Piggybacks Hold Their Ground
Alternative solutions are closing in, but these little piggies still have a toehold in the market.
Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. Build a thinner, less ex-pensive alternative to the piggyback label, and you'll have the entire forms industry in your backyard. Like the better mousetrap, however, constructing a product that can completely replace the original remains an elusive task.
Not that manufacturers aren't trying. In the ongoing effort to make products better, faster and cheaper, two alternatives to the standard five-layer piggyback label construction—face stock/adhesive/liner/adhesive/base material—have been developed.
The newest is a linerless version. Rather than applying the label on top of a carrier that has been adhered to a form, the label area of the form is coated with a release coating to which the label is applied. The result is a thinner product that is less expensive to produce. The second alternative is the integrated label. Generally thinner than the linerless, it is usually the least expensive option.
Yet, despite their attributes, neither the linerless nor the integrated label has been able to steal away all of piggyback's business—yet.
Steve Skuros, a member of Chicago-based Chicago Tag & Label's order entry team for more than a decade, has witnessed a steady increase in changeover from piggyback labels to integrated and linerless products. A trend, he noted, that will only continue.
"As distributors become more comfortable with linerless and integrated products, learning more about their advantages and their limitations, the orders for standard piggybacks labels will likely decrease," he said.
Kent Salomon, CFC, marketing service manager at Atlas Tag & Label, Neenah, Wis., noted that the majority of the piggyback labels manufactured at Atlas are continuous, fan-fold, pinfed-style with an imaging liner. Yet, as more and more companies switch from impact printers—pressure must be applied to the label in order to utilize the imaging function—standard piggyback labels are rarely requested by new customers.
"Designers just aren't designing with them anymore," Salomon noted. This isn't, however, a death knell for the product. "We have a few accounts that have been around for a long time. We still do a large volume, although for a very select few."
Skuros supported this idea, noting that many companies will continue to use piggybacks simply because they aren't eager to change what has worked so well for so long. "A lot of people think conservatively—that what has worked well for the past 20 years will continue to work for 20 more," he said.
At Labels West in Woodinville, Wash., Owner John Shanley sees one more reason why piggybacks will live on. "There will always be a place for piggyback labels in promotional and packaging applications," said Shanley. "The FDA and other agencies are requiring that more and more information be placed on retail packaging labels. Companies don't want to increase the size of the packages, and the copy has to go somewhere."
To satisfy this demand, Labels West has developed the two-ply label, a piggyback construction that packs a lot of information into a very small space.
"This label allows copy to be printed on the top ply, the backside of the top ply and the bottom ply, essentially tripling the amount of space available for printing," Shanley explained, adding that he knows of no other product that can do the same.
Similar to a piggyback in design and functionality, linerless labels offer many of the same benefits—primarily the ability to create a label from a different material than the base, and print on both components at the same time.
"They basically provide the same function as a piggyback, but linerless is better and cheaper," said Skuros.
Better because the final product—now minus the midliner—is thinner and thus open to more printer options and fewer printer jams, because the label images more clearly and because the packaging is more stable and less prone to shifting. Cheaper because the throw-away liner has been eliminated and because the material is less expensive.
Adding to linerless label potential at Chicago Tag & Label is the company's development of a permanent adhesive.
"A lot of companies use removable, not permanent, adhesive," he said. "So it sticks more like a Post-it note, which can be a problem. If you put ours on a product, it won't come off unless you tear it off."
Chicago Tag & Label's liner-less product also offers a wide variety of face stocks and base stocks, said Skuros. "For standard piggyback labels and other standard EDP, specialty face stocks often mean long delivery times. With our linerless labels, just about any facestock can be used."
Linerless labels, however, do have limitations. For example, Shanley noted that they can limit base material options. "A silicon or other material must be applied under the label, and some materials may not accept it as easily as others," he warned.
And Skuros noted that piggyback labels still maintain a slight advantage over linerless on short runs. "With short runs," said Skuros, "the cost of the make-ready on the linerless labels outweighs the benefits reaped."
Cost is also a reason why Sal-omon believes that thermal-transfer and thermal-direct products have offset some of the business that once belonged to piggybacks.
"There was a time when one of the big selling points for piggybacks was the fact that you could print a label once and end up with two copies," he noted. "People have come to realize that you can get a thermal label—or any variable printing method for that matter—and print out two copies a lot cheaper than with one write of a piggyback."
A drawback, he cautioned, is that there may not be the range and flexibility in materials. Said Salomon, "There is most likely a materials combination out there that isn't readily available for a thermal printer." Shanley also cautioned that while the initial cost to variably print products may be lower, print times are doubled.
A third product threatening to gobble up a portion of the piggyback market is the integrated label. "Typically, integrated is less expensive and more convenient," said Shanley, "which is why they've taken over to some degree."
However, because integrated labels are diecut out of the base substance—generally paper—label material options are limited.
"People will always want a label that is different from the form stock," said Skuros. He added that this is especially true when it comes to expensive label materials such as polyester and vinyl. "An integrated product would simply be above and beyond reasonable cost."
Additional limitations include reduced form stability—in instances where the label constitutes a large portion of the form—as well as the inability to read messages printed underneath the label.
Despite everything, the development of viable alternatives to piggybacks goes on, optimistically and without pause.
"Companies like ours are constantly experimenting and trying new things," noted Skuros. "Five years from now we're going to be able to offer products we didn't think were possible—people are going to be astounded by what they see."
By Misty Byers