A recent article by Richard Romano for WhatTheyThink.com (That Can-Do Spirit: New Trends in Beer Consumption Open Up a Can of Opportunities, July 31, 2017) showcases the opportunities available to printers by the tremendous U.S. growth in microbreweries and the new benefits of canning their beer versus bottling.

First, there’s economics. Cans are cheaper for breweries to buy as well as ship. No wonder cans are gaining favor among micro-brews as a growing segment. Since small breweries run far lower runs than national brands, direct-to-can lithographic printing is cost prohibitive. For smaller runs, the decorating solutions of pressure-sensitive labels and shrink sleeves are gaining traction as the go-to printing option.

Second, there’s quality. Advances in aluminum can development have eliminated any taste problems once associated in previous generation canned beer. In fact, being impervious to light, cans today offer better flavor protection from harmful UV radiation than even dark-tinted bottles. They also offer better protection against exposure to oxygen, which contributes to skunking.

Short-run labels and sleeves are typically run digitally, but as runs get longer, a traditional flexographic process is often the most cost-effective solution. New hybrid digital-flexographic solutions, like Fujifilm’s Graphium UV Digital Hybrid Press have stepped in to take advantage of combining digital and analog technologies. With Graphium, printers have a fully integrated inline solution that incorporates flexographic, UV inkjet and finishing options.

“One of the requirements for shrink lines is that the white ink must have high slip properties that allow the sleeve to slip on to the can with ease. We use a hybrid concept to use a last down flexo white made for shrink over the Graphium inks. This gives converters the slip properties required and cuts down on cost per label.” — Mike Barry, Fujifilm Product Marketing Manager

As aluminum cans take up a larger share of the micro-brew beer market, can decorators and printers will have many opportunities to explore inventive ways of running even smaller batches in a short run using hybrid technologies. For example, versioning four or six different styles of beer in a single run by employing inline digital technologies for copy changes becomes an easy task.

“The ability to print a job using analog, digital, or a combination of both all in-line on the same machine provides label converters a new competitive advantage,” says Barry.

That’s good news for microbrewery beer can decorators and printers, where all indications show continued growth for high-end label and shrink sleeve printing solutions in the future!