Lively Labels

A vibrant label commands attention and can look chic whether it’s adorning a mass-market lip balm package or a prestige fragrance bottle.

Written by Marie Redding, Associate Editor

The Central Park South fragrance by Bond No. 9 is decorated with a vibrant label that shows detailed close-up images of fuchsia flowers.

Labels can give a package a burst of color—and they can look as equally chic on a mass-market lip balm as on a prestige fragrance. The “right” label can be printed using a variety of different techniques to completely change the look of any package—even when the label is on the same bottle, jar or carton that a brand has used before.

Some suppliers say labels have been popular lately. “We are seeing labels being used across all product categories,” says Leslie Gurland, president, Logotech.

Still, others say fewer labels are being used, as direct printing on packages has become more popular.

Choosing a Label

In many cases, the right look can’t be replicated without using a label.

“Graphics will pop more on a label,” says Jim Hartman, operations manager, Pro-Motion Industries. “And they’re perfect for prestige products—they’re not just for the mass market,” he adds, saying that Pro-Motion has worked with Nest Fragrances, Oscar de la Renta, and American Eagle Outfitters.

Pro-Motion applied these labels for the Iris collection by Crabtree & Evelyn, showing how label manufacturing has raised the quality of application to that of screen printing.

Hartman explains why one of its fragrance customers recently chose a label. “The brand had 45 different versions of a perfume. In order to silkscreen the bottles, different tooling would have to have been made for each different design. It’s much easier to change a label, because you can change the graphics on the existing die line,” he says.

Bond No. 9 is one prestige fragrance brand that always uses the same bottle for its numerous fragrances—but each always looks completely different. Some of Bond No. 9’s fragrance bottles are printed using direct methods, and others—like the recently launched Central Park South—are decorated with a label.

Central Park South fragrance uses a white label that is printed with photo-realistic images of vibrant hot pink flowers. The flowers pop against the label’s white background, and the glass bottle’s cap is colored hot pink to match.

“The flowers are superimposed on the white background, and are a scattering of vivid fuchsia blossoms—not literal flowers, but crisp photos that are palpable reappearances of the very blossom. The bottle is a meta-design: a fantasy play on the duality of illusion and reality; a stylized fantasy similar to the eaux de parfum I create, “ explains Laurice Rahme, president, Bond No. 9 Fragrances.

Whether a label or direct printing is used will always depend on the specific project, according to Jonathan Tarantino, vice president of sales, Paris Art Label. “Based on a design, we will advise our customers on whether or not a label is best—and sometimes the looks that can be achieved are so similar that the average consumer won’t even be able to tell whether or not a label is on a package unless they feel it,” he says.

Paris Art Label says it has been investing heavily in its shrink sleeve technology. “We can print on a shrink sleeve both digitally or using a flexographic process. We can also apply shrink sleeves using heat—or a steam tunnel, which is a state-of-the-art application method, especially for glass bottles,” says Tarantino.

“Our clients also have the benefit of knowing that we manufacture the label or shrink sleeve, and apply it using one of those methods I described—all in the same facility. There are very few suppliers in the U.S. that can do this,” Tarantino explains.

Logotech’s Gurland says that most brands think more about the printing—forgetting about application—and its challenges. “A problem with label application can affect your ability to get a product to market,” she says.

Gurland explains that it’s not uncommon to work with a brand that decides to make last-minute changes, to a plastic container, for instance—sometimes switching to a more flexible one, which will affect label application.

“We analyze all new containers, suggest alternative materials if necessary, and often jump through hoops to run trials to make sure the new material will work,” she says.

“I always say two people can have a BMW, but you need a talented driver and mechanic to get the most out of the car,” Gurland adds. “It is the same in printing—we all have the same equipment, but it’s the people that set each supplier apart. From our packaging consultants, customer service, through prepress, to the pressman and inspectors, our team anticipates every challenge before our customers do.”

Pro-Motion’s Hartman says the company can do “what others say can’t be done.” He says: “Since our focus is primarily labeling, we can troubleshoot if an issue arises. We act as a ‘final check,’ and make sure every package is top-notch before it’s sent to the filler. We also hand-inspect every component that comes off the line—not one every 15 minutes—and this is rare in the industry,” Hartman explains.

Application innovations include 360 degree labeling for any type of bottle, including rectangular and oblong shapes, according to Hartman. “We do three and four panel applications to wrap-around labels that will look seamless,” he explains. “All of our machinery is movable, so we can adapt it to every job.”

What have been some of the most challenging bottle shapes to apply a label to?

