By Olivia Cahoon
Overlaminates generally serve two functions—to add visual appeal and enhance protection to extend a printed product’s life. Product packaging labels are one of the many printed applications that benefit from overlaminates.
“Overlaminates are formulated to ensure a brand’s graphic remains intact for the lifetime of the product packaging label. They also elevate the label’s finished appearance and aesthetic qualities to enhance brand image and creating outstanding shelf appeal,” shares Katsu Araki, business development manager, Mactac.
Before selecting an overlaminate, it’s essential it pairs well with the label media—whether paper or film based. Once this is established, manufacturers creating labels in house can look at specialty overlaminate options such as holographic, metallic, and textured effects. It’s also important that overlaminates exhibit protection against harsh environments, precipitation, and chemicals to maintain the label’s appearance throughout its intended lifespan.
Above: Holographic effects found on overlaminates such as Nobelus LuxeFilms Streams of Light Holografik simulate the appearance of sunshine running across labels to capture consumer attention in stores.
The number of packaging applications, plastic materials, environmental factors, and adhesives make it necessary to pair the correct overlaminate with the right label media.
Packaging applications are found in various markets, from food and beverage to healthcare and beauty. “No one set of label properties delivers the best performance and aesthetics in every case,” explains Araki. To determine the best balance between functionality and visual appeal, packaging manufacturers should consider more than the label’s facestock and look at environmental conditions.
Plastic materials react differently under certain conditions and environments. For example, polyester is fairly heat stable while vinyl, polypropylene, and polyethylene are not as heat resistant and shouldn’t be used in a manufacturing environment with high temperatures. “A polyester overlaminate on a vinyl for a higher temperature application lifts and buckles the overlaminate,” says Ron Ducharme, market development manager, FLEXcon. Additionally, a polypropylene or polyethylene over a polyester exhibits overlaminate shrinkage.
While consumers may not consciously notice, adhesives play a vital role in label appearance, functionality, and performance. Adhesives protect against moisture and humidity, which often cause label issues for products like personal care items or refrigerated food packaging. According to Araki, products in these environments might also suffer tunneling and label lifting due to direct water contact—an especially important consideration with beverage packaging applications.
“Your label material might use an adhesive that holds up in these conditions, but if your overlaminate isn’t also using an adhesive for these environments, it could start to lift off the label,” he warns.
For example, frozen food labels can become stiff and peel off in the freezer. If outdoor temperatures are hot and humid, labels can flag or fall off during transporting. Similarly, beverage labels often move from cold to warm environments, creating condensation and effecting the label’s performance. “In any case, the last thing a brand owner wants is for a label or the overlaminate to degrade or come off a package,” adds Araki.
Label integrity is especially important for cold food and beverage manufacturers using clear product labels. For some adhesives, moisture creates a milky white appearance on clear labels, which can be detrimental to a product’s brand and shelf appeal.
Another item to consider is the packaging’s shape and conformability needs. For example, curved containers like lotion or shampoo bottles need to avoid tunneling while ensuring label adhesion as well as longevity. When using a label base material that is squeezable and conformable, Araki says manufacturers can add an overlaminate for print protection. If the overlaminate is not conformable, the entire label construction becomes non-conformable as well.
For industrial uses, it’s ideal to select the same material and overlaminate set. Products for industrial settings are often generated with heat or used in hot environments. Overlaminates experience film shrinking depending on the material, how it is made, and thickness. According to Araki, higher shrink rate films will start pulling up on the base label, which features less shrink rate and causes the label to lift.
Paper- and film-based products require protection and visual appeal when it comes to choosing a laminate. Thin overlaminates for paper film labels are used with the intent to protect from moisture and fade. “They allow for a high gloss or matte finish to complete the total label look,” explains Michael Welch, senior product manager, durables, Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials.
According to Ducharme, paper is susceptible to the environment and therefore is considered a temporary label.
However, it is common practice for film applications to use overlaminates as the applications are typically subjected to harsher environments. For example, Avery Dennison offers an extensive film overlaminate collection built for a variety of environments. This includes its Select Solutions overlaminates portfolio.
Enhancing Visual Appeal
The packaging market is a competitive space where product distinction is integral. To stand out from the competition and on the shelf, today’s overlaminates are designed with features such as matte or gloss to enhance visual appeal. Specialty options are also available like holographic, metallic, and textured overlaminates that provide a unique three-dimensional appearance.
“Overlaminates come in many flavors,” admits Ducharme. While matte and gloss are the most popular, textured effects are available and on the rise. Embossed options provide a tactile feel while soft touch delivers a smoother appeal.
“As the need to influence consumer purchasing decisions increases, so does the importance of eye-catching packaging,” shares Araki. Packaging labels no longer act as a source of information but are designed to reflect a brand’s image and enhance the consumer’s perception of a product’s quality.
