Wine bottles with wrap labels.

Wrap Around vs. Shrink Sleeve: What’s Right For Your Bottles and Round Containers?

Advancements in printing technology have made shrink sleeve labeling feasible for smaller production runs. Proponents pitch it as a product labeling alternative to pre-printed containers, offering similar coverage at a lower cost. However, wrap around labels still dominate the market. Why? Because wrap labeling is more economical than shrink sleeve labeling—especially for small manufacturers—and they offer superior performance in certain use cases. 

Let dive deeper to see which labeling method is the best fit for your product line!

Coverage Capabilities

Wrap-around labels can only cover flat surfaces on containers. Most package designs use a single label that wraps around the entire container’s body, offering the opportunity for 360-degree branding and minimizing manufacturing complexity. 

However, in some cases, you may want to reduce coverage. In those instances, applying front and back labels decreases coverage but gives customers a better view of what’s inside a bottle. 

Clear labels are also an option, as opposed to standard labels with full color printing, if you want to maximize the view of the container’s contents. Using a clear label and limiting text and artwork lets the customer see the product inside the bottle. But, alternatively, the high coverage of opaque labels protects light-sensitive contents.

Shrink sleeve labels, by comparison, can cover the full body of a bottle or round container, regardless of shape. This increases the available labeling area by up to 150%, but of course, the actual space gained varies depending on the shape of the package.

Shrink sleeve labels offer more coverage than wrap around labeling on a bottle with complex sides, but there is little difference between the two on a cylindrical bottle. 

Label Durability

Wrap around labels use various substrates (paper or plastic labels) made from multiple layers of label material. By choosing the right combination of stock, adhesives and coatings, you can get a product label that withstands condensation, temperature extremes and other harsh conditions. If you’re labeling a product that isn’t refrigerated, you can use less protective labels that offer more options for the label finishes, print quality and overall appearance.

Since shrink sleeve labels are plastic and require no adhesive, they’re not affected by moisture or temperature. Abrasion resistance is excellent, but these labels don’t have a clear advantage over abrasion-resistant wrap around labeling. Thick sleeves can provide structural rigidity, allowing the use of bottles with lower plastic content.

Tamper Protection

Heat shrink wrap labels can extend over the lid of the container, creating a tamper-evident seal. Of course, this may not be an issue for your product, because containers with sealed lids, or the containers that come packaged inside a box don’t need this additional layer of protection.

Environmental Concerns

Shrink sleeve labels are easy to remove, so customers can reuse containers if they choose. Low density, flotation-separable labels also simplify recycling. These are required to meet the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and European PET Bottle Platform (EPBP) guidelines. However, PVC-based labels aren’t recyclable, and it’s unlikely that PETG labels will be recycled by consumers.

Paper-based wrap around labels are a “greener” choice. Adhesive labels can be removed with minimal cleaning, allowing the container to be reused, and plastic, glass and metal containers can be recycled with the label left on. If the container ends up in the trash, the label will decompose quickly, unlike a plastic shrink wrap label.

Label Printing Options

Printing for wrap-around labeling is readily available, and the design options are almost limitless. With a print and apply, pressure sensitive wrap around labeler, you can add black and white text and graphics to labels. This makes it easy to add lot numbers, expiration dates, barcodes and other container-specific information.

While heat shrink sleeve manufacturing has seen improvements in recent years with the introduction of inkjet printing, flexographic labeling (which uses relief plates to apply ink) remains the standard for large volume printing. 

The added cost of specialty colors, like metallic ink, may be lower than wrap around labeling, but it’s difficult to add information to shrink sleeve labels during the application process. Manufacturers often have to use high speed printers to apply ink directly to the container, adding another piece of equipment to the manufacturing process.

Cost Considerations

On average, a shrink wrap label will cost about 25% more per container than a wrap around label. Heat shrink’s flexographic labeling is the most cost effective production method, but only at very high volumes. For most companies, digital printing is the only practical option.

Thanks to the simplicity of the label shape, it’s also cheaper to design a wrap around label than a shrink wrap label. Shape changes during application don’t need to be taken into account, making it possible to create a simple layout that is easy to scale to different package sizes.

Equipment and running costs are lower on a wrap around label applicator than a shrink sleeve machine. A wrap around labeler uses servos, rollers, air pressure or a combination of these methods to apply labels. Shrink sleeves require a steam tunnel, heat, or a combination of the two to shrink the plastic label. This increases energy costs and requires more floor space. (Depending on the plastic grade, PETG labels can shrink up to 60% during the heating process. This requires finer control of the labeling system, especially at the heating stage and results in a higher rate of labeling errors and packaging damage.)

How Does A Wrap Around Label Fit into My Packaging System?

If you’re looking for a high quality wrap around labeler, you have several options to choose from to get the best fit for your manufacturing process.

If flexibility is a priority, consider the 360a series label applicator. This workhorse can be configured for a variety of application methods and label sizes to fit almost any container. Depending on the setup, it can apply up to 3,000 inches of labeling per minute.

Our Front/Back/Wrap Labeling System is a great alternative to shrink wrap machines when working with odd packaging shapes. It can accommodate products of various shapes and sizes, and the printing system has the capability to print two different applications–front and back, or wrap labeling.

Our wine bottle label applicator is designed to apply labels to the most common bottle sizes. It can apply front and back labels, single wrap around labels and cover labels. This machine automatically orients bottles for every type of label application. And, the rubber and stainless steel conveyor’s design protects fragile bottles as they pass through the machine for fast, efficient and trouble-free labeling.

We Can Help You Create a Cost-Effective Labeling System

If you’re looking for a better way to label your products, contact CTM Labeling Systems. Our local distributors are ready to help you add labeling stations that provide vivid, damage resistant and affordable labeling to your operation.