Perfect storm drives IML growth
IML is seeing growth rates of up to 8 percent as new molding technologies open up short run possibilities and buyers see sustainability and performance advantages.
The in-mold label (IML) sector represents around 2-3 percent of total global label production and is growing at a healthy rate as end users recognize the technology’s functional and sustainability benefits.
In-mold labels can be applied to injection molded, blow molded or thermoformed plastic containers. The IML process involves placing a pre-printed paper, synthetic paper or filmic label inside a container mold before the plastic is blown, injected or thermo-formed to produce a plastic bottle or tub. The label becomes an integral part of the container without any label edge visible and there is no subsequent requirement for a secondary label application process.
Most IML applications, around 40-45 percent, are in the food and beverage market, particularly injection-molded cheese, yoghurt, ice cream and yellow fats containers. Other important end use sectors are industrial (paint, detergent, powders), household (storage containers, lunch boxes), cosmetics (creams, lotions), gardening (flower seeds, fertilizer), pet food, confectionary and toys.
In-mold decoration (IMD) grew globally at a healthy average of 4.5 percent in 2020, with the market worth around 3.23bn USD. Europe accounts for more than 60 percent of the total IMD market, a long way ahead of North America at 22 percent and Asia-Pacific at 11 percent).
Different continents have focused on different IMD technologies. In Europe, some 80 percent of IML is for injection molded or thermoformed tubs, while in the US, IM labeling of blow-molded containers dominates.
But there is a growing demand in the US for injection IML, and this is driving overall market growth to upwards of 8 percent compared with 4-6 percent in Europe. This growth has attracted converters skilled in injection IM to enter the US market.
M labels provide excellent branding opportunities for end users. The labels follow the contours of the molded part and can extend over all sides of the container, opening up 360 degree decoration possibilities otherwise only possible with shrink sleeve labels. Depending on the material structure, these large-area labels can also act as a barrier layer that increases durability of the package contents.
An interesting development is double-side printed IM labels, allowing promotional campaigns or consumer protection information to be displayed on the reverse side of clear walled containers. Depending upon the injection machine, ‘3D’ print tactile effects can also be added to the label. A wide range of specialty materials can be used to increase shelf impact such as lenticular and metalized films
The sustainability benefits of IM labels are increasingly appreciated by end users faced with reuse and recyclability mandates. Where a polypropylene IM label is used on a PP container, the whole package can be recycled in a single process without having to remove the label. And, of course, compared to PS labels no release liner waste is generated and no adhesives are required.