In addition to textured effects, packaging manufacturers differentiate their products by using specialty overlaminates such as holographic and metallic. For example, Mactac LTCREVI901A color change polyester is constructed with a clear polyester film that provides a metallic tone without metal. The film changes color at every angle for an eye-catching visual.
Nobelus LuxeFilms also offer a scope of surface enhancement options, including hardness, soft touch, and tactile linen patterns. Holographic effects such as LuxeFilms Streams of Light Holografik simulate the appearance of sunshine running across labels to capture consumer attention in stores. Also available for special order is Rainbow Holografik with holographic sparkle, drizzle, starburst, cracked ice, and mini-cracked ice holographic finishes.
“These surface enhancement films continue to reach and exceed the traditional expectations for protection from elements and resistance to friction. However, they proceed in delivering more value than ever before through tactile and visual effects, as well as performance characteristics,” shares Dragan Nikolic, business development manager, Nobelus.
While clear metal and holographic labels are attractive, it is important to consider the label’s main purpose—readability. “You have to be able to read and see the label underneath, so an effect like metallization is not practical,” admits Welch. To determine if a specialty overlaminate is the right choice, packaging manufacturers should perform product and readability testing.
Added Value at a Cost
While specialty overlaminates are sure to capture consumer attention, they do come at a higher price. A holographic overlaminate is often more costly than a plain polypropylene overlaminate.
Despite the added cost, the benefits of using a specialty overlaminate can be significant. “It is all in the desired perceived value of the package and what the brand is trying to communicate to the consumer,” shares Nikolic. For example, label converters using a premium value-add film from Nobelus LuxeFilms can expect to pay anywhere from 0.2 to 1.5 in MSI for a custom holographic film. MSI is a standard measurement for label converters that equals 1,000 square inches.
Traditional gloss/matte self-wound films typically compete for the bottom price while premium films cater to industries that rely on differentiation and complete alignment in the brand’s packaging portfolio. While specialty films are not for everyone, Nikolic believes they best serve companies that understand the value of a special effect package or label.
National studies have found that value-added packaging effects increase sales and consumer interest. According to the WestRock 2018 Packaging Matters study, Nikolic says enhanced products hold attention 18 percent longer than print-only products. Additionally, 81 percent of consumers tried new products because of the packaging’s presentation.
Regardless of special effects, not using the correct overlaminate or having the best visual appeal can also cost manufacturers’ money. If an overlaminate doesn’t work or isn’t as attractive as the next on the shelf, it won’t sell. “What is a penny or a nickel if the product does not sell? Or, if the label fails because an overlaminate was not used?” asks Ducharme.
Cost is essential and should always be considered before investing in label overlaminates. “Lack of sales due to the competitor having better curb appeal or an increase in liability because a label failed should be the first thoughts,” he adds.
Challenges Are General
For the most part, specialty overlaminate materials don’t exhibit more challenges than regular overlaminate films. Typically, difficulty results from specific products or poor label, overlaminate, and adhesion pairing.
With holographic overlaminates, manufacturers should consider that overlaminates may change the original print color. If there is a specific hue that needs to be achieved, Araki suggests printing on top of the overlaminate.
Aside from that, most overlaminate materials are processed similarly. For example, when using overlaminate materials the pinch point pressure at application should be enough to apply the overlaminate to the label surface. According to Ducharme, too much pressure causes the label to curl while too little traps air. The rollers should also be square to the production run and free of debris.
Additionally, Welch warns that there are differences in caliper that might be challenging. It also depends if the liner is a self-wound or a liner-based overlaminate.
Overlaminates are applied to labels for two main reasons—aesthetics and graphic protection. Durability is especially essential for product packaging labels which need to last the product’s lifespan from production to shipping, handling, and shelf placement.
In the durables market, which includes automotive and outdoor power equipment industries, labels are required to perform in harsh environments. This includes UL and CSA test requirements with exposure to elements such as debris, dirt, gasoline, kerosene, and oil. According to Ducharme, overlaminates provide the protection to meet these requirements. “In the durables markets, there could be a liability if the legibility of the printed label is not maintained.”
To meet these needs, overlaminates are designed with resistance to chemicals, touch, UV, and precipitation with the ability to recreate a label image and provide a considerably longer life cycle to the label. For example, FLEXcon DPM UVCG is a 1-mil clear gloss overlaminate polyester that protects against UV rays, moisture, and scratching. It also resists extreme temperatures, abrasion, and chemical exposure for durable goods such as appliances, electronics, power tools, recreational vehicles, sporting equipment, and warning labels.
“Depending on the film used, an overlaminate adds up to five years exterior life or provides a tactile or soft touch feel to the product,” explains Ducharme.
Pristine & Durable
Product packaging labels often require a little extra help in visual appeal and protection. To ensure they are as pristine and durable as possible, manufacturers creating labels in house invest in overlaminate films.
Label overlaminates are available in a variety of options from matte and gloss to holographic and textured effects. While the aesthetic is important to stand out from the competition, the overlaminate is only as good as its durability rating.
Nov2019, Industrial Print Magazine