Pressure Sensitive Labels vs. Shrink-Sleeved Cans

June 26, 2020
Lillian Cartwright

So you’ve made the leap into canning - Congratulations! We know that decision is never made lightly. Your local fanbase can’t wait to experience and share your product on the go. Meanwhile, millions of curious beer connoisseurs eagerly await to review your product on Untappd. You’ve perfected the recipe and DO levels (phew!), but does the exterior of the can appropriately represent the experience you’ve created in your taproom? In today’s competitive retail market, your beer label just may be a customer's first introduction to its impeccable taste. 

For most craft brewers, printed cans aren’t an option early on. Crown and Ball uphold 200,000 can minimums per SKU or the equivalent of 600 barrels of beer. This requires excessive warehousing capacity and precise demand planning. Luckily, other options have emerged - providing flexible and cost-effective alternatives.

Photos via: ShelfLife
Pressure-Sensitive Labels

You can think of pressure-sensitive labels (PSLs) as highly-durable (I’m talking moisture, heat, and sunlight resistant) stickers, accounting for nearly 80% of all labels on the market today. PSLs are applied using a simple peel-and-stick method. They can be applied manually by hand or using a machine, but don’t require any sort of heat or solvents to activate. 

Photos via: ShelfLife
Shrink-Sleeved Cans

Printed, thin gauge film sleeves are placed over the can and then shrunk using heat. The result - a 360-degree label, analogous to a printed can.

Both PSLs and shrink sleeves provide a cost-effective, low minimum option for the craft community. However, there are a number of factors that may help you choose between the two.

Pressure-sensitive labeled cans are 15% cheaper than shrink-sleeved cans

For the same size can, PSL cans are 15-20% cheaper per can than shrink sleeved cans. It is important to note that shrink sleeved cans typically include the labor cost of applying the label. It’s a complete package deal. Whereas, PSLs can be sourced separately from brite cans and applied by the brewery - for an unknown cost. At the end of the day, you’ll be paying a small premium for those shrink-sleeved cans.

Your label decision is a reflection of your brand identity.

The ability for exquisitely bright colors to seamlessly hug a can is a game-changer. Shrink-sleeves give you more space to get your brand message across and allow you to pop on the shelf. Even major brands turn to shrink-sleeves to conduct low-volume test runs of new products. Shrink-sleeves are professional, attention-grabbing, and provide endless design opportunities. 

Shrink-sleeved cans are premium and their 360-coverage makes them comparable to the national brands. So they’re obviously the way to go - right? Well, it depends. There’s something inexplicably craft about a PSL on a 16-oz brite can. It screams local and small-batch. If your target customer is someone who scoffs at anything that’s not micro - stick to PSL.

Pressure-sensitive labels provide a flexible option for less predictable demand

Growth happens fast in the craft beer business. It’s all about being able to deliver what your customer wants when they want it. You need to quickly adjust to changing trends often with fast releases. Lead times are crucial. 

Nothing takes as long as a digitally printed can where lead times can extend to six months. With shrink-sleeved cans, the lead time could be four to five weeks from final artwork approval to delivery. For PSLs, you are looking at only a matter of days to have your labels printed. PSLs have the ability to change the SKU of any brite can in a matter of seconds. No need to solidify your production schedule weeks in advance or stress about unexpected changes.

PSLs are without a doubt the cost-effective, flexible, purely “craft” way to label your can. However, if you are looking to bring a premium product to market for a broader audience invest in some shrink-sleeving professionals.