Protect Your Ink: Shrink Sleeved Cans vs. Printed Cans vs. Pressure Sensitive


Your brand is your baby, and it’s no secret that choosing the right packaging is essential. You work too long and too hard on what’s in that aluminum can to risk having your packaging not match the quality inside.  It’s what helps your brand demand attention on the store shelf and ensures that your product looks its best and is protected from the time it’s produced, to the time it’s in the hands of your consumers, and every step along the way.

So, what’s right for you when it comes to decorating cans….

Shrink Sleeves?  Pressure Sensitive Labels? Printed Cans? Let’s dive in a little deeper and take a closer look at the three of the most viable options on the market today.


Unlike printed cans where the inks are applied directly to the surface of the can, shrink sleeves are produced by printing on the inside of clear shrink film and then applied by exposing the sleeved-can to heat, causing the sleeve to shrink onto the can.

Sleeves provide a 360-degree branding opportunity, and since the inks are “anchored” to the inside of the shrink film they’re protected from abrasion, scuffing and chipping.  This practice serves to create a “shield” to the inks and provides an exceptionally durable finished product.

Shrink sleeves are produced using flexographic or digital print technologies and the quality of both methods is superior to that of digitally printed cans.  Finally, from a sustainability perspective, historically sleeved cans have presented an obstacle to aluminum recyclers because the sleeves can potentially contaminate the recycling stream.  Recently, however, film manufacturers have introduced a fully recyclable shrink sleeve film that promotes a “circular economy”.  This option is readily available and, on the market today, and we expect to see an uptick in demand for this new, eco-friendly shrink film. Another option is to add a perforation to your sleeve to make it easy for consumer to remove. You can even add a callout on the label design to grab the attention to detail.

The variety of embellishments, cold foil, finishes you can make to shrink sleeves makes all the difference when compared printed cans. Bright and unlimited colors, sharp detail.

The quality is truly unmatched.


Digitally printed cans, as the name implies, entails printing the art directly onto the cans. This process utilizes a stencil, also referred to as a screen, to apply ink layers directly onto the container’s surface.  The benefits to this technology include relatively low minimums and shorter lead-times vs “the big guys” who require truckload minimums of “painted” cans.

The cost of a digitally printed can is comparable to a sleeved-can, making the two options essentially a wash from a buyer’s perspective.  The risk to digitally printed cans is in the ability of the inks to adequately adhere to the can and withstand the rigor of high-speed production lines, transit to the store shelf, and even submersion in coolers and ice baths.  Ink adhesion continues to be an unsolved issue, and can lead to unsightly chipping and flaking on the finished product. Although DWS does not offer digitally printed cans at this time, it’s important that this possibility be carefully considered when choosing which packaging is right for you.


The third option and perhaps the most commonly used packaging for aluminum cans is Pressure Sensitive Labels (PSL).  Often called “stickers”, PSL self-adhere onto a product’s surface, preventing the need for adhesives or special solvents to make them stick to the can surface.  They require pressure to form a bond between the adhesive and the product surface (hence the name “pressure sensitive”).  Different effects can be applied to the PSL’s like metallic, tactile, soft touch, holographic “cast-&-cure”, matte, gloss, or a combination of all of the above.  Most PSL are finished using either a matte or gloss film lamination making the finished product essentially bullet-proof.

From a pricing perspective, PSL pricing is based on the material and graphic specifications (ie, white or metallized film, number of colors, etc.) and volume per/sku and total order.

There are obviously a number of key factors to take into consideration when choosing which type of packaging is right for your brand.  We’ve just scratched the surface, in fact.  So feel free to reach out to DWS for expert guidance and complimentary consultation to help you decide which of these options is the best solution for you and for your brand.