Sleever International has had a particularly eventful past few months, becoming one of the world's first, if not the very first, company to offer digitally printed, short-run sleeves and seeing the launch of the biggest bottle it has ever sleeved. Jonathan Baillie reports

Md Eric Fresnel explains: “Digital Packaging, with whom we have undertaken several collaborations, has just acquired the latest HP Indigo WS4000 digital press, a multi-colour, roll-to-roll machine that can print at very high quality up to 14m/min – twice as fast as its predecessor.

“Working with this technology we can now supply proofs digitally printed on the customer’s chosen substrate exhibiting print quality almost indistinguishable from our usual rotogravure printed sleeves, enabling marketing, packaging and design people to confidently show senior FMCG company personnel samples that will very closely resemble the actual finished article.”

Previously, Sleever customers requiring proofs were generally given black and white mock-ups due to the cost of producing gravure cylinders and running a sizeable press for what, in some cases, was just a handful of sleeves.

Fresnel says: “Now, working with Digital Packaging, to whom we supply digital artwork and sleeving film, we can produce in days anything from 5-6 fully sleeved bottle samples to a run of 10,000 limited edition sleeves for, say, a sporting event.”

Fresnel claims other sleeving companies have generally “only dabbled” with digital printing. Larger sleeve runs incorporating photographic images will continue to be printed on one of Sleever’s own rotogravure presses.

“We favour rotogravure for most applications for its better density and opacity,” explains Fresnel. “But digital printing is a valuable addition to our portfolio. We have reached the stage where digitally printed sleeves should give excellent results with all our Powersleeve sleeve applicators and Powersteam and Powerskinner shrink machines.”

Sleever’s ability to tailor its expertise to even the most demanding jobs was recently demonstrated with its full-body shrinksleeve for a 3-litre glass Jereboam of Interbrew’s Leffe Blonde beer which went on sale in France in time for June 20th’s Father’s Day. The bottle is the biggest Sleever has ever packaged. Fresnel explains: “Not only did we perfect and manufacture the sleeve within six weeks of receiving artwork, but our contract packing arm packed an initial 10,000 bottles.”

Sleever used an 80 micron steamable PET film selected for its robustness, scuff-resistance and printability, with the sleeve rotogravure printed in eight colours. The bottle’s size necessitated a day’s adaptation of an existing sleeve applicator.

“Caroline Detavernier, product manager, Leffe France adds: “Three litre conventionally labelled Jereboams incorporating flexo labels have been used for Leffe Blonde in France and Leffe Blonde and Leffe Brun in Belgium for some time, but this is the first sleeved Leffe Jereboam. The initial run was produced for Carrefour, but we intend offering the sleeved Leffe Jereboam to any interested French retailers in the run-up to special occasions.”

On a more general front, Sleever has seen a considerable increase in demand for special finishes, varnishes, tactile and sensory effects.

“We can now decorate sleeves with effects ranging from simple varnishes to thermochromic, luminescent and phosphorescent inks, and even ones that generate a smell when rubbed”, says Fresnel. “We are also increasingly asked to apply leaflets inside the sleeve, already incorporate RF and electromagnetic anti-theft tags, and should have no difficulty applying RFID tags as their use increases.”

Other recent Sleever developments include the Open Handle Sleeve – which incorporates an aperture to accommodate a sleeve-free handle. “This proved a tough technical challenge, since generally when you incorporate a hole in a sleeve it spreads,” says Fresnel. “We are also working on anti-counterfeiting devices continuously – like our HoloSleeve transferred self-destruct hologram sleeve – which incorporates a bone-shaped hologram, usually placed near the container neck, which disintegrates on being tampered with.”