- July 01, 2009, By Tom Kerchiss, RK Print Coat Instruments
Counterfeiting is far from victimless; it's also nothing new. What is new is its scope and diversity, which is creating parallel markets in many product categories.
In theory, there are many ways to mark out the genuine from the fake. But in reality, counterfeiters are sophisticated, making a hurried evaluation of genuineness difficult.
Packaging is the front line of defense when it comes to product protection, and the industry has at its disposal several means of safeguarding product authenticity. These can be used in combination.
Printing offers a number of possibilities.
- Intertwined lines in a high quality resolution | can consist of several colors, which is a technique known as guilloches.
- Micro-lines | are even finer and in some cases are legible as text under a magnifying glass.
- Raster texts | produce a moiré pattern when rasters run toward each other at a certain angle.
- Holograms | can be integrated into primary or secondary packaging.
- Data matrix coding | consist of an individual number, which can be printed in masked form as a data code. This masking is intended as a means to prevent tampering.
Formulators have developed special inks that can be integrated with packaging.
- Coin reactive inks | reveal a previously hidden print code once scratched with a coin.
- Iriodin inks | can be used in combination with normal ink pigments. As optically variable inks they react depending on the viewing angle and feature different printed images.
- Thermo-sensitive inks | change shape once a pre-programmed temperature is exceeded. These inks can ensure a product's cold chain has not been interrupted.
- Ultraviolet inks | can be tailored to reveal fluorescent features under UV light. Infrared inks, initially invisible to the human eye, can only be seen with an IR camera. Other options are more exotic and include scented inks blended with a synthetic aroma.
Package converters and brand owners can incorporate low- and high-tech integrated safety features, including radio frequency identification. Others may choose tamper-evident devices, such as security tapes and labels — strips that, if tampered with, leave a visible mark.
Using the many security options available, packaging can be made more difficult to counterfeit but not impossible. When implementing a security strategy, the brand owner may go for a layered approach, employing a mixture of overt and covert features.
Advances in material science and thin film coating techniques have created platforms for security label technologies. The number of potential devices that can be used offer manufacturers the ability to create what are, in effect, combination locks. Patterned coatings, for example, may be laid down in geometric, numerical, or alphabetical design or as a logo. This layer then can be flooded with pigment or can be metallized to create an opaque film.
The converter, chemist, manufacturer, and others involved in the production of these security devices need to know how the inks, coatings, and substrates perform and act over time. How will the devices react under different environmental conditions? How will they react when used in combination with other materials? Are they rub, chemical, or abrasion resistant? What is the most cost-effective way of applying them?
Custom-designed systems enable users to conduct trials, monitor quality and performance, and determine commercial and product process viability. Small-scale production, often of specialized materials, can be done economically and efficiently.
Tom Kerchiss is with RK Print Coat Instruments, Royston, Hertfordshire, UK, a manufacturer of the VCM (Versatile Coating Machine) and the Rotary Koater, which are utilized by many Blue Chip companies to speed product development. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.