The life of a label – Part II

Labels for toiletries have to face harsh and diverse conditions like cold and hot water, humid and hot environment, and soap.
Labels for toiletries have to face harsh and diverse conditions like cold and hot water, humid and hot environment, and soap.

Part one of this series of articles referred to the general importance of labels. Part two deals with the imperative, that the label design has to be a parallel creation when the package is being designed.


This article was written by Harveer Sahni

In earlier times one would decide on a container depending on the product being a liquid, powder or a product. If it had to be a bottle, it would either be glass or plastic and then the shape would be considered. For cost effectiveness some products would go into printed or unprinted LDPE or PP bags. If the product is a solid one, it would probably end up in a paper based package like a carton.

A bottle would get a simple screw-on cap and then the rectangular label would be separately designed to adorn the package. The labeled bottle would again go into a mono carton and then into a corrugated carton. While the basics appear the same, modern day technological mindsets have undergone a sea change on how to go about creating a package and its labels.

Now extensive brainstorming is completed before creating primary packaging addressing issues such as product chemistry, its construction, shelf life, usage, lifespan, aesthetics, convenience of product delivery from the package, product decoration on the label, communication capability of the label with the consumer with ease and value building for the brand. This also includes its enhancement, protection and authentication, security features, pricing information, manufacturing/expiry dates, bar coding, etc. With evolution, growth of consumerism and increased retail selling, packaging waste is also now generated in gigantic quantities.

So for this reason in addition to the above considerations, the recyclability, waste disposal and sustainability have to be kept in mind at every stage of package design.

Appropriate packaging design

Packaging design needs to start in reverse from the farthest end in the life cycle of a product with the consumer as the end user in focus all the time at each stage. It is the consumer for whose attention and impulse to buy and comfort to use, the package is designed. One would imagine that once the product has been bought and has been used, its life cycle has come to an end.

However, present day environmental obligations compel us to start our planning on how the packaging waste will end up, whether it is bio-degradable, or recyclable or reusable. So, the planning to create a package has to begin with the end consumer and the environment in focus at each stage. Now at the very outset we need to study the product that we have to package. It could be a liquid, powder, or an appliance. It could be a chemical or a food product.

Large scale bottling of lubricating oils and cooking oils is done in HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) containers. This material is known to be somewhat porous and in long storage for months, oil seeps to the surface. Since the lifespan is short and the lubricating oils are on the shelves of gas stations before they are opened and used, not much attention is given to the slight porosity. However in the case of perfumed hair oil which has to sit on dressing tables, firstly the porosity can make the bottle look greasy and dust attracting over long storage and secondly the perfume will gradually evaporate degrading the product.

In general, aromatic liquid preparations and volatile liquids when packed in HDPE lose their aroma and also lose levels of product due to evaporation.

For this reason PET becomes the preferred material for such packaging. Glass would be an ideal material and with full recyclability as it provides the best shelf life but due to the weight and its fragile nature, plastics are preferred. Similarly when we decide to opt for flexible packaging, tin packaging, glass packaging, paper based packaging etc. we need to consider how the chemistry of the product will react and stay stable in the selected packaging materials. The shape of the package has to be made attractive but at the same time convenience of use is important. In the case of lube oils, cooking oils and milk packaging, the neck is moved to one side to facilitate pouring. Also in bigger packs handles are molded-in to provide ease of lifting for the consumers. Additionally, caps with inbuilt pouring devices or pumps are also used to make dispensing easier.

Once the material for the package has been selected the shape has to be created and it should be kept in mind the behaviour and the stability of the package on the packaging line. Space needs to be provided for labels and their position, also ensuring that the label will easily dispensed and positioned correctly. The size of label should also be such that it takes into account the label printer’s press width. The shape of the package should be such that it can be placed and transported with ease and safety in secondary and tertiary packs. Another point for consideration is to provide space for applying a tamper evident label or seal wherever necessary. Many liquor bottles require a government seal to be put on caps but the uneven surface makes firm anchorage of the self adhesive seals a challenge leaving room for tampering.

The label as the best sales person

The label has to be in mind all along, as it is the communicating arm of the product. It actually becomes the one part of the package that attracts the consumer’s attention, tempts him or her to lift it off the store shelf and then becomes the communication link between the manufacturer and the buyer. At this time it does the job of being the best sales person that a company has, as it has the consumer’s focused attention at that time and it therefore becomes the all important part of a package.

The self adhesive labels journey starts at the label stock manufacturers plant and meets the label designer’s ideas in the pre-press department, gets decorated and converted on the label press of the converter. Finally it meets and is united with the package at the product manufacturers packaging line. Hereafter begins the harsh journey experiencing product handling by different people, usage and facing diverse environments.

