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Pharmaceutical Labeling & Packaging Trends

March 18, 2021

As new regimens and improved drug formulas emerge, pharmaceutical labeling and packaging also have to evolve to accommodate the new demands. Pharma labeling and packaging play crucial roles beyond looking aesthetically pleasing on the shelves. Of course, making a good first impression is still a vital component of packaging and branding. However, in the pharmaceutical industry, labeling is driven by flexibility, reliability, and efficiency.

Drug labeling should offer customers a way to learn more about the formulas, how to use them and what to do in case of a medical emergency. Proper labeling is emphasized even more in the pharmaceutical industry, where there are many unique adhesive labels to choose from.

Advances in technology also keep the evolution wheel turning, with new pharma labeling and packaging changes more likely than ever. In the next sections, we examine the drivers behind these changes and the top trends in pharmaceutical labeling and packaging to prepare for in 2021.

What is driving the need for pharma packaging & labeling improvements?


"Flexible packaging" has a very specific meaning in product packaging. However, we use it more figuratively when referring to the pharma industry. Many pharmaceutical companies distribute their products worldwide, and the global distribution network comes with varying health standards, compliances, and regulations. Obviously, this presents a big challenge for pharma companies, demanding flexible labeling and packaging solutions and companies.

Case in point: the lack of a global serialization standard. According to Pharmaceutical Online:

"A continuing challenge for drug manufacturers managing serialization is the navigation of different standards within markets. A single, global serialization standard continues to be an elusive moving target -- even for neighboring markets that exhibit only slight differences. This challenge continues to fuel the need for flexible equipment. For manufacturers producing medicines for multiple countries on a single processing line, serialized data needs to vary accordingly."

Improved formulations

Creating pharmaceuticals using small molecules was the tradition until recently. Today, advances in biologics have opened a new frontier for improved formulations. However, there have been cases where the new formulations have interacted with packaging materials. For pharma labeling and packaging companies, this is just one dramatic outcome and an example of how new, improved formulations shape the future of pharmaceutical packaging.

We don't expect traditional techniques like printing adhesive labels to vanish any time soon. However, pharma packaging and labeling manufacturers will have to evolve their products with the drugs they store. After all, the goal of packaging and labeling is to deliver drugs safely to the customers. Many companies are already investing in expanded content labels on pharmaceutical products to offer more in-depth information about the formulations and ensure patient safety.

Our 2017 Survey on Medication Safety revealed findings that reinforced the need for alternative labeling solutions. According to the report, 31% had taken prescriptions that aren’t meant for them, and as much as 54% did not check the labeling to ensure the medication isn’t a counterfeit. 35% were also confused about the medication instructions. For labeling and packaging manufacturers, the challenge is to guarantee accurate printing of adhesive labels and providing access to expanded warnings and directions.

Smaller lead times

The pharmaceutical industry has been shifting from traditional factory-model production to more regionalized manufacturing. In the recent past, all attention was on bigger production lines and improving productivity. However, the industry has made a sudden shift, credited to stricter regulations, new serialization standards, personalized drugs, and ever-changing consumer behavior. Smaller batches and short lead times are the main focus today, and the switch has proven particularly beneficial for serving local and underdeveloped markets. With all these changes, labeling and packaging will inevitably evolve to accommodate new types.

What are the benefits of improved pharmaceutical labeling & packaging?

Drugs, medications and other pharmaceuticals are essential for public health and require accurate and detailed labeling to help patients manage the conditions for which the drugs are provided. When labeling and packaging techniques advance, so will the treatments, which is why professionals are pushing for more improved pharma packaging. Here are more benefits of advanced pharmaceutical labeling and packaging.

Better Accuracy

According to a study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), 33% of all medical errors come from labeling and packaging issues, and 30% of these errors result in fatalities. Proper packaging, with accurate information that's prominent and easy to read, significantly reduces such instances and is one of the main reasons pharmaceutical labeling companies are working hard to better communicate with the modern consumer.

Stronger Protection

Drug labels are designed to protect patients from the adverse effects of medication. The labels must accurately communicate all side effects and warnings to enable patients to spot any medical emergencies. Improved packaging also prevents people from using medication meant for others, which is especially important for senior people and children.

Directed Use

Failing to take medications at proper intervals and quantities can negatively impact a treatment plan, setting the patient back or causing a myriad of adverse effects. Labeling companies should provide better adhesive label printing and design to guide and direct patient use for various treatments. Using innovative labeling to present important information can help prevent misuse.

