The life of a label

A close look into label creation and development

What’s missing here? The label is the most communicative part of packaging, providing valuable information on the contents. (Source: Fotolia)

INDIA • In the first of a series of articles, Harveer Sahni looks at the background of packaging and package printing, and assesses the role played by labels.

Over the years, packaging experts have continued to draw inspiration from nature. There is no shortage of examples: bananas, oranges, coconut, nuts, and eggs. In earlier years these ‘natural packages’ were all that was necessary because people bought and ate fresh food.

 Affluence brings a change in demand

Rising literacy levels in urban India resulted in increased employment and higher disposable incomes, bringing about a change in lifestyle.  As more members of urban households started to venture out to seek gainful employment, time became a commodity that was in short supply. There arose a need to buy food for many days in one go.  Initially, the refrigerator was enough to store food, but as the need to store food for a week, a fortnight or a month was felt, scientifically created packaging that could prolong the shelf life, as well as tempting the customer to buy products off the shelves in modern day retailing, became an imperative. With this also emerged the need for highly decorated and eye-catching labels!

The label is the most communicative part of packaging as it stirs the initial impulse to pick it up and read it. The label establishes the identity of the product and it is the direct link between the product and the consumer. A good label makes the product identifiable, and delivers the desired communication from the manufacturer to the targeted consumer.  It is a unique selling tool once the product is in the buyer’s hand, and delivers more value than a sales person, because it focuses the consumer’s attention.

The various roles of packaging

The overall package consists of primary packaging, which actually contains the product being sold, secondary packaging, which would hold the primary packaging carrying the main product, and finally the tertiary packaging, or the shipping carton that would be used to transport the packaged consignment to its destination.  The label, as we refer to it, is the face of any product as it is fixed to the primary packaging. However, it also finds a use on the secondary and tertiary packaging, serving various end purposes. The primary packaging is the most important part, because it is designed according to the product – whether it is a powder, liquid, semi solid, solid or tablets, etc. The all-important label has to be fixed to the primary packaging and stay with it during the lifespan of the product in use.

On many occasions, the label becomes an integral part of the primary packaging.  In the case of pharmaceutical tablets, which are often blister packed in strips, with the foil or laminate becoming the label.  In the case of toothpaste, the tube itself is printed to serve as a label.  However, most other products, especially liquids in the food, pharmaceutical, liquor, and FMCG segments are packed in plastic or glass bottles. These have to be suitably labelled, and call for high-end decorative design and production. Flexible packaging is also employed, but largely in the food and lubricant segments.  Here again, the packaging itself is printed to serve as a label, however flexible packs once opened, need to be used in full and cannot be stored.

In recent product innovations, flexible packs also come fitted with pouring devices and caps, so that the packaging is not destroyed immediately but has an extended shelf life.  In the case of a secondary pack, most of the time it is printed, as it is in tertiary packaging.  However, a large number of shipping cartons are manufactured from brown Kraft corrugated board, with no or minimal printing.  While it is important that the primary packaging is printed or decoratively labelled, the secondary and tertiary packaging needs to be labelled according to their need.  These labels can be barcodes for inventory control, product information labels, simple logistic labels or mandatory labels for some products; track and trace labels.

Types of labels

I have in the preceding paragraphs emphasised the important role that the label plays in packaging.  Before we consider the construction and development of labels, we need to understand the different types of labels.  There are wet glue labels, wrap around labels, shrink sleeves, in-mould labels and self-adhesive labels.  For this series of articles I will restrict myself to self-adhesive, or pressure sensitive labels which are pre-gummed as the name suggests.  These labels have a contact adhesive that is sensitive to pressure and is activated on application. When manually applied, thumb pressure is adequate. The labels are broadly separated into three main sub-categories: paper labels; filmic labels; and special labels.

Paper labels can be manufactured from various types of papers, including matt uncoated, coated semi-gloss, high gloss, coloured papers, textured papers and so on. The selection primarily depends on the product and application.  Filmic labels find application for cosmetics and toiletries, where a high level of decoration is imperative. Transparent film labels are used for applications that call for a clear no-label look. Special labels can be anything that emerges from a designer’s mind.  For example, one could have a cork sheet as the label material for a wine or liquor bottle.  Other label face materials employed could be textile, aluminium foil, foam, and multiple layered laminates.

In the following articles in this series I will look at the construction of label stock, the important inputs that are needed before designing the packaging and the label, the final label design, and innovations in labels.

Harveer Sahni
Harveer Sahni is Managing Director of Weldon Celloplast Ltd, New Delhi, India.

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