The labelstock consists primarily of three components i.e. the release liner, the adhesive and the face material. Each component has to be considered by package and label designers. Even though the release liner ends up in the waste bin it is the most important part of the label converting and dispensing operation. The release levels will ensure speed of conversion and dispensing. If the release level is too tight then the waste matrix will keep breaking adding to down time and also it will not dispense labels well. If the waste matrix is too thin it will create matrix breakages. On the other hand if the release level is too easy then the smaller labels will lift with the matrix and may fly off on the label dispensing line.

Therefore, the designer needs to select a size that will not add to waste yet provide a waste matrix that will lift easily and will help in faster conversion. Finally the liner, if it is paper, is adding to a gigantic waste problem as proper recycling facilities are not generally available. A filmic liner is thinner, decreasing the tonnage of waste generated and it is also recyclable. The choice of liner to be used and the release level needs the advice of the stock manufacturer.

Generally, the optimum release values set by coaters, works across a very wide range. The adhesive is a crucial component and also needs to be considered by the designer. It is the link between the label and the container and has to adhere and perform well. HDPE is a hard to wet substrate and normal general purpose acrylic emulsion adhesives do not deliver a permanent bond. Special adhesives need to be used. Further if a removable label needs to be affixed and later removed, then removable adhesives are needed.

The face material

Finally the label material which is the top layer of the label stock and becomes the face of the product is also called the facestock. The designers need to be careful in their selection as this is the part of labelstock that along with adhesive goes with the label on to the product. This is the most important part of label design and its integration with all the final packaging is what the product will eventually deliver.

Designers need to make the maximum indulgence in selecting the right face material. To design for printing excellence, creating appealing and convenient shapes of the packaging is an eventuality for any consumer product but what to print upon is an imperative and there is a world full of options. Not very long ago the only decision was in in deciding whether to use paper or film. By and large this still happens, however as vision expands and as we look around and consider the possibilities that exist, labels start looking for an interesting avatar! Some parameters and inputs could provide the answer on what the label face material should be but the way markets are evolving it needs a more intense thought process. To select the face material for a label we need to again start from the extreme end of the chain.

We need to consider disposability or recyclability, endurance of usage conditions, compatibility with the product chemistry, cost analysis, aesthetics that aid selling, convertibility in supplier’s plants, statutory information, variable information on the label and the capability to accept the desired printing, decorating and converting processes.

Consider any toiletry in a bathroom; all the time the container faces harsh and diverse conditions. It has to bear cold water, hot water, dry weather, cold weather, hot and humid environment, soap and continuous squeezing of the bottle. If the bottle material has been selected as HDPE then the label in such a case cannot be paper as it will not withstand these conditions. Brand owners cannot expect their product to have a shriveled up label lying in a customer’s bathroom for other guests to see which would have adverse impact on their brand image.

Going further down the chain, a label should ideally be of a polymer that can be recycled along with the bottle. In this situation a PE film as the label face will be preferred as it will behave in the same way as the bottle material in recycling. However, the selection of the label face material cannot be limited due to above parameters only, even though they are necessary considerations. It has to be worthwhile to deliver the sales impetus to the product that it will be applied upon. In present times designers have the options of a very diverse range of face materials.

The final label design

This needs the magic touch! The shape of the label has to be in synergy with the package. One cannot have a square label on an oval container! Once the shape of the label has been decided we again need to design the label with the product and consumer in mind. A pharma label will be a simple line job having consistency and legibility. It has to carry all the statutory information, contents usage and dosage information. Recent government regulations have made it mandatory to print 2D barcodes to facilitate track and trace mechanism as a measure to counter duplication and fakes. Given the small size of most primary pharmaceutical packs putting all this on a label becomes a very challenging proposition.

When we consider the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) products we are required to decorate the labels with high resolution images with real skin tones. Capability of the label printer is of importance as we move to higher end labels. Most of labels are printed on flexo presses. These labels need excellent registration controls on all UV flexo presses with hot or cold foiling and combining with screen printing for special effects. Shapes are die-cut conforming to the shape of the package. These labels have a very tough task of convincing the consumer to buy so it needs to be designed to communicate. It has to have product information with high resolution graphics to hold the customers attention.

Since a lot of information is required regarding usage, manufacturing dates, retail prices, bar codes, licensing details, contents and manufacturers address, often a separate label is provided behind the container. The front label that is the face is made as attractive as possible to tempt the customer to reach out for it and the back label starts to communication with the user. As we move on to wine and liquor labels the need for attractive graphics becomes even more demanding. As the store shelves become crowded with a large number of brands and strict laws restricting advertising of alcohol, labels become the major platform to advertise and catch the consumer’s eye. Wine and liquor labels require very high levels of decorating capabilities from label printers. The labels have textures, advanced graphics, foiling, printing with metallic effects, embossing and additional effects.

It is for this reason that companies who become involved in liquor labels have made large investments in high end combination presses on which they can incorporate flexo printing with offset, screen and rotogravure printing to achieve the special metallic colour effects so prominent in highly decorative labels.

In the next part of this series on the life of label, I will discuss diecutting, brand protection, building security in labels, additional decoration and finally innovations in labels.

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