Printing Partnerships

Product manufacturers today are facing a real battle to ensure that what they deliver to the consumer via the retailer is their genuine branded product — not tampered with and not a harmful counterfeit. They are, understandably, taking every possible step to protect their products, not just through monitoring the manufacturing and distribution chain but, critically, at item level via print — in all its forms — on packaging and labels.

Print's Function

Package printing has proved to be the ideal carrier for all kinds of security messaging — both visible to the naked eye and, more importantly, visible only via special security reading equipment. It is the converting industry that, ultimately, delivers the functional side of the anti-counterfeiting equation.

Today, product manufacturers with a valuable brand name to protect often choose to use a combination of overt and covert security solutions, layered into a label or package, to make it as difficult as possible for the counterfeiters to replicate the full portfolio of security features. Particularly in high-value applications, the combination of security devices is changed at frequent intervals. Printers and converters involved in the production of the packaging and/or labels are perceived by consumer goods manufacturers as partners in brand protection and often are required to be signatories to confidentiality agreements. Whether or not they are specialists in security labels, printers in such partnerships are expected to contribute innovation to the ever-changing raft of security features — and in the world of print today, there is plenty of that!

Pressure-Sensitive Labels

The p-s label has proved to be one of the prime technical solutions for delivering high quality product identification, but exceptionally, it offers the added option of engineering brand security devices into its construction. It is perhaps the ideal carrier for all kinds of brand protection messaging.

The two-ply material laminate of facestock and liner, with an adhesive and silicone release coating between them, provides the ultimate flexibility for creating security features, both visible to the naked eye and, more importantly, visible only via special security reading equipment. Leading-edge modular and platform narrow web presses make extremely complex multiple print solutions possible using a variety of print processes, including digital print, which can offer the extra dimension of sequential numbering and article-specific identification such as a bar code.

Now You See It…

The consumer is very familiar with the overt security devices delivered via labels. They are a first-line choice as a means of reassurance of brand authenticity and purity.

Over-the-neck p-s paper seals on jars and bottles, made from papers that tear easily, provide ready evidence of prior opening and possible tampering. Optically-variable devices (OVDs) in the form of holograms are popular and well-recognized. Today, in addition to true security holograms, there is the choice of “wallpaper” holograms incorporated into p-s facestock that can deliver subliminal peace of mind for the purchaser, but these must be considered entry-level security devices.

Other first-level devices include “hidden word” p-s label constructions. Applied, for example, as a pack seal, they look like perfectly ordinary labels. However, when lifted to open the pack, they leave behind a visible message. The word “void” is standard in the industry, but it can be personalized, which provides strong visual proof of package tampering.

Security identifiers with a unique sequentially printed number, bar code, and the kind of security print that appears on bank notes — in small sizes and nearly impossible to copy — are other good examples. Such visible evidence of brand authenticity is the retail customer's “green light.”

…Now You Don't!

However, it is in the invisible spectrum of product authentication devices that the highest levels of security are achieved, and here p-s labels offer outstanding versatility. Because of their multilayer construction, they offer several different surfaces to which a security device can be applied. It can be applied in the inks on the label's printed surface. It can be applied to the outer surface of the label face, to its underside, or even embedded in it. It can be mixed into the label adhesive or coated above or below it.

In addition to the options presented by a label, a security tag can, of course, be applied to the base packaging itself. By using a combination of such devices, manufacturers today are achieving levels of security that otherwise would not be possible.

A catalog of the covert options might include two- or three-dimensional customer-exclusive watermarks — nylon fibers of a specific length or color, readable only in ultraviolet (UV) or infrared (IR) light — in the label face paper or film. Metal strips or fragments, which can be highly visible (e.g., iridescent) or invisible to the naked eye, can be embedded in the facestock. Polyester security threads, thermochromic threads, and micro-marked fibers are other possibilities (also see p30 regarding security papers).

