Shrink sleeve labels, commonly referred to as ‘shrink sleeves,’ are used across multiple CPG markets and continue to grow in popularity. One of the main reasons behind the growth of the shrink sleeve market (over custom labels) is that it gives product owners more advertising space to attract attention. Shrink sleeves can cover a bottle or container from top to bottom with 360-degree graphics. In addition to its flexibility with design, shrink sleeves are highly durable as the graphics are printed on the inside of the film material. According to a Markets and Markets report¹, “the stretch and shrink sleeve labels market is projected to reach USD 13.20 Billion by 2020.”

Shrink sleeves are growing at a steady rate because of their shelf appeal and durability, but they
aren’t a right fit for everyone. Some downsides of shrink sleeves is that they tend to cost more than pressure sensitive labels because they use more material, require special application equipment, and have higher minimum order requirements. Despite these challenges, technological advancements are helping to reduce costs and improve materials for increased sustainability. According to estimates by AWA Alexander Watson Associates², shrink sleeves will continue to experience growth in the global label market with an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.5% from 2013 to 2018. The ultimate guide to custom shrink sleeve labels will touch upon these topics:

  • Application & Benefits of Shrink Sleeves
  • Shrink Sleeve Industries
  • Materials for Shrink Sleeves
  • Designing Custom Shrink Sleeves
  • Printing Custom Shrink Sleeves
  • Applying Shrink Sleeves
  • Conclusion
  • Shrink Sleeve FAQs

Application & Benefits of Custom Shrink Sleeves

Shrink sleeves differ from pressure sensitive labels in design, construction, and application method. One thing in particular that makes shrink sleeves stand out as a label product is that they can conform to a variety of bottle shapes that can be difficult for pressure sensitive labels to fit. As for application, pressure sensitive labels can be applied by hand or machine, whereas shrink sleeves are shrunk to the bottle/container using a steam tunnel (preferred method), radiant heat tunnel, hot air tunnel, or hybrid tunnel (combines heat and steam). Product owners should be aware that they may need to partner with a co-packer due to the costs associated with shrink application equipment.

Benefits of shrink sleeve labels and wraps:

  • Scuff, abrasion, and moisture resistant
  • Compatible with plastic, glass, and metal bottles/containers
  • Fits seamlessly onto bottle with curves and contours
  • A tamper-evident seal option for added product safety and freshness
  • 360-degree design offers more graphics coverage
  • Marketing and promotional opportunities: multi-packs, cross-merchandising, promotional band, and on-pack sample promotions

Now that you have a better understanding of shrink sleeves, you will be able to see how shrink sleeves fit into other industries and get a better idea if they’re right for your product.

Shrink Sleeves Serve a Variety of Industries

Almost any product can use shrink sleeves, however, certain industries tend to use them more than others. Shrink sleeves are more than a pretty face – the optional tamper evident seal is perfect for ensuring freshness in beverage and food products, which share the majority of the shrink sleeve market with 62% and 22% respectively, according to AWA Alexander Watson Associates 3 . For other industries – like beauty, pharmaceutical, and nutraceutical – shrink sleeves provide a defense against tampering and counterfeiters since they’re harder to copy than pressure sensitive labels. While shrink sleeves are one of the most effective ways to increase packaging appeal and protect products, not all product owners find them to be a right fit for their products, capabilities, or budget. Shrink sleeves typically cost more than pressure sensitive labels due to the extra materials used, special application equipment, and higher minimum order requirements. Startups and small businesses may not be able to justify the investment but the good news is that there are many other ways product owners can add appeal to their product.

Materials for Shrink Sleeves

Shrink sleeves are made from a variety of materials, including polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Each of these materials has its own unique properties and characteristics that make it suitable for certain applications.

When choosing the right material for your shrink sleeves, there are several factors to consider:

  • Compatibility with the packaging material: It’s important to ensure that the shrink sleeve material is compatible with the material of the packaging it will be applied to. For example, certain shrink sleeve materials may not adhere well to certain types of packaging materials.
  • Shrinkage rate: Different shrink sleeve materials have different shrinkage rates, which can affect the final appearance of the shrink sleeve on the package. It’s important to choose a material that will shrink down to the desired size and shape of the package.
  • Transparency: Some shrink sleeve materials are more transparent than others, which can affect the visibility of the product and any printing on the shrink sleeve. Consider whether you want a clear or opaque shrink sleeve material based on the desired appearance of the final package.
  • Chemical resistance: If the product being packaged will be exposed to certain chemicals or conditions, it’s important to choose a shrink sleeve material that is resistant to those chemicals or conditions. For example, PET shrink sleeves are resistant to heat and UV light, making them a good choice for packaging that will be exposed to these elements.
  • Recyclability: If sustainability is a concern, consider choosing a shrink sleeve material that is recyclable. PET and PVC shrink sleeves are typically recyclable, while PE and PP shrink sleeves are not.

By considering these factors, you can choose the best shrink sleeve material for your product packaging needs.

