich, complex, Instagram-ably photogenic craft beer comes out the other. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. But if you’re still relying on hand labeling, your packaging line isn’t working as fast as it could be. Plus, a human can’t label as accurately or consistently as a machine. The beer inside might be worthy of hitting the Ratebeer Top 100, but if the label is crooked, falling off, upside down, or misspelled, craft beer fanatics will pass right by. 

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Hand labeling might have worked fine when production was limited to a few hundred bottles, but to win against the still increasing number of microbreweries popping up around the country, you need to get containers labeled quickly, accurately, and consistently. In other words, you’d benefit from a dedicated labeling machine. Even when you decide to get a labeler, the more difficult decision may be between wrap-around and shrink sleeve labels. Let’s go over the pros and cons of each to help make that choice easier.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Wrap-Around Labels 

Wrap-around labels are made of high-quality, durable materials paired with an adhesive to fully wrap around the object it is applied to. These labels are ideal for bottles, cans, or jars, as they can withstand harsher conditions while maintaining a continuous, uninterrupted label that encircles the entire container, creating a visually appealing “perfect” fit.

Advantages of Wrap-Around Labeling

With wrap-around labels, you only need to produce and manage one label, as opposed to two labels for the front and back. This minimizes the need for inventory management of different label types and means utilizing just one label head in the labeling process. There is less need for additional equipment and accessories, making both a visually appealing and cost-effective choice. 

Additionally, wrap-around labels are easy to work with, whether printing new designs or removing them from the container entirely. When made with materials such as vinyl, these labels can repel moisture and gain double the adhesion time. They can also easily adapt to changes, whether it be design or size. A wrap-around labeler can handle any of these designs with ease with straightforward manual adjustments that adjust the label up or down on the bottle to fit just right.

Here are a few of the main pros of this type of label application compared to shrink sleeve labels.

Pro #1: More Economical

When you’re comparing label costs between wrap-around and shrink sleeve, wrap-around is almost universally the less expensive option. The labels use less material, so there’s not as much… stuff to add to the cost. The weight is lower for shipping, too, so you can get more labels delivered for less money. Plus, if you have containers of different heights but the same circumference, the same label type will work on both.

Pro #2: More Traditional

Let’s be honest. Some decisions are made based on consumer expectations rather than what makes the most sense for the product. This is why the wine industry continually battles over whether to continue using corks. For some beers, particularly old British styles like Extra Special Bitters, a paper wrap-around label would make the most stylistic sense. The tactile feel of a paper label can also impart a handcrafted vibe that may be necessary to invoke the proper experience.

Pro #3: Takes Up Less Container Space

Say you want to show off that marvelous-looking brew. A wrap-around label takes up far less space than a shrink sleeve label. In fact, a shrink sleeve label takes up ALL the space. You can make clear shrink sleeve labels, but then you’re just wasting material when you could go with a smaller, clear wrap-around label. Now, of course, clear bottles don’t protect the beer from sunlight as well, but again, tradition sometimes trumps pragmatism. 

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Potential Drawbacks of Wrap-Around Labeling

If you are looking for coverage that encompasses the entire container, wrap-around labeling may not be for you. While it does offer extensive coverage, most coverage is still offered by shrink sleeve labels, which are shrunk to conform to the entire shape of the container. While the labels are highly durable and easy to work with, they can also be prone to peeling or moisture damage, especially when paired with the incorrect adhesive for the container material.

In comparison to shrink sleeve labels, wrap-around labels also have more limitations on design and graphics. While they still offer a lot of space, the materials and application process can create some limitations. 

Here are a couple of the main cons of this type of label application compared to shrink sleeve labels.

Con #1: Takes Up Less Container Space

Yes, this sounds like it contradicts Pro #3, but let’s say you want to cover as much of your container with graphics as possible. A wrap-around label simply can’t cover the entire container the way a shrink sleeve can. 

Con #2: Less Durable

Wrap-around labels, especially paper ones, are more susceptible to damage than shrink sleeve labels. They can tear or get pulled off the containers more easily. And since wrap-around labels rely on adhesive to stick to containers, if the adhesive fails for any reason, the label will fall off.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Shrink Sleeve Labels

Shrink sleeve labels are labels that can be quickly applied with a machine to cover the full body of the container. They are made of thinner plastic-like materials that are shrunk around the parameters of the container, including neck and cap binding. Because of their extensive coverage, they also allow for sections such as tamper seals on bottles, making it ideal for bottles and cans. 

Advantages of Shrink Sleeve Labeling

One of the biggest advantages of shrink sleeve labeling is its 360-degree coverage, allowing for maximum design space. The materials and coverage allow for plenty of room for designs with high-quality, vibrant graphics and colors. Shrink sleeve labels are also specifically designed to be able to shrink to containers of almost all sizes, making them highly compatible with whatever container you decide to put your craft beer in. 

Shrink sleeves offer not only versatility in labeling your products but also a range of other benefits. One advantage is their durability compared to traditional paper labels. Made from a plastic-like material, shrink sleeves react to heat and tightly conform to your container. This makes them less prone to tearing and staining. Additionally, shrink sleeve labels eliminate the need for sticky adhesive on the back, which can cause bubbling or creasing in paper labels. They also offer advanced protection against moisture and UV light. With heat activation and a snug fit, you won't have any areas where the labels have failed to adhere properly.

Pro #1: Coverage

Shrink sleeves can cover the entire surface with stunning, creative designs, such as Pabst’s Old Style/Chicago Cubs limited-release bottles designed to look like baseball bats. Since consumers base much of their decision-making process within the first few seconds of noticing a product, the more interesting you can make your container, the better. 

