In the beverage industry, aluminum cans have become ubiquitous, even more so than glass bottles. Store shelves and fridges are brimming with beers, ciders, seltzers, sodas, kombuchas, juices, and a plethora of other alcoholic and non-alcoholic products.

Except in Quebec, where it is now forbidden to use shrink sleeves for your cans (more info), a choice must be made in order to offer an impactful 360° packaging: which solution to choose between shrink sleeves and direct printing on cans?

What is a shrink sleeve?

A shrink sleeve is a soft plastic tube on which the design is printed. The shrink sleeve is then wrapped around the aluminum can and heated in a piece of equipment called an “applicator”. The plastic then shrinks to perfectly conform to the shape of the container.

What is direct-to-can printing?

With this process, the design is printed directly on the aluminum can – there’s no need for a paper label or a shrink sleeve. Depending on the budget and quality desired, this can be achieved with digital or screen printing.

Why should you pick shrink sleeves vs printed cans?

As an expert in the shrink sleeve industry in Quebec, Ontario, and the rest of Canada, IMS explains the main advantages of this technique over direct-to-can printing.

More flexibility in your production line

  • You don’t need to anticipate your order: large batches of shrink sleeves can be printed ahead of time and then applied only when your cans are ordered. With direct-to-can printing, you’ll need to anticipate and order the right number of cans.
  • Lower minimum order quantity (MOQ): with direct-to-can printing, the minimum order quantity can be very high (more than 200,000 cans per order). This technique may therefore be unsuitable for small brewers or producers. With IMS, the minimum order quantity for shrink sleeves is lower than for screen printing on cans.
  • Shorter lead times: when it comes to direct-to-can printing, the lead time to receive your cans is longer than with shrink sleeves – 12 weeks. Our team is available to deliver your order of shrink sleeves in 2 weeks!
  • The design can easily be changed: with a shrink sleeve, you can alter your design, modify the nutrition facts table, correct any mistakes… in other words, shrink sleeves allow you to be reactive. With direct-to-can printing, you can’t go back! Your entire batch of cans will be affected.

Higher quality graphics

  • Brighter graphics: a shrink sleeve is renowned for being visually impactful. The plastic film can be fully opaque or clear to show the aluminum underneath. By printing directly on the can, the graphics will be more subdued and might not be able to grab the attention of consumers.
  • Unlimited colours: there is no limit to the number of colours you can use on shrink sleeves. You can even use neon colours! If you choose the direct-to-can technique, the number of Pantone colours you can use is limited.
  • An attention to details: shrink sleeves can show highly precise graphics and fonts. With direct-to-can printing, the results will always be a bit blurrier.
  • Finishes can be applied: with shrink sleeves, you can stand out with a glossy finish, matte or even partially matte, and produce a clever visual and tactile effect. IMS will help you create a design that’s specifically adapted to the shape of your container and your brand image. The only limit is your own creativity!
Which solution to choose between the shrink sleeve vs printed can to have an impactful packaging?

A safe solution for the consumer and the environment

  • Recycling: a simple or double vertical perforation can be added to the sleeve to make it easily removable from the can. This means it can be recycled, just like with direct-to-can printing.
  • Tamper evident seal: a tamper evident seal can be added to the top of the can to reassure the final consumer that the product is fresh and has not been opened. It’s a great way to provide peace of mind to clients!
Shrink sleeves vs printed cans: which option should you pick?

Double vertical perforation on a shrink sleeve


Shrink Sleeves Printed cans

Order needs to be anticipated

Not required

Minimum order quantity


Production lead time

2 weeks (with IMS)
Up to 12 weeks

Design flexibility


Bright graphics


Number of colours allowed


Precision of the design






Temper evident band


Can labels in Quebec

Does your brand distribute products in Quebec? If it does, you need to keep in mind that this province has special rules about labels on aluminum cans! Since September 2021, Recyc-Québec has implemented new regulations for recyclable cans in Quebec. Companies are no longer authorized to cover their cans in shrink sleeves and must therefore use either a paper label or direct printing.

To help you comply with these rules while ensuring your product still has high-quality, impactful visuals, IMS has paper labels that have been specifically designed for this purpose. Our flexographic labels:

  • Cover up to 80% of the can
  • Can withstand extreme conditions: cold, ice, humidity
  • Are available in several sizes, colours, and finishes

Get in touch with our experts

IMS: an unmatched expertise for shrink sleeves

Our team is renowned for their experience in printing solutions and their support for projects involving shrink sleeves on aluminum cans or any other type of container.

Choice of the materials (film, ink, finish…), size of the sleeve, integration within the production chain, graphic design, printing and application… We can help you at every step of your project!