Pressure-Sensitive Labels – An Overview

Pressure-sensitive labels are the world’s most used labels technology.

They are wide-spread across the globe – chances are you’ve used one today.

But pressure-sensitive labels have more applications than in the food industry. In fact, they are universally used anywhere where two components have to be connected – even in the construction industry.

In this guide, you’ll find an overview of:

  • The technology behind pressure-sensitive labels
  • Differences between different pressure-sensitive labeling technologies
  • Industries where pressure-sensitive labels are used
  • Costs of pressure-sensitive labels
  • Challenges & risks for pressure-sensitive labels

Pressure-sensitive Labels: The technology behind it

Pressure-sensitive labels (PSL) and pressure-sensitive label laminate are strongly connected to release liner technology. This is because the majority of PSL rely on release liners to be applied.

The useful properties of a pressure-sensitive label are defined by the individual and collective properties of all the materials used in the construction.

Pressure-sensitive Label: Construction

Construction

The typical construction of a pressure-sensitive label consists of an adhesive-coated face stock on a carrier (= release liner).

The release liner may be siliconized paper or film, low surface energy film, or other materials that do not permit adhesion of the adhesive coating until it is applied to the final destination (the primary substrate).

Release Liner Alternatives

A limited number of pressure-sensitive label materials are manufactured in a linerless construction, without a carrier. These constructions require specialist coatings and handling to deliver accurate unwind and application without the use of a release liner layer.

Selecting the right facestock

In many applications, it is critical to select the right facestock. The component of the label may be considered the core label component, and it will determine many of the label laminate’s overall properties.

Facestock requirements

When selecting a facestock material, there is a list of requirements to be considered to fit the application:

  • Service temperature
  • Application surface (flat, curved, low surface energy, etc.)
  • Environmental conditions (UV, humidity, chemical resistance, water immersion, etc.)
  • Abrasion and tear resistance
  • Printing technology to be employed
  • Graphic quality
  • Tactile properties
  • Method of dispensing and application
  • Cost

Facestock materials

Paper face stock represents the majority of the global pressure-sensitive label market usage.

But this is changing.

An increasing proportion of the global market employs polymer film materials such as PE, PP, PET, PVC and other specialist polymer materials to provide added functionality to the label.

Why you might choose a polymer material for a PSL

Some of the following functions might lead to using polymer film materials as facestock for pressure-sensitive labels:

  • Strength
  • Moisture impermeability
  • Color
  • Surface smoothness
  • Transparency
  • High gloss
  • Durability
  • Mechanical Resistance

Transparent film label stock is also used to over-laminate and protect other on-pack labels or print.

Polymer facestocks: Overview

Here’s a quick overview over the different kinds of polymer face stocks and how they might be used.

Facestock Tensile Strength Chemical Resistance Heat Resistance Cost
Paper Poor Poor Poor Low
PE Good Very Good Good Low
PP Very Good Very Good Good Low-Moderate
PET Excellent Very Good Very Good Moderate
PVC Poor-Good Good Fair Moderate
Polyvinyl Fluoride Excellent Excellent Good High
Polyimide Excellent Excellent Excellent High

Adhesives

Pressure-sensitive labels can also me categorized by:

  • The type of adhesive used
  • The production method used to apply the adhesive to the facestock
  • The intended function of the label

Pressure-sensitive labels: Functions

Pressure-sensitive labels can serve a variety of different functions.

Function

Description

Permanent

Conventional attempts at removal may result in destruction of the label.

Removable

Removal is accomplished by simply carefully

peeling the label from the substrate surface. With certain adhesive types, the labels can be replaced to allowing for repositioning or some form of data recording.

Cold Temperature

Used mainly for frozen or chilled foods or foods and beverages that must be kept cold (e.g. beer or wine labels).

Application of some cold temperature labels is required at sub-freezing temperatures.

Specialty

Water soluble pressure-sensitive labels (for cleaning the labeled substrate); re-pulpable labels (for environmentally-friendly disposal/recycling); high temperature labels (silicone rubber-based adhesives); re-closability for re-sealable packs (e.g. wet wipes).

Classification of adhesives

Adhesives can be classified into the following types: – Solvent-based – Water-based (emulsion) – Hot melt – UV hot melt – Silicone-based

Adhesives are required to perform under a wide range of operating conditions: – Freezer (25°C and below) – mostly hot melt – All Temp (0°C) – Hot melts, emulsions, solvent – General Purpose (+25°C) – Mostly emulsions

Release Liner: Importance and technology

The release liner is the third key element in the construction of a pressure-sensitive label.

Release liners facilitate the delivery and application of the pressure-sensitive label to the secondary substrate. Worldwide, pressure-sensitive labels represent around 49% of the total volume usage for release liner materials.

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Selecting the optimal release liner for pressure-sensitive labels

The selection of the optimal release liner for a particular application can also impact greatly on productivity.

Pressure-sensitive labels need to be designed not only to meet the required end -use specifications, but also to maximize the speed, efficiency, and reliability of the entire pressure-sensitive label application process.

