The acronym IML (In Mold Labeling) identifies the process for labeling or decorating a plastic object through the use of custom labels which are imbedded in the wall of the product during processing.
A label is taken from an automatic magazine by means of a special manipulator and placed inside the open mold where it is held in the desired position by vacuum ports, electrostatic attraction or other appropriate systems.
The mold closes and the molten plastic is then injected into the mold where it conforms to the shape of the object. It is in this precise moment that the melted plastic envelops the label and makes it an integral part of the object.
IML constitutes a valid alternative to the method of decorating plastic objects with self-adhesive labels, pad printing, screen printing, heat impression printing, PSA adhesives and the like IML, in comparison to these methods, insures a superior quality, the possibility of covering large areas with a single label, higher consistent accuracy; all at lower costs and without further need of post-mold labeling operations and equipment because the in-mold labeled product is ejected from the mold fully labeled.
This is not about having a label ON the product, but a label IN the product.
Introduced and developed in Europe in the early 70’s for decorating injection molded plastic containers, In Mold Labeling later spread to North America and applied to blow molding processes. Over the years, this distinction in applying this technology in those two areas was maintained to the point that IML injection molding in Europe represents about 94% of production, while 81% of U.S. production is from IML extrusion blow molding. Only ten years ago this latter figure neared 95%, a sure sign of how IML is evolving. Initially developed as a decoration process for the packaging industry, In Mould Labeling has in recent years being increasingly used for decorating durable products in having the market realized that the so-called eyecatching appeal – which always belonged to IML decorated packaging -could provide higher added value to products.
In this perspective, we offer our experience, either for adapting existing molds for IML applications or for undertaking new projects from the initial product engineering phase to the making of molds and in-mold printing.
How does the label stick to the piece?
It is not an ordinary label as there is no glue on it. It is a label made of the same material in which the product is made.
Due to the temperature and pressure of the molten plastic being injected into the mold, the label is imbedded in the wall of the object and thus becomes an integral part of it.
Which technology is used for decorating the labels? What is the quality achieved? Various methods are available for printing the labels. Flexo, gravure, offset, screen, digital, etc., are all suitable printing
technology and, depending upon the technology chosen, varying quality degrees can be reached. Offset printing, for example, can reproduce a perfect photographic image on the label.
Is it possible to remove the label once applied?
The plastic label is permanently imbedded into the plastic and the product and label become one only object.
There are no edges on the label that may possibly give rise to peeling off (so-called “no edge advantage”) and it is impossible to remove if not by grinding the molded object itself.
Can a mold not specifically designed for IML be used for IML production?
The answer is “YES, subject to verification”. In many cases only minor modifications are necessary to enable to
use the same mold for IML production. In other words, it is possible to totally change the appearance of a product while continuing to use the same type of shapes and the same molds.
Are significant financial investments necessary?
In terms of technological equipment, certainly YES; but these heavy costs have already been covered by us.
In terms of development and labels production, absolutely NOT.
Why is IML better than other types of stickers and decorations?
Because the label, in becoming an integral part of the object itself, is impossible to remove, has a guaranteed longer life and reduced costs since it allows to eli