Looking at the pros and cons of each 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.
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.
Wrap-around labels are a label type that wraps fully around the object to which they are applied. They are used most often on bottles and jars. Here are a few pros and cons of this label application.
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.
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.
Shrink Sleeve Labels
Shrink Sleeve labels are labels that utilize heat in the application process to conform to the shape of the container to which it is applied. Shrink sleeve labels are well-suited for products that encounter moisture or friction. Here are a few pros and cons of this label application.
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.
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.
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.