Sticky Road for Linerless Labels

A short while ago, I came across a guy on Twitter by the name of Max Winograd. Max is the president of a startup company called NuLabel Technologies and one of the concepts he is working on is a new linerless label product.

I thought this was rather interesting, having spent a fair bit of time on a very similar project a few years ago.

But first, what is behind the idea of a “linerless label” and why can it be better? How is it different to a conventional label?

The pressure sensitive label was first made in 1935 and is credited to a gentleman by the name of R Stanton Avery – yes the founder of Avery-Dennison which is still huge in the labeling world. Just like modern pressure sensitive labels, Mr. Avery’s consisted of the label itself, a coating of adhesive and a liner that the label is attached to.

Getting rid of the liner has a number of advantages – at least it seems so.

The silicon coated liner material is expensive

Without the liner more labels can be included on the same diameter roll

On clear film labels the print can be on the reverse side of the material – no varnish needed to protect it

No rolls of liner material to end up in landfills – great way to upgrade “green credentials”

Over the years, the types of materials used for the labels, adhesive and liners have been developed a lot. We have advanced from simple paper labels to exotic films, many being engineered for specific applications.

Traditionally, labels for high volume jobs would be printed on paper and would have adhesive applied at the time of application. While this is often still the case, other label techniques have certainly made inroads over the years.

It took a long time for pressure sensitive labels to get established for these kind of prime labeling applications. This was mainly due to price – the pressure sensitive laminate was always going to be more expensive than a simple paper label – and the fact that label application equipment simply couldn’t apply pressure sensitive labels at the required line speeds.
In the 1980’s, John Waddington and Son (best know for making board games, like the UK version of Monopoly) came up with a concept for a linerless pressure sensitive label that they called Monoweb. The idea was that Waddington would produce the printed film labels by printing the film, then coating the adhesive on one side and a silicon release compound on the other (to stop the labels sticking together) all in one operation.

Good news for Waddington and Monoweb was that they had a customer with a problem. HJ Heinz in the UK were starting to produce their well known ketchup product in squeezy plastic bottles. This caused problems for their existing label materials – the adhesives were not ideal for this application and once the bottles were squeezed, the labels would crease up and not look nice.

Printing the labels on clear film with no expensive liner seemed to be a great solution. The problem was that the label application equipment became very complicated and expensive – the label shapes needed to be die cut right on the filling line. After installing just one system in the UK, Heinz dropped the project. Other big companies who had interest (I remember setting up a hugely expensive demo for Head and Shoulders shampoo) gave up as well – Monoweb was dead on arrival.

The linerless label concept survived though. The growth of blank labels used to print on-demand information on thermal printers offered a much better opportunity.

These labels don’t need to be die cut into fancy shapes so could be provided in a continuous length that would be cut to size on the printer. The UK part of ScandStick claimed in 2005 that up to 80% of variable information labeling jobs could well become linerless – they gave up and went out of business some time later.

Fast forward to today and linerless labels are readily available and many of the printer companies (Zebra and Datamax for example) provide products designed to use them. Despite the possible advantages though, the market share for linerless remains small.

So it will be interesting to see how NuLabel Technologies fare with their new products.

Have you used linerless labels in your operations? With companies looking to become greener, will new opportunities for this concept be created? Here at Winco ID, we can supply various types of linerless labels to run on thermal label printers. Give me a call at 603-598-1553 x237 if you’d like to find out more

Share Button