Digital Print and Brand Protection...

Digital Print and brand protection…

It is no secret that with the age of technology advancing so quickly, cyber-crime and other types of fraudulent crime is also generating and advancing at pace with technology. Therefore, in order to keep your brand and business protected, you must do everything possible to mitigate these risks from every angle.

There are a few ways in which digital printing can provide anti-counterfeiting methods to protect your brand. As consumers are often looking for ways in which the product is genuine, it is useful to provide unique ways for the brand and product to produce specific labels, packaging engraving, QR codes and other such methods that are hard to replicate. This will protect the brand quality and integrity.

Security Inks and Toners 

Using security inks and toners, will provide overt and covert marks within the print. However, using electrophotographic presses will also provide micro text and features such as photocopy voiding features that are almost impossible to replicate. Micro text is very difficult to replicate as characters can be inserted into overt images, designs and text without consumers being aware of them. Trying to counterfeit this method using copied images will not be able to replicate that text without the use of advanced detection tools and equipment. The use of a magnifying glass will tell an examiner if the product is authentic or a counterfeit.

Security inks:

There are a few different inks you can use for security these are:

  • Invisible Ink - Invisible ultra violet ink, must be applied to a UV dull substrate to be revealed when the print is placed under a black lamp/ UV light source. The ink is covert and invisible under normal lighting conditions until under a UV lamp. It is a relatively cheap solution and is available in many colours.
  • Thermo Chromic Ink – These inks are sensitive to temperature changes and will appear or disappear at different temperature ranges. For example; If you were to apply a finger and thumb to a 15 °C dark blue printed thermo spot, the ink would disappear, as soon as you removed the heat source the ink would re-appear again. They range in various temperature sensitivities and common temperatures available are 15°C, 31°C and 45°C. Therefore, you want to think about the placement of the ink, in relation to the temperature you will use. Some are available as a permanent change and are irreversible. For example; once a product had defrosted, the ink may warn of a danger to re-freeze the product.
  • Solvent Sensitive (reactive) Ink – This ink is a reactive method to present a visible indicator that the ink has been attacked by a solvent. You will find this being used on a printed watermark or fine guilloche artwork design such as bank notes or cheques. Once a solvent has been applied the ink will change colour to show that alteration/ counterfeit process has been attempted.
  • Optically Variable Ink - These contain minute flakes of metallic film and as the viewing angle is altered the colour morphs from one to another. Therefore, they are expensive and printed in small areas as this ink method needs to be printed with a heavy weight to get the best results. These would often be found within colour changing visas for example.
  • Magnetic Ink – These are used for serialisation and number purposes as the ink contains small magnetic flakes that allows for a number to be machine read. For example; you will see this on a printed bank cheque, within the MICR numbering containing the cheque number, account number and sort code of the bank.
  • Biometric Ink – Biometric inks contains DNA tangents that can be machine read or react to a reading solvent allowing for verification of a genuine product. It has properties that allow for each batch to contain different biometric printed verifications. This method is completely covert but requires special tools to verify authenticity.
  • Secondary Fluorescing Ink – Working in the same method as fluorescing ink with the exception that it will not glow or show under a UV lamp unless an alteration/ counterfeit process has occurred. This is a secondary measure to protect against tampering and alteration/ counterfeit processes. A common example is that you will find an invisible ink that fluoresces green under a UV lamp and a secondary ink that will fluoresce red for the criminal process to become obvious.

These ink examples are the most commonly used in the industry to prevent criminal counterfeit processes. However, they must work with the product in mind, for example within the food and beverage industry, they may use the thermo ink methods to provide protection for consumers with refrigerated and frozen products, they may also combine methods and use micro text and guilloches for added security. When thinking of packaging applying a security substrate can be added for extra protection.

