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Tips for Buying Cans

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

There are several options for securing a can supply and applying decorative graphics to differentiate your brand and products. The right option for you depends on storage space, quantity, and design. There are 3 main options for securing cans: purchasing fully decorated cans direct from the manufacturer, purchasing blank cans from the manufacturer and applying your own labels, or using a small run can supplier that applies graphics for you. Below we offer tips for each option.

canned beer, canned wine, canned coffee, canned soda, canned drink, canned cider

Purchase direct from the manufacturer

You can purchase blank or fully painted cans direct from the can manufacturer. This allows for the lowest price per can and the highest graphics appeal. There is a larger upfront cost due to the minimum order quantity. Storage can sometimes be an issue when you need to purchase a truckload of cans per SKU.


  • Blank cans can cost the same as fully painted. This is because the can making plant needs to stop the machine between designs. Often this down time is longer than your actual can making time. A large order for you, truckload, is a very small order for them. All orders require changeover time whether you’re printing on the can or not. You’re paying for the changeover time, not the printing costs.

  • Start the conversation early about design. There is a variety of price points based on number of colors, how much the colors blend and special applications like metallic, thermal inks and so on. Understanding these price points early will help direct your art design.

  • Graphics design, TTB/COLA approval and art confirmation from can manufacturer take time. It is best to get an early start when buying a canning line.

  • Can manufacturers want to know about what product you are putting in the can. They might have specialty liners that help specific products. Talk to you can supplier early about your product and ask if samples are needed.

Purchase blank cans and apply your own graphics

Purchase blank cans direct from the can manufacturer and utilize an integrated label applicator or shrink sleeve applicator to apply unique graphics. This option allows you to rapidly change out designs and bring new products to invigorate the market.


  • When sourcing labels, do your own testing. The most expensive is not always the best. Get samples, apply to full cans, let them roll around in the back of your car for a week and look for color degradation, corners coming up and general wear.

  • You can purchase cans with your brands colors with a brand message across the top and then apply a label. This gives you easy conversion between styles but also a unified impact on the shelf.

Shrink Sleeve


  • Provides 360 degree graphics appeal

  • Label covers neck creating the appearance of fully decorated cans

  • Purchase cans in bulk truckloads and put multiple SKUs with just labels


  • Cost more and take up more space

  • Can be difficult to handle due to increased friction created by label

  • Recycling issues if shrink sleeve isn’t removed

Pressure Label - Pack Leader Labeler


  • Effective for short runs and quick turn around

  • Purchase cans in bulk truckloads and put multiple SKUs with just labels


  • Only for lower volume runs

  • No neck decoration

  • Issues with recycling depending on the label

Digital Printing


  • Great for low volume. Every can may be printed differently w/o additional overhead

  • Allows for full can decoration and pin-sharp print quality

  • No issues with recycling


  • Limited number of suppliers

  • Relatively slow

  • Expensive but costs are expected to come down as more players develop technology

Small run can supply

These are companies that buy cans in bulk, apply your graphics using shrink sleeve applicators or digital printers and will sell you roughly one pallet per SKU. This is a more expensive option per can because of the service. However, the benefits of short lead times, availability and no massive can inventory at your facility makes this the best choice for many of our customers.


  • Finding a local supplier expedites your order shipping or allows for pick up at your convenience.

  • Ask if you can buy in large quantities but accept small orders.

  • There are still only a few suppliers for digitally printed cans but the technology is improving and will become more widely available in the future.

  • If you want to transition from this option to buying fully painted cans from the manufacturer, start the conversation early with us to determine if your seamer tooling will need to get changed.

A Few Resources To Get You Started


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