Poorly chosen release liners can result in expensive downtime due to problems such as: – The release liner fails to protect the adhesive. – The liner releases prematurely. – Machines must be set to a slower speed because of poor liner reliability and performance.

Concerns remain across the value chain at the high volumes of release liners generated, despite a growing number of initiatives being in place to improve recycling rates.

There is also growing interest in linerless pressure-sensitive label systems for some specific applications.

Pressure-sensitive Labeling: Pros and Cons

The strengths and weaknesses of pressure-sensitive labeling from an end user’s perspective may be summarized as follows:

Strengths

Weaknesses

Flexibility

High material costs

Short-run cost-effectiveness

High levels of matrix and liner waste

Variety of facestock and adhesives

Relatively-low labeling speeds

Ease of application

Complexity in constructions

Low capital costs of equipment

Limitations on container geometry

Low maintenance costs

Ability to remove labels in bottle washing units

Cleanliness

 

Security

 

High-quality graphics

 

Variety of label shapes possible

 

Broad range of print processes

 

Effective for secondary labeling

 

Advanced VIP ability

 

Less downtime/rapid changeover

 

Sterilizable

 

‘No-label look’ at lower inventory cost

 

Pressure-sensitive Labeling: Costs

Costs and high waste stream levels are often cited as the major weaknesses of pressure-sensitive labels.

The cost of an individual label is dictated by many factors including: – Materials used – Length of print run/number of labels – Number of colors/surface embellishments – Complexity of graphics – Label specifications (wash off; ice immersion; pasteurization; etc.)

The perceived higher acquired costs of printed labels may not be reflected in their applied label costs.

Pressure-sensitive label application — with its reduced downtime, faster roll changeovers, the ability to apply multiple labels to a single container in one machine pass, and modular labeling systems on rotary label applicators — can now be achieved at costs claimed to be only marginally greater than those for comparable paper-based glue applied labels.

Such a cost premium is often justifiable on account of the benefits pressure-sensitive labels provide in premium labeling of such products as beers, wines, spirits, personal care products, and packaged foods.

Pressure-sensitive labels: Waste & Sustainability

Waste and waste reduction issues are being urgently addressed by the pressure-sensitive label industry.

It is estimated that pressure-sensitive label laminators waste around 5% of the materials supplied within their processing. Label printing can account for around 20% wastage of the pressure-sensitive label laminate, depending on a variety of factors ranging from complexity in graphics and label shape and size, press length and frequency of roll changeovers.

Much of this wastage comprises the ‘matrix’ waste incurred after die-cutting, when unwanted surrounding material is rewound and discarded.

When printed labels pass to the end user’s in-house packaging department or contract packer, there is a further 3% to 10% loss of printed labels, determined by application techniques, obsolescence of printed label stocks, and other causes.

However, the biggest and most discussed waste is that of the release liner.

With equivalent amounts used for almost all pressure-sensitive labels, spent release liner is discarded at the point of label application, and must be collected for final disposal or for recycling as a part of the waste stream at the labeling point.

In several regions, legislation has been introduced, or is being considered, that will impact on the disposal of release liner materials.

There is a major focus within the industry to reduce spent release liner waste streams at source, and to increase collection and recycling/reuse — either as re-pulping to make new release liner, or for secondary purposes such as re-pulping, fuel pellets, or as a component in artificial decking timbers.

Influences & Market drivers

Other general demand influences and market drivers relevant to the pressure-sensitive label market are listed below:

  • Continuing innovation in pressure-sensitive labeling
  • Competition from alternative labeling technologies (sleeving; in-mold)
  • Competition from alternative packaging styles – flexible packaging, direct-to-container print
  • The accelerating drive to improve efficiency and streamline overall pro-duction, handling, warehousing, distribution, and retailing across the value chain
  • Consumer product manufacturers requiring ‘hole in the wall’ labeling solutions
  • Pressure on margins
  • Cost escalation – raw materials, energy
  • Interest in digital printing in addition to analog and hybrid print solutions
  • Just-in-time label delivery to brand owners
  • Continued consolidation at the extremes of the value chain
  • Changing procurement practices, especially the development of e-commerce
  • Electronic supplier – customer networking
  • Promotion of higher-performance labels with the emphasis on films as face and release liner materials, and on added functionality (e.g. QR codes, electronic print) within the label
  • Retailer developments driving need for VIP labels
  • Global trading coupled with the need to serve customers on a local basis
  • Stronger partnerships across the value chain
  • Value-added analysis of labeling technologies to take costs out of the value chain
  • Intelligent label technologies better suited to pressure-sensitive formats than competitor systems

Pressure-sensitive labels offer features that make them almost uniquely suited to variable information printed (VIP) label applications — e.g. check weighing, serialization, and RFID.

However, in the area of primary product labeling — where the label is used to market, promote, and provide information on a product — they face competition from all other label formats, but increasingly from the sleeve labeling technologies and hot melt glue applied wrap-around label systems.

Looking for market size for each region, manufacturing companies and key trends in the release liner market?

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