Craft beer cans: Why choose shrink sleeving over direct printing

You’ve worked long and hard to formulate the perfect craft beer brews, from sourcing various types of grains (e.g., barley, wheat, rye), hops, and yeast to experimenting with different combinations of those ingredients. Test groups love your beer — and they’ve even helped you pick the winning graphic design for your beer can. When it comes to applying that design, you come to find that you have two options: direct printing and shrink sleeving.

What are the differences between those two methods, and why is shrink sleeving better than direct printing?

What is direct printing?

As the name suggests, direct printing is done by printing images and text directly onto containers, such as aluminum cans used for craft beers. It involves using a stencil — also known as a screen — to apply layers of ink onto the container itself. Colors are applied one at a time using several different stencils to achieve the final look.

What is shrink sleeving?

Instead of printing directly onto the container, shrink sleeving involves digitally printing the design onto flexible films called sleeves, which are then shrink-wrapped onto the container. In other words, the sleeves are slipped over the container and applied with steam heat so that they would conform completely to the shape of the container.

Shrink sleeve application on aluminum cans have come a long way. Gone are the days of cheap-looking and loosely wrapped can sleeves that are of lower quality than directly printed cans. Today’s shrink-sleeved cans look clean and are hard to distinguish from directly printed cans. You’d know only if you looked for the sleeve’s seam, which is usually located on the back or side of the can.

Why is shrink sleeving better than direct printing on craft beer cans?

There are many reasons why you’re better off shrink sleeving than direct printing.

More flexibility with artwork

With direct printing, you can only use a maximum of six colors. Therefore, if your artwork has more colors, you will need to create a simplified version of it for your craft beer cans.

If your artwork is intended to be opaque, you will need to spend more. This is because inks used in direct printing tend to become transparent, showing the aluminum beneath. To boost the opacity of the inks, direct can printers often recommend running a white coating underneath the design. While the additional white coating will get you the look you’re aiming for, it will also increase your printing costs.

On the other hand, the sky’s the limit when designing an artwork that will be printed on shrink sleeves. Since shrink sleeves use digital printing technology, there are no color limitations. Opacity isn’t an issue either since a white layer under the artwork is a standard option for shrink sleeves.

Furthermore, since shrink sleeves wrap around the aluminum can, you have plenty of room for striking designs that will pop on retail shelves. You can also use that space to display more information about your brew (which craft beer enthusiasts love to read about), company history, and other messaging you want to convey to entice customers to buy your products.

Faster turnaround time

Printing directly onto aluminum cans usually takes a long time, with lead times reaching up to six months. A leading can printer even stopped receiving new customers for a time, as bigger breweries were taking up all their time and resources. So if you’re an experimental brewery with many fast releases, direct can printing won’t be able to meet your needs.

With shrink sleeving, orders are processed within days and usually completed in a few weeks, allowing you to get your products out on retail shelves much faster.

Small minimum order quantities (MOQ)

Can printers require large MOQs — usually 12 pallets or 100,000 cans — in order to fill a full truckload. This MOQ can be problematic for artisanal craft brewers like yourself since your retailers and customers expect specialty and seasonal brews from you. And when launching new products, craft beer brewers usually produce only small batch runs to test the market first in order to minimize the financial risk. What’s more, small breweries usually have limited storage capacity, making it impossible for them to house 100,000 cans at one time.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about such issues because shrink sleeve labeling providers can accommodate small MOQs. This gives you the flexibility to experiment with different brews, which is perfect for catering to niche and difficult-to-predict markets.


Unlike with direct printing, shrink sleeving involves printing the graphics on the reverse side of the film. This makes the sleeves resistant to moist or humid environments, such as refrigerators and chillers, which is why they are ideal labels for beverages. Shrink sleeves can also withstand scuffing, chemicals, heat, and UV light degradation. As a result, your craft beer cans will more likely retain their appearance during shipping, warehousing, and when displayed on retail shelves. The durability of shrink sleeves also minimizes product returns due to damaged packaging.

Partner with a reliable contract labeling provider

To enjoy all the benefits of using shrink sleeves for your craft beer cans, you need professional shrink sleeve label application, and that’s what Pro-Motion Industries specializes in.

With over two decades of experience, state-of-the-art equipment, and a team of labeling experts, we guarantee smooth, high-quality label application. This way, your labels will embody your brand identity, last long, and deliver maximum value.

When you partner with us, you can leverage our swift turnaround times, enabling you to quickly launch seasonal brews. No matter what size your brewery is, we can meet both your functional and budgetary needs with our wide array of label application solutions. Interested in partnering with us? Speak with our label specialists at 856-809-0040 today!

Recent Posts

Scroll to Top

Consult with Our Experts Today