“Imagine a perfume bottle with a flat glass panel, and a circular, thumb-size indentation. Laying a label inside that indentation requires very precise registration—with tolerances plus or minus a 64th of an inch,” Hartman says.

Design Trends

Carmex is using stylish, limited edition label designs for its Moisture Plus lip balm in an effort to attract a new group of consumers.

Advances in printing technologies are having an impact on label design. Heidi Larsen, vice president, Brand Owner Program, Esko Americas, says, “With high-quality flexo printing of large runs, which we believe has played a role in the advent of HD Flexo plate technology, art directors can be much more creative with label designs now. More colors are available on the palette, and higher resolution type and images are available.”

Trevor Metcalf, president, Contract Labeling Service, says he’s seeing a trend toward larger labels being used—“labels that have more MSI—material square inches—and this creates more room for decoration.”

Metcalf also says matte finishes and matte laminations are popular, and that Contract Labeling Service can do the jobs other suppliers say they can’t. “We can do ‘clear on clear,’ beyond the standard sizes—labeling extra small, or over-sized packages,” he adds.

Labels that are very clear—and deliver the ‘no label’ look—are in increasing demand, according to Georg Mueller-Hof, global segment director, Home and Personal Care, Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials. A clear label applied over a container presents a technical challenge due to the fact that the label must maintain clarity over time, as the consumer uses the product.

Mueller-Hof says that many of the brands he works with are pushing the envelope in terms of design and manufacturing capabilities, such as label material technology. “Brands want thinner labels to improve their sustainability footprint, as well as labels that are ‘cleaner,’ which can be applied more efficiently,” he explains.

Avery Dennison’s newest high-performance film utilizes a semi-squeeze film, called Global MDO, and a new adhesive called ClearCut to deliver a thin construction that is more sustainable and performs better on a variety of semi-squeeze containers, according to Mueller-Hof. The supplier recently used its Global MDO laminate label on Nivea body lotion, to ensure film clarity and give the bottle a “no-label” look.

Tarantino agrees that ‘thinner’ is considered better. “Brands are always trying to reduce waste, and reducing materials will reduce costs,” he says.

Logotech’s Gurland says some brands are using bottles and containers in unique shapes in an effort to differentiate, and this is impacting labels in terms of the types of materials and adhesives that can be used to conform to that particular package. She adds, “Regarding new product launches, we are definitely seeing companies leaning toward clean and simple, minimalist designs for labels.”

Esko Americas’ Larsen says that many brands are also re-introducing embossing and foils, and using more expensive print effects. “Mass brands often desire a ‘bolder’ look. Mainstream and new-to-market products are going with graphic-intensive, on-trend images, making marketing statements to try to gain a younger demographic,” she explains.

One brand using colorful labels with graphic patterns designed to “pop” on store shelves is Carmex lip balm. Carmex has created new limited edition designs for its Moisture Plus lip balm—hoping the stick package’s trendy labels will engage consumers who don’t yet know the brand.

The labels are printed in limited edition patterns, which will change every season. The team at Carmex collaborates with fashion experts and bloggers to decide on the patterns. There are four limited edition patterns on store shelves now, which include a classic hounds-tooth. They will be available through Spring 2014, and then new designs are planned to roll out before the summer.

The brand also has a personal connection to the worlds of art and design. Paul Woelbing, president of Carmex, firmly believes that art has the power to attract attention and bring people together—plus, he’s an artist himself.

Design Tools to Use with Labels

Esko Graphics provides brands with its three-dimensional software technology, such as its Studio Visualizer (shown here), to help save time when correctly lining up a shrink sleeve onto any bottle shape while maintaining the label’s design aesthetic.

Some suppliers say that it’s not design or application, but color-matching that can present a real challenge for a brand. “Software is essential, and the technology that we offer assures that colors match, no matter what print technology is used,” says Esko’s Larsen.

Using software, packages with labels can even be placed on a store shelf, virtually, to see how they will look in a competitive setting. “Software can also eliminate the time-consuming process of making many physical prototypes to assure that the label artwork will fit correctly on a shrink sleeve. The last thing a brand owner wants is a logo that isn’t shaped correctly,” explains Larsen.

And when a package is an odd shape, Esko’s three-dimensional software technology can be a huge time-saver. “It allows a designer to work from a 3-D view of a package rather than from a flat, two-dimensional view. Labels can be placed virtually on a container, and spun around to give an overall idea of what the design will look like—even before a physical prototype is made,” says Larsen.

Digital Printing Offers Flexibility & Benefits

Kenra used WS Packaging Group’s extended text label to fit all the required information on its mini hair care product, which allowed the brand to skip an outer carton.

