Anheuser-Busch InBev has developed a new system for printing directly on beer bottles.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated October 25, 2019

Producing customized beer bottles is expensive. Adhesive labels are a much simpler way to brand your beverage: Just print them and slap them on the side of any bottle. Problem solved! But Anheuser-Busch InBev is testing a labeling method that combines the flexibility of a printed label with some of the "wow" factor of customized bottles—and reduces the use of raw materials in the process. "Direct Object Printing" not only prints directly on beer bottles, but also can use "digital embossing" to give bottles a tactile sensation. This printing method is getting its first major trial this month, and if all goes well, it could become one of the brewing giant's new go-to design methods.

Credit: AB InBev

Anheuser-Busch InBev says it developed Direct Object Printing in-house through its Global Innovation and Technology Center as a way to make its packaging stand out from the crowd while also potentially cutting the cost and environmental waste of using paper labels. "Direct object printing on glass is a revolution in print and AB InBev is pioneering this technology," Simon Gerdesmann, manager of the Digital Object Printing project, said in the announcement. "We are excited that we now have a way to combine a digital print and a premium bottle design which enables our beer brands to deliver unique and varying messages on the bottles. Premium small batch productions for specific events or moments are now possible four weeks faster than the traditional bottle labels, from designing to having it on the shelf, where it will definitely stand out from the pack."

And while having the ink and varnish applied directly to the glass for a "no label" look is different than most beer brands' bottles, Gerdesmann explains that "digital embossing is one of the most unusual capabilities of this technology." He continues, "Colorless ink is used to [mimic] traditional glass embossing, bringing a new dimension to bottle decoration—consumers will feel and experience a bottle in a completely different way."

Credit: AB InBev

As for the impact on sustainability, the new labeling technology is also just as recyclable as the glass it's printed on "due to the high melting temperatures used in recycling," an AB InBev representative explained to me via email, which has already been proven in tests by the company's suppliers. And previously, a spokesperson told the business site MarketWatch that axing labels would cut down on paper and adhesive, explaining, "While fuller economic-footprint analyses are still being done of the new technology, printing directly onto the bottle will remove label materials used in more traditional printing methods."

Bottles produced with this method are currently getting their first major commercial rollout in the United Kingdom: The limited-edition Beck's Artist Series will be 200,000 bottles of beer featuring nine different bottle designs. After that, these "no label" bottles could start hitting other markets around the globe soon. "In the next years [Digital Object Printing] will grow and will have its own spot in the current labeling techniques landscape," Gerdesmann suggested.