When any new product – or product redesign – is brought to market, it’s almost never going to be sold in isolation. Whether it’s being sold on a shop shelf or an online store, no product is far away from competitors, which is why it’s so important that your packaging stands out.

The variation in types of product packaging is so vast that most customers don’t even think about it. Even in the beverages industry, it goes far beyond the shape of your bottle. What materials are you using? What colour are they? Is it a bottle at all, or would your drinks be better in a can?

Once you’ve weighed up the best container, you need to decide how you’re going to put your product information and branding on there. Flat surfaces, such as boxes and bags, can be surface-printed quickly and easily with rotogravure or digital technology (see a quick comparison here). For the curved surface of a can or bottle, it’s not so simple. Here are your main options.


1. Labels

Paper or film labels are the obvious choices when it comes to putting information on a new product. They’re generally low-cost, easy to customise and durable enough for packaging purposes. Choose from a range of finishes, including:

  • Matt
  • Gloss
  • Semi-gloss
  • Textured
  • Linen
  • Metalised

This gives you a broad choice for expressing your brand in more subliminal ways. However, keep in mind that you don’t want your label peeling or disintegrating if it comes into contact with your liquid product. Thin labels are also quite fragile; susceptible to wrinkling or ripping if they’re not applied properly or are handled roughly.
Investing in a thicker material or overlaminate is one way to ensure the durability of your labels but, at this point, you may decide that another method of branding is more suitable.

2. Screen printing

Screen printing makes it look like your bottles or cans don’t have labels at all. They look sleek and high-end, especially compared to cheap or garish stickers. It works by applying a silk screen to the face of your product, then pressing ink through openings in the mesh that are in a specific design. The result is a sharp image that’s satisfyingly tactile and very durable.

Silk screening is great if you only have one or two colours (see some good examples here). The opacity of the ink means that text and imagery really stand out, but it does get complicated and expensive if you want to do more than a couple of shades. The ink can also be deliberately built-up for a better feel beneath the hand (this is particularly popular with craft beer cans).

The biggest drawback with screen printing is the cost. It’s expensive to set up, meaning that MOQs tend to be 2,500, 5,000 or even 10,000+ with a larger company. Although this might be cost-effective for a large production run, it’s not ideal for a high number of SKUs or limited runs. This also has a knock-on effect of storage costs, plus it means that if the printing goes wrong, you lose a whole can – not just the label.

3. Clear labels

Clear labels are a popular option that is essentially a halfway point between labels and silkscreen. A clear plastic background means that, at a glance, your branded design blends seamlessly with your drink container, and can be used on containers of any shape or colour. A good example of this is the Lemonaid+ bottles.
This method is much cheaper and more flexible than screen printing, plus it allows you the freedom to use many more colours and intricate designs. If there’s a printing error, you don’t have to lose an entire can or bottle, and switching between different designs for various SKUs is easier.

The downside is that clear labels are not as durable as screen printing, and will eventually fade. There is also the fact that it’s a two-step process so, although it’s initially cheaper than screen printing, the benefit is offset by the additional cost of labelling. Labels are also limited by their shape and adhesion properties. Bottles that are an unusual shape are often difficult to label and result in less branding real estate than you might have hoped.

4. Printed sleeves

Sleeves used to be known as the cheap, low-quality option, but that’s not the case anymore. Better technology means that a printed sheath of paper or fabric can be fitted closer to the can and better secured, making them virtually indistinguishable from shrink-wrapped sleeves in some cases.

All colours are possible, with a white base-layer being the industry norm so that fine details can really stand out. The highly standardised process means that designs can be processed exceptionally quickly, so you’re looking at a turnaround of a few weeks, rather than months.

Paper and film sleeves are both available, although both have drawbacks. Film sleeves are thin and have a glossy texture that is forever linked with mass-produced soda – of course, that’s fine if that’s what you’re selling, but doesn’t fit so well with more high-end or unusual beverages. Paper sleeves are available in various textures and can feel quite luxurious, but face the same issues as paper labels in terms of fragility. Similar to labels, printed sleeves are only suitable for uniform surfaces.

5. Shrink sleeves with flexographic printing

Providing you can find a designer that has experience in flexographic printing for a shrink-wrapped design, it’s possibly the most practical option on this list.

No matter what shape it is, shrink-wrapping hugs the contours of your bottle, providing a 360-degree branding opportunity even on the quirkiest containers. The colours are just as bright as any other printed sleeve, and can be used both to highlight and disguise the contents of your bottle. Plus, the film has a good resistance to scuffs and tears.
It’s common to find shrink sleeves with perforations that allow the entire layer to be removed quickly and cleanly. This is not only helpful for recycling, but also for using the wrapper as a tamper-proof seal that restricts access to your product unless the perforations are torn.

How do you choose?

The packaging you choose will affect the perception of your brand as well as your bottom line. The main things to consider are:

  • The importance of colour in your design
  • The number of SKUs you have
  • The shape of your container
  • The surface coverage you want
  • Your budget
  • Conventions in your product category