The Many Different Types of Labels (and Why They're Used)

Labels, which are pieces of paper or film attached to a product's packaging, are meant to serve five essential functions:
1. Product description: Yes, first and foremost, labels are designed to share information about a particular product. If it's a label on a food item, it might share ingredients, calories and other nutritional information. Labels on medical products might share directions and information on how to use it. Other labels may provide cautionary information.
2. Product ID: Have a particular product or product variety you're looking for? That's another important component of labels they help consumers more easily find the brand and type of product that they're seeking.
3. Grading: Grading refers to the quality of a particular product. Labels can help identify products of various grading by outfitting products with different colored labels pertaining to the different levels of quality, for instance.
4. Promotional tool: Yes, labels aren't just for sharing information - they can also help a brand market itself and help it to better stand out on the store shelf, thereby making it more attractive to consumers. The right type of label can be an important sales tool.
5. Legal information: Last but not least, labels are also often used as places where products must share any legal information with consumers.
Now that we a little about the purpose of labels, it's time to get into more of the specific types of labels that are used on product packaging. It shouldn't surprise you that there are a variety of different labels that consumer package groups, or CPGs, can use to better help their products shine on the store shelf as well as contain any necessary product information.


The Many Different Types of Labels
All labels must be processed by a printer. And being that labels are small, this type of package printing is known as "narrow web" printing, as the paper or film that the labels are printed on is usually small in nature. There are many different printing technologies that are used to print labels. Flexographic and gravure printing are ideal for long label runs where high-quality imaging is desired. Another popular label printing technology is offset. Additionally, for short-run label processing or custom labels, digital printing may be deployed as it doesn't require the infrastructure that the more conventional printing technologies need and is more apt for changes.


Labels come in a variety of different face stocks and usually include some sort of adhesive backing so that they can adequately adhere to the specific package that they're being placed on. Here's a closer look at some of the most common types of labels and why they're used:


Film stock labels: Labels derived from film - such as PE, PP, BOPP and more - are emerging as a popular type of label due to the many benefits that they offer over their paper counterparts. For instance, many packaging professionals state that film gives way to brighter, better overall graphics, which obviously help products to better stand out on the store shelf. And then there are other notable features of labels derived from film stock, such as better durability, thermal stability, chemical resistance and enhanced tear resistance, among others. Another big factor regarding film labeling is that such labels can be outfitted with specialty coatings and plastic film can be created in special and custom varieties. Plus, film stock is generally cheaper than paper stock, which has led CPGs to increasingly choose film over paper as a means to cut costs or pass any cost savings on to their customers.


Paper stock labels: Though film stock is growing at an impressive rate these days, paper certainly still has its place in the label market. What's more is that the differences between film and paper are significant. Perhaps the biggest difference is that paper is much more easily recycled when compared with plastic film, of which there's presently really no good solution for removing plastic labels from the waste stream. Additionally, printing on paper still looks great and also offers traits such as low heat sensitivity, better die cutting ability and good strength. In fact, while many people think that films are all that can be used on food packaging like wet drinks and other products that may become wet, wet paper has been developed so it too can stand up to damp environments.


Shrink sleeves: Shrink sleeves are best associated with labeling the likes of bottles and cans. In fact, research from Smithers Pira states that the shrink sleeve market has evolved over the years to capture about 12.5 percent of the current label market today, which is significant. Brands like shrink sleeves because they look stunning visually, can hold a good deal of information and are extremely versatile. Because shrink sleeves generally encompass if not all of, but most of, the product that they are labeling, brands have a large space to work with and can put everything from specialty graphics to product information on them. Shrink sleeve labels have become particularly big for craft beer companies and high-end drink makers. Another notable feature about shrink sleeves is that they are an ideal label solution for unusually shaped products.


Printed electronics: It's an industry-wide consensus that "smart packaging" is the future of labeling. And smart packaging is best done using printed electronics, which can be things like QR codes or technologies such as near-field communication (NFC), which is essentially a microchip in the label. Smart packaging enables consumers to scan the label with their smartphones and then have access to a variety of other features about a particular product, such as directions, brand messaging or some sort of value-added feature. While the consensus is that printed electronics are still in the "elementary" phase - today, they're most often associated with anti-counterfeiting and are normally incorporated in the labels of luxury brands - packaging professionals say that there's really unlimited potential for this technology. Look for it to become more and more prominent as costs come down and processes become more advanced.


While there are many types of labels that are currently in use when it comes to packaging, it's worth noting that the equipment and supplies to fabricate them can be costly. That's why it can make sense for a company to acquire used products that work like new, rather than invest in a brand new product. That's where Bid on Equipment comes to play, as we acquire used products and sell them for discounted prices. For more information on labels and labeling, and to browse Bid on Equipment's inventory of equipment and supplies, contact us today.

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