Designing Custom Shrink Sleeves

Effective shrink sleeve design plays a critical role in the success of your product packaging. When designing custom shrink sleeves, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind:

  • Product visibility: The shrink sleeve should showcase the product and allow for easy identification of the product by consumers. Consider using clear or transparent materials for shrink sleeves if the product itself is the main selling point.
  • Branding: The shrink sleeve is an opportunity to incorporate your branding and marketing elements into the packaging. Use colors, fonts, and graphics that reflect your brand and help to differentiate your product from competitors.
  • Functionality: The shrink sleeve should serve a functional purpose beyond just branding and product visibility. Consider incorporating features such as a tamper-evident seal or QR code for added functionality.
  • Size and shape: The size and shape of the shrink sleeve should be carefully considered to ensure that it fits the contours of the package and provides a seamless look when applied.
  • Printing: The printing on the shrink sleeve should be clear and easy to read, with sufficient contrast against the background color of the shrink sleeve. Consider using a high-resolution printer to ensure the best possible print quality.

By considering these factors when designing custom shrink sleeves, you can create effective and attractive packaging that stands out on the shelf and meets the needs of your product and brand.

Printing Custom Shrink Sleeves

The printing process for shrink sleeves is an important consideration when creating custom shrink sleeves. Here are a few key factors to keep in mind when selecting a printer for shrink sleeves:

  • Printing technology: Shrink sleeves can be printed using a variety of printing technologies, including flexographic printing, offset printing, and digital printing. Each of these technologies has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the one that best meets your needs and budget.
  • Print resolution: The print resolution of the printer will affect the overall quality of the printing on the shrink sleeves. Look for a printer with a high print resolution to ensure the best possible print quality.
  • Printing speed: If you need to print a large volume of shrink sleeves quickly, you will want to choose a printer with a high printing speed.
  • Compatibility with shrink sleeve material: Make sure to choose a printer that is compatible with the material of the shrink sleeves you will be using. Some printers may not be suitable for certain materials.
  • Cost: Determine your budget and look for a printer that offers the features you need at a price that fits your budget.

By considering these factors when selecting a printer for shrink sleeves, you can ensure that you have the right equipment to produce high-quality shrink sleeves for your product packaging needs.

Applying Custom Shrink Sleeves

The process of applying shrink sleeves to packaging involves heating the shrink sleeve material to cause it to shrink down to the size and shape of the package. There are a few key considerations to keep in mind when applying custom shrink sleeves:

  • Equipment: Specialized equipment is required to apply shrink sleeves, such as a shrink tunnel or heat gun. It’s important to choose the right equipment for your needs and budget.
  • Heating temperature: The heating temperature for shrink sleeves will vary based on the material of the shrink sleeves and the size and shape of the package. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the correct heating temperature to ensure a successful shrink sleeve application.
  • Shrink sleeve placement: Proper placement of the shrink sleeve on the package is important to ensure a seamless and attractive final appearance. Carefully align the shrink sleeve with the package and make any necessary adjustments before heating.
  • Speed of application: The speed at which the shrink sleeve is applied can affect the final appearance of the package. It’s important to find the right balance between a fast application speed and a high-quality final result.
  • Quality control: It’s important to have a system in place for quality control to ensure that all shrink sleeves are applied correctly and consistently. This may involve visually inspecting the shrink sleeves after application or using automated quality control equipment.

By following these guidelines and using the right equipment and techniques, you can apply custom shrink sleeves to your packaging in a way that produces high-quality and attractive results.


Custom shrink sleeves are an effective and versatile option for product packaging, offering a range of benefits including improved product visibility, enhanced branding opportunities, and added functionality. When creating custom shrink sleeves, it’s important to consider the materials, design, printing, and application processes to ensure the best possible results.

By following best practices and carefully considering your specific needs and requirements, you can create custom shrink sleeves that effectively showcase your product and meet the needs of your brand. With the right approach, custom shrink sleeves can be a valuable addition to your product packaging strategy.

Shrink Sleeve FAQs

Here are a few frequently asked questions for custom shrink sleeves for product packaging. Online Labels® let us use a few of the questions they normally receive in regards to their shrink sleeve labels product line.

Can shrink sleeves be used on any type of packaging?

Shrink sleeves can be used on a wide variety of packaging, including bottles, cans, jars, and more. However, it’s important to ensure that the packaging material is compatible with the shrink sleeve material and the shrink sleeve application process.

Can shrink sleeves be used to add a tamper-evident seal to packaging?

Yes, shrink sleeves can be used to provide a tamper-evident seal on packaging. This can be accomplished by incorporating a perforation or other tamper-evident feature into the shrink sleeve design.

Can shrink sleeves be removed and reapplied to the same package?

In general, shrink sleeves are not meant to be removed and reapplied to the same package. Once the shrink sleeve has been applied and shrunk down to fit the contours of the package, it can be difficult to remove without damaging the sleeve or the package.

Can shrink sleeves be recycled?

The recyclability of shrink sleeves depends on the material used and the recycling facilities in your area. Some shrink sleeve materials, such as PET and PVC, can be recycled, while others, such as PE and PP, are not typically recyclable. It’s important to check with your local recycling facility to determine what materials they can accept.

Sources: Online Labels, Consolidated Label

Further Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Blank Labels, The Ultimate Guide to Custom Labels

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