Shrink Sleeves 101

Shrink sleeves are an innovative, cost-effective labeling and packaging solution. In its simplest form, a shrink sleeve consists of a heat-sensitive material that is seamed on one side with an opening on the top and bottom to form a sleeve. The sleeve is placed on the product either by hand or machine and heat is applied to shrink the sleeve onto the item. But what else should you know about shrink sleeves? Here are five things to consider when deciding if a shrink sleeve solution will work for you.

1. Sizing

When designing and ordering a shrink sleeve, a number of important measurements are taken. The slit width is the total width of the sleeve before it is seamed. Slightly smaller than the slit width, the critical art width is the area of the sleeve that is printed. A shrink sleeve’s layflat width is the width of the seamed sleeve or the width of the finished product. The cut length is the total height of the sleeve and the critical art height is the height of the printed area on the sleeve. Generally, the critical art height is 4 mm less than the cut length, leaving 2 mm on the top and the bottom of the sleeve without printing.

2. Printing & Varnishing

After the size of the shrink sleeve has been determined, art for the sleeve is sized appropriately and prepared for the printing process. In order to improve the scratch resistance, the imprint is applied to the inside of the material. Depending on how the sleeve is being applied to the container, a varnish may need to be applied over the printing to further ensure that the imprint does not scratch and the sleeves run smoothly on the application equipment. 

3. Perforations

Perforations are often used on shrink sleeves that will be applied to bottles with screw off tops to provide tamper resistance. They can also be applied to the side of a sleeve to allow easy removal. There can be up to two perforations per sleeve.

4. Seam & Fold Areas

When designing a shrink sleeve, the seam and fold areas must be considered. Important design components, such as ingredient information or UPC codes, should not be on a fold, as the fold can render these unreadable. Seams can fall in the center of the sleeve or off center.

5. Shrink Sleeve Finishing

Shrink sleeves can either be individually cut or finished on a roll depending on the application method. For many machine-applied shrink sleeves, the sleeves are finished on a roll; in this instance, the outer diameter of the roll, core size, and rewind position of the roll are critical to ensure it will work on the application equipment.