Labels vs. Shrink Sleeves: What’s Best for My Product?

Labels vs. Shrink Sleeves: What’s Best for My Product?

Product labels provide your customer with information about the food they’re eating or the item they’re using. The different parts of a label provide pertinent details about the product, such as nutrition information, expiration dates, instructions, and proper disposal.

When deciding which kind of label to apply to your primary packaging, there are two compelling options available: labels and shrink sleeves. But which one is better? This article helps differentiate between the two and provide use cases as examples.

Shrink Sleeves

What are Shrink Sleeves?
  • What are Shrink Sleeves?

Shrink sleeves are full-color labels made from polymer films. These sleeves may be printed using a digital press, seamed with openings on the top and bottom to create a “sleeve,” and wrapped around the product. Once heat is applied, the sleeve will shrink around the contours of the container, providing 360-degree coverage.

Shrink sleeves are ideal for promotional goods, press proof samples and prototypes, and items that require multiple versions. They are commonly used in food, beverage, pharmaceutical, automotive, home, pet care, and skincare products.

  • Pros of Using Shrink Sleeves

One advantage of shrink sleeves is that they are durable. They are primarily made from polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG), a material resistant to high temperatures. This makes shrink sleeves suitable for products that are often in moist environments like beverages and hair care items.

Shrink sleeves can also be used to bundle multiple items regardless of their shapes. For instance, if you wish to offer free samples or two-for-one deals, shrink sleeves can be an ideal option. Their versatility allows for more customization, enabling containers of different sizes to be packaged as a set.

Another benefit of using shrink sleeves is sustainability. Research shows that polyethylene terephthalate waste from shrink sleeve labels can be recycled using simple chemicals. Since no adhesive is applied to the sleeve, the sleeve can be easily removed during the recycling process.

  • Cons of Using Shrink Sleeves

One of the drawbacks of shrink sleeves is the possibility of distortion. A graphic can become distorted when heated to conform to the product container. A pre-distortion software solution can be used to visualize how the sleeve will stretch when applied, so manufacturers can modify the design as needed and the printed label will not warp when shrunk. 


What are labels for packaging?
  • What are Labels?

Labels are made up of four layers: the release liner, adhesive, face stock, and topcoat. Labels  are self-adhesive and generally do not extend entirely around the product. They typically come in length less than half of the container’s circumference or full size.

Labels can be used with almost any type and size of container. They are widely used in the packaging of various products such as specialty foods and beverages, household goods, and health and beauty items.

  • Pros of Using Labels

Self-adhesive labels provide the convenience of application, as they can be attached manually. This is particularly advantageous to small or start-up businesses since it eliminates the need to invest in expensive machinery to stick the labels.

Handling different product lines is likewise simple with self-adhesive labels. They do not require any solvent, heat, or complicated tools to adhere to surfaces. They peel right off the backing liner and adhere to the container with  added pressure.

Automatic and semi-automatic labeling machines are also available for mass production, making the process easy and convenient. Since changeovers only involve switching rolls, the downtime is reduced. 

  • Cons of Using Labels 

On the downside, adhesive labels are susceptible to harsh elements such as moisture. While certain label materials are designed to withstand water infiltration, even those will eventually become saturated.

Labels also tend to be less durable than films, potentially wrinkling or ripping over time, or if not applied properly. However, overlaminates can be used to make this less of an issue.

Selecting the Right Label Material for Your Product

Labels and shrink sleeves are both excellent choices, but since they have different use cases, you should know when to choose which type for an effective packaging design

Shrink sleeves are ideal for prototypes and products that entail multiple versions. Meanwhile, labels are best used for goods that require small-sized tags. In selecting which one to apply for your product, it’s crucial to factor in your budget and business requirements.

Meyers offers professional printing solutions for all label types. For your product packaging needs, don’t hesitate to reach out to our experts.