In-Mold Labeling With Digital Technology

In the world of retail packaging shelf appeal is crucial in appealing to consumers and increasing revenue. One way to improve retail visibility is to utilize eye-catching graphics on a unique container that stands out from the competitions’ products. In-mold labeling is a way to catch attention on retail shelves as well as a one-pass manufacturing process that can reduce application costs and secondary operations in your digital print manufacturing applications.

In-mold labeling, or IML, is a process in which a label or product decoration is applied when the object is being formed in the mold. A label or appliqué with a heat-activated adhesive is placed in the open mold and held in place during production. The mold is then closed and molten plastic resin is extruded or injected into the mold cavity where it forms the desired shape of the object or container. The hot plastic adheres to the label, embedding the label into the container and making it an integral part of the molded object. The finished appearance of IML creates a seamless, no-label look that could not be achieved with conventional labeling methods. Many IML labels are printed on the same material as the container, like polyethylene, polypropylene or styrene.

In-mold labeling has been popular in Europe for some time. According to a 2004 article, an estimated 85-95% of food applications utilize IML in Europe. In contrast, only 5% of food packaging in North America currently uses IML. However, In-mold labeling is quickly gaining popularity in this market for its physical, visual and economical characteristics. It has been estimated that IML will grow 6%-10% in the North American market annually over the next several years.

Because the in-mold label is a part of the finished object, the label is very durable and almost impossible to remove. In-mold durable labels are resistant to squeezing, stains, peeling, water, chemicals and abrasion: these conditions can destroy a conventional pressure-sensitive label. In some cases an in-mold label can increase the sidewall strength of the finished product.

Another advantage to in-mold labeling is production efficiency; IML eliminates the need for a separate labeling process which can save your company labor and machinery costs when compared to traditional labeling. The efficient process yields a very low material scrap rate; a typical percentage for an IML operation is less than one percent. Some could argue that in-mold labeling saves energy with a one-pass manufacturing process, making it an “eco-friendly” option. In addition, many IML containers are recyclable, and because the IML label is constructed from the same material as the container, the entire package can be reground and recycled without having to remove the label.

IML technology can add a variety of products to your manufacturing capabilities. Many containers can be in-mold labeled like blow-molded bottles, injection-molded open top PP containers and other plastic articles. Durable goods like drinkware, computer cases, cell phones, and sporting equipment can also be manufactured using an in-mold process.

The possibilities for IML applications are endless, and can be applied to many industries your company may already serve. In-mold labeling is an excellent option for beverage bottles, food containers, liquid detergents, personal care, household cleaners, automotive products, agricultural and garden products, and even durable goods production. IML can also be found in many toy and instructional labeling applications and is sometimes referred to as in-mold decorating (IMD) in the manufacturing realm.

Digital print technology in conjunction with in-mold labeling can be used to create vibrant, colorful packaging that is visually appealing on store shelves. HP Indigo ink chemistry makes it an ideal option for IML print jobs. Digital print’s variable data technology can be utilized to create custom, market-specific products that will appeal to each customer segment.

Masterpiece Graphix currently carries many IML-ready substrates for your digital press. We offer thermo-formable digital substrates like polyethylene, polypropylene, styrene, PET, HDPE, PolyArt®, and other polyolefin substrates that are ideal for IML applications. If you already have a substrate in mind, MGX can help you make it IML-ready. Masterpiece Graphix serves other in-mold label printers in the manufacturing industry and can offer guidance and suggestions in substrates and applications. For more information on the in-mold labeling industry, please visit the In-Mold Decoration Association (IMDA) website. To learn more about the multitude of digital in-mold labeling options available through MGX, please contact your MGX sales rep.