Can Decoration for Craft Brewers

First Published: April 24, 2024

As the craft beer movement has grown (and plateaued) over the last few years, one issue facing brewers has been sourcing decorated cans for their products.

In the early days, purchasing printed cans from the manufacturers was relatively straightforward. This made life easy for the brewery folks because all they needed to do was fill, seam and package the cans.

The can manufacturer takes your graphic artwork and produces printing plates for their high-speed offset printers. This process is ideal for large-volume jobs, where the low cost per print and the highest throughput are important but not so good for short runs.

Today, with much higher minimums for orders of printed cans, longer lead times and brewers producing multiple SKUs in small volumes, things are much more difficult.

In this article, we’ll examine three alternative ways to decorate cans for small brewers. Each offers more flexibility and the ability to react faster to a changing market and smaller lot sizes.

Digital Can Printing

High-quality printed cans that retain the look and feel of conventional can printing are possible using digital techniques.

Because the workflow is entirely digital, with no printing plates and complicated machine setup, producing printed cans in small volumes is economically possible.

Digital Printing on Cans From Canworks Printing

While digital can printing clearly has some major advantages, the cost and complexity of the equipment make it out of the reach of most brewers.

To offset this, several enterprising business people have established operations that have invested in printing and can handling equipment, purchasing blank cans and printing them as required for craft breweries.

This gives brewers a means to offer their customers high-quality printed cans that they can order in small quantities. The cost per can is higher than conventionally printed cans, but the ability for fast turnaround and small order quantities means this can often make financial sense.

Shrink Sleeve Labeling

Shrink sleeve labeling can closely replicate the look of printed cans.

The craft brewer can purchase generic cans that have the sleeve label applied at the time of packaging.

A shrink sleeve labeling system consists of two main parts: the labeling station, where a tube of printed film is placed over the can, and the shrink tunnel, where the tube is heated (by air or steam) and shrinks to conform to the shape of the can.

Shrink Sleeve Labeling by Axon

Shrink sleeve labelers are available in various configurations, depending on the throughput the customer requires. The printed shrink sleeve material can be purchased from several converters who can print the film using conventional or digital printing as appropriate.

Pressure-Sensitive Labeling

Pressure-sensitive labels are readily available at competitive price levels, making them a popular way for craft brewers to decorate their cans (and bottles).

While the look of the labeled can isn’t quite as attractive as that produced by other technologies (yes, I appreciate that it is subjective 😀), applying labels that almost wrap around the can does make a finished package that competes well.

The Pack Leader Labeler is Popular for both Bottles and CansWeber Packaging

Labelers for the craft brewing industry range from simple tabletop models to high-speed rotary machines. Most labeling machine manufacturers produce wrap labelers that handle bottles and cans.

Pressure-sensitive labels can be made from either paper or synthetic materials, depending on the needs of each customer.

Final Thoughts

While printed cans have the advantage of being ready for filling, seaming and packing upon arrival at the brewery, the realities of the supply chain and the need for flexibility ensure that labeling is a viable alternative in many cases.

Of course, many brewers use more than one technology – maybe conventional printing for their year-round beers and one of the others for seasonal or lower-volume products.

All of the technologies can provide an attractive finished package that will meet the brewer’s needs and help the product outperform its competitors.

You May Also Like…

Which Barcode for Sunrise 2027?

Which Barcode for Sunrise 2027?

A New World of Barcoding for Retail As we move closer to 2027, when the new GS1 barcode initiative becomes a reality,...