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Label Specifications: Managing Label Production

Dec 14, 2020
4 min read

The balance of your production budget is in jeopardy if you don’t manage all the aspects of your label production with care and diligence. Here are the main factors you should monitor.

1. Coordinate suppliers.

Early in the process, meet with your container manufacturer, label converter, and labeling equipment manufacturer to coordinate a label specification that plays to everyone’s strengths, versus independently imposing a rigid, arbitrary spec. Such upfront coordination can optimize your label construction right out of the gate, and eliminate rework later on.

2. Manage the production cost of designs.

Unanticipated printing costs of elaborate label designs can seriously affect your bottom line. Be very clear with graphic designers about the parameters within which they must operate to meet your cost targets. Or find a different, less risky way to execute a design without compromising the design intent—for example, by using a tactile varnish instead of embossing. To assuage reluctant brand managers, additional consumer testing (such as eye tracking) can provide objective feedback and validation of design effectiveness.

3. Budget extra lead time for art and design.

Art and design can be one area that blows through cost and time projections. Whatever time you’ve budgeted, add more. Be diligent and consistent in clamping down on seemingly endless spirals of last-minute (and costly) changes. Formalize all the details to everyone’s satisfaction in a design brief—and follow those details—to eliminate last-minute surprises.

4. Budget lead time for new labeling processes.

If all your experience is in glue-applied paper labels, and you’re moving to an in-mold one, you’re starting over from a knowledge base. Budget extra time to learn the ins and outs of any new labeling method.

5. Shop around.

Don’t assume your existing label supplier is the best fit for a new labeling method. Allot time to look at other suppliers’ capabilities and pricing. Also, your label supplier may need extra time if you’re sourcing special inks or label materials. Make sure they can handle your current and future needs.

6. Explore structural advantages of labels.

There may be some label possibilities that you haven’t considered. For instance, some wraparound labels can provide improved safety on glass containers through shard retention. Some labels offer higher thermal insulation or better all-around gripping. There are many cases where successful CPG brand owners discover points of competitive differentiation when exploring new label options. These can be as equally valuable when offering a value-add on new products as they can when enhancing the market appeal of existing products.

7. Find the dollars behind the pennies.

When negotiating your best price for labels, realize that the cost of managing your label program can far exceed the cost of the labels themselves. (In the worst-case scenario, quality or service issues can shut down a packaging line completely.) Take that into account and ask your suppliers what inventory management and quality systems are in place to reduce or eliminate these hidden costs. Online systems that provide round-the-clock inventory management information can help.

8. Ensure machinability.

The most common issues relating to machinability are about defining tolerances on machines or materials. Does a labeler—and do you—understand how much your label varies, and how this will impact it running through the machine? It’s surprising how often those intimately involved in the process still fail to consider variances. It is both a production issue and a sustainability issue when cases of labels are tossed because they won’t run through the labeler properly. Follow these “Three Rs”: Review the design, perform a Risk assessment, and Read the fine print to ensure that variances and tolerances are considered and accounted for upfront.

9. Ensure roll direction/equipment compatibility.

Preprinted labels can be printed and wound onto the roll in several directions and orientations. In particular, if your labeling project involves new equipment, check with the machinery engineer first to confirm the direction in which the new equipment removes and applies the label. The only thing worse than applying upside-down labels is throwing away an entire shipment of unusable labels because they’re printed in the wrong direction.