This is a question that often comes to mind during the design process for any new range. The complexity is due to the number of different advantages and disadvantages of each of these two decoration processes - it's quite nuanced!
To help work through that complexity, you'll find some of these advantages and disadvantages jotted down here. As we were doing it, it kept coming to mind that it would be great if everyone could talk to us directly about it, and discuss which ones are going to have the most powerful effect on their bottle, jar, airless pack... or any other type of skincare product dispenser. So the point here is, pick up the phone and chat to one of our experts, you can use their knowledge to bounce ideas off and work through each aspect!
Right, now let's consider:
Your batch size - labelling can be a little more flexible, you will find various options out there. With Richmond it usually starts at 5,000 pieces per design - although there can sometimes be flexibility in there, depending on a few factors, which is ideal if you are starting out and don't want to overstate your new brand's chances... or, if you're doing a test run on your product before going all-out with your full market launch. The setup involved in direct printing does mean it comes into its own at higher volumes - although we also do achieve cost-effective print runs from 5,000 pieces and upwards.
SUMMARY: Labelling may have more advantages for small production runs, while direct print works for larger runs.
Recyclability - This depends on your pack material. For packs made from plastics such as PET, HDPE or PP, you have to carefully consider the label material, as combining another material onto your pack can blur the lines a little for recyclability - although there can be some nice monomaterial options, for example if you have a PP pack and team it with a PP label. For glass, while some labels with very strong adhesive are not recommended, in the main the crushing and re-melt process takes care of impurities very effectively. Direct print, unless you're using a very large area of strong colour which may cause mis-sorting, does not usually affect the recyclability here, as impurities are removed in the manufacturing process.
SUMMARY: Labelling may blur lines of recyclability due to introducing other substrates. Direct print is usually more advantageous unless using large areas of bold colour.
Colour and finish - There's a big difference if you're looking at a crystal clear glass bottle, compared to a punchy pink polypropylene jar! For clear substrates like glass, direct printing such as screen print works well, as this gives a truly seamless experience where the design appears to be 'part of the pack', a really top-quality finish. A clear label will usually be able to be seen, which can be undesirable in some cases - but don't give up just yet, there are ultra-clear 'no-look' label options available which are almost invisible, and yet still allow the advantages of other label types. One surprising thing to watch for, is if you have a frosted finish on your pack - in some cases, applying a clear label causes the area under the label to appear clear, rather than frosted! One possible way to avoid this issue is to have a frosted-effect label applied to a clear pack, instead.
SUMMARY: Direct printing delivers stunning 'integrated' designs, while labelling has the option of using ultra-clear, 'no-look' labels to minimise the visible appearance of the label.
Your design requirements - For a striking, minimalist design, using a limited number of different colours, it's hard to beat a direct screen print. The print appears part of the pack - and it can even be printed over a colour-coated finish on the pack itself, to add another dimension (colour fades and gradients are possible on the colour-coating too). That said, if you're looking for intricate shades, a large number of differing colours and gradients, or even full photographic quality - a clear label (or better still a 'no-look' label) will provide the design flexibility you need. Labelling can also be metallised and can combine embossing and other effects relatively easily.
SUMMARY: Direct print works best for minimalist designs, although it can be combined with other decoration techniques for striking effects. Labelling offers great flexibility and usually allows even the most intricate of details.
Other functional and practical aspects - We've considered quite a few 'design' aspects by now. It's time to look at some of the more functional points - such as whether your pack will need a barcode. If you're labelling with a full-colour digital print, this is easy, whereas if you're screen printing you will need to consider which colours you're already using. You will need black or a dark colour for the barcode itself, and either a white or very light backround to provide enough contrast - so if you aren't already using suitable colours for this in the rest of your design, that could add another two colours to your setup. The additional colour consideration also applies when using labels with litho or flexo print.
If details of your product are likely to change regularly (think batch codes, for example), then it may be easier and more cost-effective for you to have the label design tweaked and re-run, rather than have to adjust the stencil used to create your screen print.
An important one - how do the costs compare? This is hard to comment on, without looking at your specific run size, design complexity and other processes involved. However, in general terms - and especially if you're consider a complex design, multiple colours, hot-stamp foils, or other special effects - labelling would often be more cost-effective than screen printing.
Final plus-points for labels include the ability to wrap 360 degrees, right around the pack - and then, if we may go slightly off-topic, if you're not specifically talking about transparent label products, labels can offer more different tactile effects - for example recycled papers, which help to drive home a subtle sustainability message.
Looking at screen print though, it does help to overcome some of the downsides labelling may present. Extremes of heat can sometimes cause bubbling and distortion in labelling, while direct print is more resistant to this. In a similar way, ingredients in your formulation may react adversely with label adhesive should they happen to spill a little onto the outside of the pack, and this can cause your label to partially lose adhesion (remember that even if this happens on the consumer's shelf, your brand is still up for analysis and brand loyalty is at stake).
Another advantage of direct print is that due to the slightly more specialist equipment involved, it sets the bar a little higher for preventing counterfeit products - your pack is just that much harder to copy accurately. Speaking of accuracy, experience has taught us that screen print can sometimes have the edge here, in highly detailed situations such as a QR code where the design must be pixel-perfect.
We hope our ramblings here have helped a little! There's so much to take in between these two decoration methods, which is why it's such a frequent discussion point - and also why both methods are so widely used. Get in touch today to talk to our experts about your project, they will gladly assist you in deciding which specific aspects will have the biggest influence on your pack.