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IML: More than just decoration

IML: More than just decoration

IMLSuperClear322Who knew that in-mold labeling (IML), just a small fraction of the overall labels market at an estimated 2 percent according to one source, generates such a large amount of innovation? 

Ahead of the assignment for this feature, I had a preview of IML innovation during Pack Expo when a tip from a colleague led me to the lower North Hall booth of Nypro, where I spoke with Joe Tokich, global director, Radius Product Development. Radius has assisted on the design side of the Nypro-led development of an IML breakthrough: Full-coverage barrier labels that are in-mold labeled on a non-barrier polypropylene cup to convert it into a barrier container.

I'd heard the concept of using barrier IML labels in such a fashion discussed by a different vendor some years ago, but as far as I know that never came to fruition. However, Nypro displayed prototypes at the show that have been in development for four years and are currently being assessed by major companies. Nypro's method is to first apply a barrier label to the PP container bottom that overlaps beneath a full-body barrier label that's applied next.

The IML cups are appropriate for products prone to oxidation ranging from dry powders to liquids, according to Tokich.

The company offers two different barrier solutions: One relies on a laminate label with an ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) barrier layer that can provide a four-month to one-year shelf life and another that uses a thin aluminum film to provide a shelf life to four years. 

The EVOH cup provides a superior surface for graphics, while the foil cup's surface has the appearance of silvery foil. Both types of cups are in test with major brands, says Tokich, the EVOH cup for a dairy product and the foil cup for a beverage.


While this development hits on the added functionality of extended shelf life with a bonus of high-quality impactful graphics in the case of the laminate version, another recent IML development centers on shelf impact using reflective metal-like labelstock.


Printing Company Verstraete in Belgium offers metallized cold foil IML FOIL labels and labels printed with metallic ink-IML INK labels-for IML applications, the latter of which offers a more economical solution than a cold-foil label. The first customer to use the metallic silver ink was Unilever for its margarine packaging, which was introduced more than a year ago. Unilever's metallic-looking plastic tubs are distributed throughout Europe. 

The results are said to be on par with labels that are printed on rotogravure or flexo presses. The use of these high-impact labels is seamless for injection molders because there is no production difference from standard labels. 

Sofie Debouck, involved with the vendor's marketing and sales support, says that the IML FOIL labels have drawn interest from paint producers switching from metal cans into plastic containers that are decorated with the specialized labels to mimic the look of metal. She also notes interest in the technique for cosmetic packaging.
Printing Company Verstraete also introduced this summer a clear in-mold label, SuperClear IML (shown in the image), that permits brand owners to leave sections of the IML label clear to create a "no-label" look akin to what has been popular in sleeve labels and other formats. The vendor's development overcomes challenges related to the process and costs and results in a crystal-clear label, the company claims.

A removable IML label

In the past, the terms "IML" and "removable" were incongruous, but no longer. In spring 2012, Systems Labelling introduced R-IML, a removable label developed for use with recyclable polypropylene containers. PP containers are the third most common polymer found in household waste in the U.K. after high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and PET. 

Unlike milk and drinks bottles, PP packaging for other products is used in many different grades and colors, making it difficult to recycle. There has been little incentive for U.K. industries to consider the benefits of reducing the dependence on virgin PP in the manufacture of food packaging and, at the same time, divert waste from landfill and boost the U.K. market value of recycled PP. The challenge has always been to find a way to remove the printed decoration from injection-molded packaging post-use-in this case, in-mold labels. As a result, there is little demand for most of the injection-molded PP bowls, cups and lids that must then be sent to landfills.

Systems Labelling's patent-pending solution is an in-mold label that can be removed during the recycling process or even by the consumer. 

WRAP, a not-for-profit company that works with businesses and communities to improve resource efficiencies, estimates that each ton of PP recycled saves approximately one ton in carbon dioxide emissions. Systems Labelling CEO Steve Pickford comments, "This innovation will contribute directly to the sustainability objectives set out in the Courtauld Commitment and can revolutionize the in-mold labeling market." 

Notably, the R-IML is molded using standard dwell times and temperatures and permits the label to withstand moist, chilled or microwave conditions. Stephen Lloyd, the company's director of marketing and business development, notes that though it is a 15 percent premium to standard labels, R-IML has drawn keen interest from U.K. supermarkets and brand owners, with several in test for food packaging. Although costs are prohibitive for labels shipped outside Europe, Lloyd tells Packaging Digest that it is "offering license agreements to other IML manufacturers to provide the innovation on a global scale."

Handy alternative to bagged candy

The next example offers a container design that contributes to the overall impression as much as the in-mold label. Introduced in November 2012, Handout is a uniquely designed IML-labeled tub for confections intended to increase on-shelf visibility, brand recognition, purchase intent and candy consumption.

Designed to be left out "to share," Handout's IML capability gives CPG owners an impactful 5- x 15-inch colorfully durable billboard for branding.

The market-ready packaging solution from Perimeter Brand Packaging, offers full color, customizable IML graphics that provide strong brand reinforcement and even seasonal messages. The 80-cubic-inch tub is available in clear or opaque PP and is topped with a snap-shut, friction-fit reclosable lid.

"We believe this is the first market-ready, out-to-share candy packaging solution," says Steve Callahan, president, Perimeter Brand Packaging.

The concept was proven in a survey of 1,000 consumers conducted by Perimeter's Consumer Insights team assisted by a global market research firm. The study revealed that consumers expected to consume approximately 89 percent more product from Handout versus traditional bagged candy. Consumers also said the packaging would lead to more usage occasions and that the package was appealing because it is "unique, looks appetizing, serves as its own candy bowl, will keep the candy fresh, and is refillable." 

Katharine Carlson, Perimeter's marketing communications manager, informs PD that the company has already received interest in the development from across several product categories besides candy, including pet treats, wipes, coffee/tea, single-dose laundry detergent and snack foods.

Also of note is Spartech's 1-Seal lid technology used by Better Bean that was highlighted as the July 2012 cover feature (see Developed in Sweden by one of the firm's European technology partners, the packaging technology makes use of IML for the lid leaving a portion of the label surface exposed inside the lid. This permits the lid to seal the propylene container in a single step when it is applied during production. The air- and water-tight seal eliminates the need to use a separate film or foil seal.


Because the label and lid are made of a single thermoplastic, the entire package can be recycled in any system accepting PP. 



Perimeter Brand Packaging


Printing Company Verstraete

+32 50 301 301

Radius Product Development


Spartech Corp.



Systems Labelling




+44 0808 100 2040

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