Printing a label digitally can offer a brand a few major benefits. “Labels that are digitally printed can offer visual impact, precise registration and smooth gradations—plus, extreme detail,” says John Giesfeldt, senior manager, marketing, WS Packaging Group. He adds that digital printing also allows a brand to be more proactive, and responsive to trends. “And the variable imaging technology capabilities allow brands to make cost-effective graphics changes from one SKU to another with streamlined production matched to volume requirements, with virtually no setup waste.”

Experts say the move toward digital printing has been happening for the past five years. “It seems that digital printing is growing faster than any other market,” says Tarantino, of Paris Art Label.

Mueller-Hof, of Avery Dennison, agrees, and says, “It’s a big trend, globally.” He explains, “Brands are looking for late stage differentiation and to optimize inventory and SKU complexity. Not only is digital printing giving them high-end printing techniques, but they are able to use custom printing and design for regions and countries, on less than 12 hours’ notice. In addition, they do not want to sacrifice shelf appeal by going digital, so now there is a need for higher-end label materials,” he explains.

Esko’s Larsen says that press runs have become more plentiful, but smaller. “At smaller run lengths, digital printing is a cost-effective choice compared to traditional analog print technologies, and the workflows can work effectively with numerous design changes. This also ties into the trend toward personalization, which feeds right into the ability of digital presses,” she explains.

Giesfeldt agrees. “Any number of skus can be run, cost-effectively. Plus, each product within a single run can have a different image, artwork, personalization, or serialization,” he says.

Logotech’s Gurland says that digital printing is still not as prevalent as conventional printing, but she agrees it offers definite advantages. Logotech recently had a customer that launched a new product line, with 25 different skus in small quantities. “The customer was concerned about the look and wanted a ‘real label’ for every single sku ahead of time. If we had to go on press with conventional printing, the cost would have been in the thousands,” says Gurland. “Instead, we were able to prepare live digital proofs on our HP press, without using any plates. The cost to the customer was just a few hundred dollars.”

Pro-Motion’s Hartman points out that there are artistic differences in digital labels, versus how other types of printing methods look, but says that digital printing gives a smaller brand an advantage. “Many smaller brands, with lower volumes, go with digital printing. It’s a faster, more economical process,” he says.

Extended-Text Labels for Travel Sizes

One of the practical features of a label is having the space to print all of the necessary information about a product. Some suppliers, including WS Packaging Group, specialize in offering solutions for meeting labeling requirements.

“Over-the-counter cosmetics and drug products that claim an active ingredient have to comply with increasing regulatory requirements,” explains Paulette Gramse, MultiVision product development manager, WS Packaging Group. “The U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, Health Canada, and EU 7th Amendment are just a few of the agencies that require consumer labeling law compliance. The fact that compliance must be maintained regardless of the product size poses some challenges for brands simply due to the limited real estate of having a smaller label.”

When hair care brand Kenra wanted to market a 2oz. travel/sample size package of its Platinum Hot Spray, the brand chose WS Packaging Group’s EasyTab label from its Multivision line of extended text labels. The 5-page pressure-sensitive label is a patented design that is pre-curved for tight-diameter surfaces, and the top panel will open and reseal for a minimum of two years.

Now, Kenra’s mini package would be instantly recognizable on store shelves alongside the full-size product, which is in an identical bottle. “The brand was able to avoid having to use a folding carton,” says Gramse. “The label offers multi-language content that is appropriate for the U.S. and EU markets. It features two colors, black and silver, as well as a high-gloss over-laminate. Its base material is a 2.6 mil white top-coated film, with two sheets of C2S paper and a 1.2 mil clear polyester laminate,” she adds.

What’s Next?

Suppliers say the popularity of digital printing will continue, and new advances in the technology will soon provide brands with additional benefits for using this method to print labels.

“Digital printing presses are currently 15ft. wide—and this poses some limitations. Now, new machinery from HP will make it possible to double that capacity, so digital printers will be able to handle larger runs more efficiently,” says Paris Art Label’s Tarantino.

Logotech’s Gurland hints at what else might be in store for the packaging industry in the future, regarding labels and printing.

She says, “The big buzz has been nanography, created by Benny Landa, founder of Indigo Digital printing. Based on nanotechnology, Landa Nanographic Printing is characterized by ultra-sharp dots of extremely high uniformity, high-gloss fidelity and less expensive inks. The product is not commercial yet, but it is something we should all be paying attention to.”

Posted on February 10, 2014 by Marie Redding

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