Solvent-sensitive papers, developed to prevent information being removed with the use of solvent, also are available. They react visibly to any solvent contact. Special iridescent security color stripes — impossible to reproduce by color copier, offset process, or PC printers — can be applied to some paper facestocks to prevent counterfeiting. Using near-IR fluorophores, chemical taggants, or microtaggants (even DNA) — state-of-the-art covert product identifiers accessible only via special scanners — also can be built in to the label construction (also see p34 regarding taggants). There is even a tagging system that is invisible to forensic trace methods.

Track-and-trace technologies, such as RFID, are another pathway currently offering a powerful platform of protection for products as they move through the supply chain. The p-s label is their central enabler in packaging applications.

Smart Labels

Some advanced techniques in use today take the product security platform one step further. For example, p-s labels on fresh food prepacks can feature a time/temperature indicator, warning the retailer and the shopper if the product has at any time strayed outside its preferred temperature storage range. Other freshness indicators can signal to the cashier at the supermarket checkout that a product should not be sold because it is out of specification in terms of sell-by date or storage conditions. Special inks applied, for instance, to a bottle of white wine, can indicate by changing color when the contents are chilled correctly for drinking.

Finally, retail pilferage — shoplifting — is reduced by devices based on packaging and labels. Electro-magnetic paper and film label stocks are good examples for use in electronic article surveillance systems that alert the security gates at the retail exit if they have not been past the checkout scanner.

Customer-Engineered Solutions

Of course, multilayer security labeling solutions must be customer-unique and may involve formal supply chain partnerships that could include raw materials suppliers, p-s laminators, and ink manufacturers, as well as printers and press systems. Depending on the product and its security history, a unique solution to meet all the manufacturer's deliverables can be constructed, its complexity only limited by the financial funds available and the seriousness of the security threat to the product concerned.

Getting Started

So how do brand owners get started on this extremely long, drawn out pathway to protecting their products? At the practical implementation level, specialist companies that are members of organizations such as the Brand Protection Alliance and the Brand Protection Council can find expert advice on the most advanced technologies for both brand owners and package printers. But that is nothing like the whole story.

Devising a security system that will work in a specific situation demands in-depth analysis and an intense understanding of the market for the product in question and its distribution channels. Risk management consultants and training companies, specialists in verification and investigation techniques, and market analysts all have roles to play in building an effective protection platform that can help manufacturers maintain the integrity of their brands that include high-value electronics, pharmaceuticals, software, and top-of-the-range perfumery, and many other goods. Such expert professional input in terms of an all-embracing evaluation of the product and its possible security issues is an essential preliminary to examining the available solutions, choosing the right route(s), and educating the people in the handling chain so the desired results can be achieved — and verified — on a solid, sustainable basis.

Package printers interested in expanding their product offerings into the realm of security print as a speciality — or interested in supporting their existing client base with the extra dimension of security print — certainly have plenty of options to offer. A broad base of professional advisers and manufacturers of print substrates and consumables are available to support them in their efforts.

Corey M. Reardon is president and CEO of AWA Alexander Watson Assoc., Amsterdam, Netherlands, a market research firm specializing in packaging. Contact him at +31 (20) 676 20 69 or visit

The Role of Print Consumables

Partnering with substrates in security applications are print consumables, which offer many possibilities for layered overt and covert security devices. Security inks for converting by traditional print processes vary from thermochromic and chemichromatic to magnetic, holographic, UV fluorescent, coin reactive, erasable, and bleach indicators. Inks also can carry microtaggants. UV/IR readable inks and inks that only reveal their iridescence when a fraudster tries to photocopy them — all of which are invisible to the naked eye without a special reader — are available as well. There are even specific security solutions for today's digital inkjet processes and security thermal transfer ribbons. Banknote print can support and enhance the efficacy of ink-based security.

Stamping foils can contribute enormously. There are invisible UV fluorescent qualities, diffraction foils, two- and three-dimensional holograms, dot matrix holograms, and magnetic foils.

Subscribe to PFFC's EClips Newsletter