Benefits of Digitally Printed Aluminium Cans Over Applied Labels or Sleeves

In the evolving landscape of packaging, especially for beverages, the choice of materials and printing methods has a significant impact on the environment, business costs and perceived product quality. Among the various options, digitally printed aluminium cans are emerging as a superior choice over traditional cans with applied labels or sleeves. Mad Cat Brewery has recently engaged with a supplier to provide digitally printed cans.  This blog delves into the multiple benefits and drivers that lead us into choosing aluminium cans that are digitally printed, focusing on aspects such as recyclability, costs, environmental factors and consumer demand.


Simplified Recycling Process

Digitally printed aluminium cans are far easier to recycle compared to those with labels or sleeves. Here’s why:

  • Less Contamination: Sleeves and labels, especially those made from plastic or other non-aluminium materials, can contaminate the recycling stream. These contaminants need to be removed before the aluminium is recyclable. Removal of contaminants adds extra steps, costs and environmental impacts to the process.
  • Purer Aluminium: Digitally printed cans aren’t wrapped in a plastic sleeve or label. This uniformity ensures that the cans can be directly fed into the recycling process with reduced sorting or cleaning.
  • Efficiency in Recycling: The absence of labels or sleeves means that the aluminium maintains its high value in the recycling market. Recyclers prefer materials that are easy to process, and pure aluminium meets this criterion.

Despite these benefits, the aluminium can does still have a plastic-based liner on the inside. This is in place to avoid corrosion of the aluminium. At this point in time, there is no alternate solution for aluminium cans available, however Mad Cat Brewery are constantly monitoring the improvement of processes and materials in the manufacturing of aluminium cans and will shift to new and improved products as they are available.

Closed-Loop Recycling

Aluminium is known for its ability to be recycled repeatedly without loss of quality. Digitally printed cans support a closed-loop recycling system:

  • Infinite Recyclability: Aluminium can be recycled indefinitely, and digitally printed cans help to fully utilize this characteristic. Each recycled can retains the same quality and integrity as a new one.
  • Reduced Need for Virgin Materials: By maintaining the aluminium in a pure state, digitally printed cans reduce the demand for mining new aluminium, which has significant environmental benefits. Recycling reduces the energy of production by 95% versus virgin material. SO RECYCLE YOUR CANS!!

Cost Efficiency

Lower Production Costs

While the initial setup for digital printing might be higher, the overall production costs can be significantly lower:

  • No Need for Separate Labels: Traditional cans require separate printing of labels or sleeves, which then need to be applied to the cans. This process involves additional materials, machinery, and labour. Digital printing integrates the design directly onto the can, eliminating these extra steps.
  • Reduced Inventory Costs: With digital printing, manufacturers can print smaller batches on demand. This flexibility reduces the need for large inventories of pre-printed labels and cans, cutting down on storage costs and waste from unsold inventory.
  • Speed and Efficiency: Digital printing can be faster and more flexible, allowing for quick changes in design without the need for new plates or extensive setup times. This agility can be particularly beneficial for special promotions or limited edition products.

Economies of Scale

As digital printing technology advances, the costs are continually decreasing:

  • Technology Advancements: Ongoing improvements in digital printing technology are driving down costs and increasing the quality of prints. This trend is making digital printing a more viable option for both small and large-scale production runs.
  • Cost Savings in Long Run: Over time, the savings from reduced material costs, simplified logistics, and fewer waste products can outweigh the initial higher setup costs of digital printing.

Environmental Impact

Reduction in Material Use

Digitally printed cans use fewer materials overall compared to those with applied labels or sleeves:

  • Elimination of Plastics: Sleeves and labels are often made from plastics, which contribute to environmental pollution. By eliminating the need for these components, digitally printed cans reduce plastic usage and its associated environmental impact.
  • Less Waste Generation: The direct printing process reduces the amount of waste generated during production. Traditional labelling processes can create significant waste from offcuts, misprints, and damaged labels.

Lower Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint of digitally printed aluminium cans is generally lower than that of cans with applied labels or sleeves:

  • Efficient Production: The streamlined production process of digitally printed cans requires less energy and fewer resources. This efficiency translates into a lower overall carbon footprint.
  • Recycling Efficiency: Pure aluminium is more energy-efficient to recycle compared to mixed-material products. Digitally printed cans, being freer of contaminants, are easier and less energy-intensive to recycle.
  • Transport and Logistics: Digital printing can often be done closer to the point of filling and distribution, reducing the need for transportation of materials and finished products. This proximity further reduces the associated carbon emissions.

Support for Circular Economy

Digitally printed aluminium cans align well with the principles of a circular economy:

  • Resource Efficiency: By optimizing the use of materials and ensuring easy recyclability, digitally printed cans promote the efficient use of resources.
  • Waste Minimization: The reduced waste generation and high recyclability of aluminium cans contribute to minimizing waste in the production and post-consumer phases.
  • Sustainable Design: Digital printing allows for more sustainable design practices, enabling manufacturers to create products that are both functional and environmentally friendly.

Branding and Marketing Advantages

Enhanced Design Flexibility

Digital printing offers unparalleled flexibility in design, which can be a significant advantage for branding and marketing:

  • High-Quality Graphics: Digital printing can produce high-resolution, vibrant graphics that stand out on the shelf. This quality can enhance brand recognition and consumer appeal.
  • Customization: Brands can easily customize designs for special editions, seasonal promotions, or targeted marketing campaigns without the need for extensive retooling or setup.
  • Consistency: The precision of digital printing ensures that every can looks exactly as intended, maintaining brand consistency across all units.

Quick Turnaround Times

The speed of digital printing can be a major asset in today’s fast-paced market:

  • Rapid Production: Digital printing allows for quick production runs, enabling brands to respond swiftly to market demands and trends.
  • Agility: The ability to rapidly change designs without significant downtime allows brands to experiment with new ideas and adapt to consumer feedback more readily.

Consumer Perception and Engagement

Environmental Appeal

Consumers are increasingly aware of environmental issues and prefer brands that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability:

  • Eco-Friendly Image: Using digitally printed aluminium cans can enhance a brand’s image as environmentally responsible. This appeal can attract eco-conscious consumers and build brand loyalty.
  • Transparency: Brands that adopt sustainable practices and clearly communicate these efforts can build trust with their customers. Digitally printed cans offer a tangible example of a brand’s commitment to sustainability.

Innovative Packaging

Innovative and attractive packaging can differentiate a product in a crowded market:

  • Unique Aesthetics: The ability to create intricate and unique designs directly on the can can make products more appealing. Eye-catching designs can draw attention and influence purchasing decisions.
  • Interactive Elements: Digital printing can incorporate QR codes and other interactive elements directly into the can design, enhancing consumer engagement and providing additional information or experiences.


The shift towards digitally printed aluminium cans represents a significant advancement in packaging technology, offering numerous benefits over traditional cans with applied labels or sleeves. From enhanced recyclability and lower production costs to a reduced environmental impact and improved branding opportunities, the advantages are clear. As consumers and industries alike become more conscious of sustainability and efficiency, digitally printed aluminium cans are poised to become the preferred choice for beverage packaging. By embracing this innovative approach, brands can not only improve their bottom line but also contribute positively to the environment, aligning with the growing demand for eco-friendly products and practices.


There is Energy in Your Recycling

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