How to Choose the Best Shrink Sleeve Print Option


We’ve previously discussed the benefits of using shrink sleeve labels to differentiate your product on shelf. Now, we’ll take a look at the various print options available for shrink sleeves and explain why certain methods are recommended for various applications.

When it comes to the printing of shrink sleeves, there are four options to consider to meet a brand’s needs: flexographic (UV & water-based), rotogravure, web offset and digital. The best option will be based on the requirements specific to that brand such as:

  • Graphics quality
  • Product life cycle stage
  • Special effects inks & coatings
  • Speed-to-market
  • Cost


One of the most popular options for printing shrink sleeves is flexographic which is cost-effective for print runs that are small to medium (usually tens of thousands to hundreds of thousand labels). The process uses a raised-image printing plate to transfer the print image. Continued advancements are being made, the special effects coatings and graphics quality, especially with high definition or HD printing. UV ink systems are also available which offer sharper resolution and higher opacity than water-based (note: there are some limitations for UV ink systems for food applications with non-barrier containers due to potential migration concerns).


Rotogravure printing uses engraved cylinders for transferring the printed image, giving the process the highest quality with the lowest color variation. Also referred to as gravure printing, this method also offers excellent opacity and special effect ink & coating variety. Gravure printing has higher prepress costs due to the engraving process but is best suited and most economical for longer runs (typically hundreds of thousands to millions of labels).

Web Offset

Web offset printing is a newer print technology that is being used for printing shrink sleeves that uses lithographic printing plates and offers the ability to print combination items. Volumes best suited for this method are medium to long runs. This printing process offers good print quality but has limitations with metallic inks, opacity, and amount of shrink % that can be achieved with UV ink systems. Although this is a newer print technology for shrink sleeves, it has not been widely adopted and the largest press manufacturer used in the packaging market has discontinued production of this press technology.


Digital printing is the fastest-growing print method for shrink sleeves and is ideal for prototypes, samples and small volume production runs. This printing method also offers the ability to add customization/personalization to each label. There are very low prepress costs with digital printing, but there are limitations with color, opacity, and shrink %. With the appropriate coating, digitally printed sleeves can be machine applied.

As you can see, there are multiple options available for printing shrink sleeves. Our Technical Services team is available to help you select the best option for your application. Fort Dearborn Company offers flexographic (water-based & UV), rotogravure, and digital printing for shrink sleeves to meet customer needs and brand requirements.

To learn more about our shrink sleeve capabilities, you can visit our Shrink Sleeve Labels page. If you have questions regarding your shrink sleeve label application, contact Fort Dearborn Company at (847) 357-9500.


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