Pro #2: No Adhesive

Shrink sleeve labels are heated in a tunnel after being placed around a container, which causes them to shrink and conform. There’s no glue in this process whatsoever, so if the labels need to be taken off the containers, there’s no residue to clean up, which is quite handy if a particular line of beer doesn’t sell and you need to reuse the containers. This also means there’s no adhesive to fail, so the labels are completely moisture resistant, and they work on oddly shaped containers that might not work with wrap-around labels.

Pro #3: More Durable

The plastic sleeve is resistant to tears and rips since it’s so tightly held to the entirety of the container. A shrink sleeve label will look as good after sitting on shop shelves for a month as it did when it left the production line. 

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Potential Drawbacks of Shrink Sleeve Labeling

Although there are many visual and durability benefits for shrink sleeve labels, it is important to keep in mind it does not come without a cost. The application of shrink sleeve labels requires high-quality equipment, such as the SL Series machines. These machines are made of high-quality materials that meet Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) standards so they can remain speedy, operational, and efficient for the years to come. 

In comparison to traditional labeling methods, shrink sleeve labeling can also result in slightly higher production costs. This is due to the need for specialized materials, equipment, and additional processing steps. Although the investment can enhance branding and product presentation, it is important to consider these increased expenses when budgeting for packaging.

Here are a couple of the main cons of this labeling type compared to wrap-around labels.

Con #1: More Expensive

Shrink sleeves are pricier than wrap-around labels. They make up for this by boosting sales with interesting graphics, but make no mistake — you’ll pay a bit more on the front end. If your primary concern is the initial cost, you might want to think about wrap-around labels.

Con #2: Possibility of Distortion

With the right design software and quality labels, distortion shouldn’t be an issue. But be aware that since the labels are shrinking, the image has to be designed perfectly to account for exactly how much the label will shrink around the container.

Comparison of Shrink Sleeve and Wrap-Around Labeling for Craft Brewing

Before making a final decision, here are some final considerations for whether a shrink sleeve or wrap-around labeling is a better fit for your craft beer production. 

Cost Considerations

If cost is an issue, wrap-around labels may be the better option for you. They have lower upfront costs while still maintaining durability. However, if you are working with a larger budget, the long-term savings and return on investment can make up for the initial setup and production cost of shrink sleeve machinery. They are also built with durable containers making them last and work efficiently for the years to come. 

Design Possibilities

Shrink sleeve labels offer a wide design canvas, wrapping around products with 360-degree coverage to showcase bold graphics and innovative designs. On the other hand, wrap-around labels provide a classic look and textured finish that can complement specific brand aesthetics. Either option offers a lot of space to work with. However, shrink sleeve labels offer the maximum amount of space and may work better for oddly shaped containers. Each option includes many customization options and design freedom. Keep in mind that the label serves as the first point of contact between the product and the consumer.  Choosing the right label design is essential for making a lasting impression and attracting customers.

Durability and Performance

Remember that too much humidity can cause labels to peel as the adhesive degrades. If it's too cold, the labels may stiffen, and the adhesive won't work effectively. On the other hand, if it's too warm, you may experience peeling labels that won't stick properly to the container. If you're worried about environmental factors,  non-adhesive shrink sleeve labels may be the better choice. Shrink sleeves also have a greater resistance to wear and tear, moisture, and UV light. This allows these labels to look just as good after sitting on shop shelves for a month as it did when it left the production line. 

Environmental Considerations

Thanks to the lack of adhesive, shrink sleeve labels can be recyclable. If environmental issues are important to you, using recyclable shrink sleeves may be the best option for you. This means the labels are separated from the container before recycling, and disposal problems aren’t an issue. Additionally, industry trends are heading more toward sustainable packaging options. Not only is it better for the environment, but it also creates a better image for your brand. 

The Difference Between Beer Bottle and Can Label Application

Bottles can take just about any label type and look fantastic. Wrap-around and shrink sleeves work about equally well depending on your needs and which pros/cons list above won you over. Since bottles don’t bend or crush, you don’t have to worry about the un-adhered portion of a wrap-around label getting easily ripped away, either. But with restrictions in public venues regarding glass containers (no one wants to step on broken glass), cans have begun to look like an attractive alternative.

For the most part, aluminum cans have won over craft beer fanatics, but they can still be troublesome for craft brewers from a labeling standpoint. Large manufacturers like Anheuser Busch can order cans in bulk and get the label printed directly on the aluminum. Unfortunately, most craft brewers can’t meet a minimum order of a hundred thousand cans or more for this to be possible, especially for seasonal or special run beers.

The problem is, a paper wrap-around label that would look sharp and refined on a glass bottle may not work at all on a can. Cans are relatively flexible, and the possibility of a dented can letting a paper label get torn off is enough to push many breweries toward shrink sleeves. If you do decide wrap-around labels are right for your cans, perhaps due to budget concerns, film substrate labels are a far better choice, as long as the adhesive holds to the aluminum under unusual conditions (i.e., sitting in ice for hours, getting shoved into a koozie, tossed from one end of the deck to the other and caught like a football, etc.). 

Beer Labels & Automatic Labeling Equipment

If you’re still undecided about which label type is right for you, consider what kind of automatic  labeler would be compatible with your label choice — that could help you narrow down your choices. Download our free Brewer’s Guide to Craft Beer and Microbrew Labeling Equipment to gain some insights on how specific labelers work and which options are available for different label types. If you’re interested in browsing wrap-around and shrink sleeve labeling machines, explore our craft brew labeling equipment here.

 

   Download now  Craft Brew Labeling Equipment Guide


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