Greater Convenience

The average consumer wants a simple way to find medication information. For pharmaceutical labeling and packaging manufacturers, this means providing convenient access. Custom pharmaceutical booklet labels and other modern techniques can offer convenient access to directions, ingredients, and other important details. Physical packaging can also reduce the difficulty for people of all ages to obtain doses and deliver medication.

Current Pharma Labeling Trends

The pharmaceutical industry is at the center of advances in the medical and health industry. Here’s a quick look at some of the latest trends among pharmaceutical companies and pharma label manufacturers:

Cryogenic Labeling

Cryogenic labeling, or labeling that has been specially manufactured to withstand extremely low temperatures, has emerged into the spotlight due largely to its role in distributing COVID-19 vaccines. Cryo labeling is poised for continued evolution as the need for ultra-cold cryogenic storage increases.

Cryo labels are exposed to harsh conditions; they withstand heat and cold as well as chemicals and gases. Both the face material and adhesives are paired and tailored to remain intact under extremely cold storage conditions. Some bottles contain critical biological sample information and others are handled by robotic grips during packaging. Manufacturers must review all factors to ensure the designed labeling remains functional throughout the different phases.

Stringent Quality Certification

2021 will see more rigorous quality control, certifications, and automated inspections to prevent errors and mitigate the risks of poor pharmaceutical labeling. Mislabeling and print defects are common reasons for drug recalls and medical errors that may lead to fatalities. Pharma labeling and packaging companies are expected to comply with ISO and Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) standards. Additional pharmaceutical-specific standards have been developed that include 100% inspection and full-automation in print label examination to eliminate labeling errors.

Track and Trace

Track and trace technologies have been around for some time and keep evolving to offer new possibilities. At their core, these capabilities make it easier for authorities to identify genuine and counterfeit medication at any stage in the supply chain. They have become the standard on a wide range of custom pharmaceutical labels and involve unique barcodes and serial numbers. Track and trace capabilities also give law enforcement new tools to track down controlled medicines that end up on the black market.

Over the past few years, pharmaceutical labeling companies have exchanged traditional serial numbers for more advanced smart barcodes and random serialization. Today’s adhesive labels carry unique barcodes with trackable features. The new approaches have streamlined the shipping and distribution process while safeguarding the supply chain.

Counterfeiting Protection

Many companies are now adding covet images, descriptions, and verification strategies to their labels to protect patients from counterfeit medication. The new details compliment tamper-free labels on barring counterfeiters from distributing sub-standard medications.

Custom Extended Content Labels

In the pharma industry, where spatial efficiency is key, extended content booklets take label design to a whole new level. The foldouts provide more information to the patients in a contained space but much better than traditional inserts and handouts. The technology also adds an exciting appeal to pharmaceutical packaging.


Pharma companies have moved away from factory-model production in favor of smaller quantities and batches. Now more than ever, there's an increased need to distribute as necessary and offer personalized solutions. 31% of prescriptions are never collected, and close to 40% aren't taken as directed, a situation that calls for personalized approaches to medicine. Custom labels that include prints in the patient's language and featuring specific directions for a targeted group of people will continue to gain traction into 2021.


With the rise of self-medication, there's an ever-growing need for pharmaceutical labeling to include as much information as necessary. Drug labeling must contain usage instructions, disposal instructions, allergy warnings, expiry dates, and emergency care contact information. The printed information must be prominent, clear, and legible, designed to inform—rather than persuade—buyers.


Sustainability and eco-friendliness are significant trends in pharma labeling and packaging. The industry has been accused of environmental contamination from antibiotics and plastic containers, which are still major concerns. Balancing patient safety with eco-friendly efforts is the call manufacturers in the pharmaceutical industry must answer.

One trend that is picking up fast is Quality by Design (QbD). The initiative aims to ensure all drugs are administered as intended, preventing any environmentally-harmful components from escaping the packaging. Recycling is also set to continue trending as manufacturers tread towards flexible packaging options and recyclable containers.

Ease of Packaging

Increasing demand for labeling and packaging pushes manufacturers to seek more efficient techniques. The goal is to reduce the effort of printing labels and packaging medication and increase lead time. The Coronavirus pandemic has surged demand for various types of drugs, especially antibiotics and antiviral. In this wake, manufacturers must find more effective packaging solutions to remove delays from production and distribution.


The pharmaceutical industry keeps evolving to need modern requirements, and with more manufacturers coming in, products are bound to get better. We specialize in pharma labeling and packaging techniques that work.

For more information about new pharmaceutical labeling techniques, contact us today. Our professionals are happy to develop custom label solutions for your company's needs, better serving your customers.

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