Security Toners:

  • Dry-toner - This enables the use of currently used security substrates which simplifies the security process. However, unlike the dry toner, other types of toners/inks cannot print on existing security substrates. Therefore, it is worth thinking about the entire process you will be using with your product before applying these methods.
  • Clear-toner - is commonly favoured among these security features. It provides transparent and ultraviolet reflection, that can be used to create watermarks and is only seen by a human looking at the image from a certain angle under a light source. However, it won’t show up using a copier or scanner. Other spot colours are also possible, including custom made toners produced to the requirements of the end-customer.
  • Taggant toner - are microscopic chemical markers that can be added to the substrate or embedded in the toner itself during the production process, to allow various forms of verification. Although, they are invisible to the human eye in print and can only be detected by special readers. They are not removable and they are very difficult to reverse engineer. Therefore, this type of toner is only distributed through a specialised service provider experienced in managing security solutions and has a strict chain of custody. This method is almost impossible to duplicate through print and is often used for variable information within industries such as pharmaceutical.

Printing text or graphics in black using four toners on top of each other creates a tactile height difference that cannot be reproduced by a photocopier. This is a standard method used by digital printing that has the capabilities and pixel placement for this method.

Barcodes and QR Codes:

Two-dimensional barcodes and quick-response (QR) codes, are widely used throughout the print and packaging industry, using inkjet systems, to track and trace items and can be used to provide more information from brands to consumers on specific products. Digital printing is favoured for this process as it has the ability to create unique codes for each product and brand etc. Therefore, if a bar code that is duplicate or invalid is scanned by a reader, it can identify an item that is suspected of being counterfeit or has been tampered/ altered in some way. This is the most cost-effective way for security as it removes the needs for specialised tools as a smartphone device etc. Could be used to read the coded image.

Security Substrates types:

As briefly described, before using ink methods etc. It is worth researching your packaging and print label products and types that require a high level of security. Starting with a high-quality substrate, for example; leading fine paper producers offer substrates with advanced security measures, including:

  • Fluorescent fibres - These fibres have been mixed in to the pulp, during the paper manufacturing process, they are not visible to the eye unless viewed under a special light.
  • Microprinting fibres - These are embedded and randomly distributed throughout the paper and can only be seen upon close inspection due to how small they are in size.
  • Reactive anti-fraud chemicals - These are chemicals which cause a reaction, for example; a stain may appear, if a label has been tampered with.
  • Watermarks - Watermarks are often embedded into the design of the package to authenticate products. These can be either generic or brand customised, and can be very cost-effective when built into the pre-press process.
  • Taggants - These microscopic substances, as briefly described, can be either added to the substrate itself or to the ink or toner, to act as a trace. They don’t impact the quality of the ink or the substrate, but cannot be removed. You can only detect them using a specialised taggant reader to verify that a product is authentic.
  • Embedded holograms - Two-dimensional holographic images can be embedded into the substrate either overtly or covertly, such as found within an English bank note, they can be used for product authentication as they are very difficult to replicate.

Depending on Inkjet or Flexo digital printing, can determine if the process for these security options will become costly or cost-effective. For example; the use of Flexo print with images that may need to be changed can become costly due to the plates needed. Where as with Inkjet, the ink is low cost and no plate is needed for print allowing continuous digital image and text free flow print to be reproduced as many times as needed without a penalty. Flexo can provide more waste even though image quality is high but limited. Digital printers in industry are often looking for ways to produce sustainability and become cost-effective to provide solutions for brands to promote and drive sales through professional top quality printed design.

The take-away:

In order to successfully protect your brand, you need to be thinking of all the ways it may currently have weaknesses within the packaging or labels etc. and design. Then correct and mitigate these issues by implementing some of these security methods talked about that best suit your branded product, such as a frozen product may require a thermo ink at a specific temperature. Tailor your methods to your brands and be consistent so that your consumers will know it is an authentic product they are buying. Many digital printers can offer these solutions with their in-house industry print and graphic designers, it is all about choosing what is the best fit for you and your brand.


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Digital Print and Brand Protection...