By Cassandra Balentine
Product integrity is one of the most important considerations for brand owners. Counterfeiting is a large—and growing—concern and security features prevent and deter it in the label print process. Further, tamper-evident solutions help consumers realize when a product is compromised. Both overt and covert methods are available to ensure security.
Above: Avery Dennison provides facestocks and adhesives that fit a range of approaches and applications for packaging security.
Paul Purdef, marketing director, durables, Avery Dennison, adds that many applications adopt a layered approach, incorporating different labeling technologies working together as the best defense against tampering or counterfeiting. Intelligent labeling solutions can be implemented for an added cost as well.
Counterfeiting and product tampering are two concerns that affect the revenues of corporations and governments. They threaten public health and safety.
“These violations are widespread and growing. Trade in counterfeit and pirated goods has risen steadily in the last few years and now stands at 3.3 percent of global trade, according to a new joint report between the OECD and the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office,” cautions Kim Hensley, senior marketing manager, Mactac.
“Anything that has value is susceptible to being counterfeited,” adds Ron Ducharme, market development manager, FLEXcon. In fact, according to an August 2019 report, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized counterfeit goods in 2018 that, if genuine, would have been valued at $1.4B.
“Counterfeit products are a growing crisis for businesses all over the world and have lead to significant economic loss as well as increased liability concerns from possible harm to consumers. The effects of counterfeiting affects a range of industries from food and pharmaceutical to high-end wine and electronics,” comments Brande Juart, specialty coatings and materials, PPG TESLIN Substrate.
She points out that labels and packaging are a crucial component in preventing counterfeiting. Manufacturers are adopting more durable and functional labels to protect against counterfeiting and product tampering.
How to Stop It
While almost any label is vulnerable to counterfeiting, certain features can be added to a printed label or packaging to make it more difficult to replicate.
When deciding which security features to add to a printed label, Purdef suggests considering the desired look and feel, as well as the information to be displayed. “Brand owners and converters need to think about how easy the information is to duplicate. If the label includes variable information—such as a serial number or expiration date—this will be easy to replicate, but every counterfeit label may contain the same information and it will no longer hold any meaning. There must be a way to authenticate this information and ensure that it is unique and corresponds with the product it has been printed for,” he shares.
Ducharme says differences in inks, color, quick response codes, and barcodes can be programmed into digital technology so that every item produced has a unique label. Digital print technology—whether toner based, inkjet, HP Indigo ElectroInk, or nanography—enables the print provider to change every barcode or randomly alter the label through print.
Another area is product diversion—when merchandise meant for a distribution channel is shifted and sold through another channel without the permission of the primary vendor. This can be just as damaging to a brand as counterfeit products and increases the need for effective supply chain security through track and trace capabilities. Juart points out that the right label can strengthen the security of a manufacturer’s supply chain and make it more difficult for counterfeiters.
A variety of security-focused media options and print capabilities are available in the label production process. They generally come down to two categories—overt, those visible to the naked eye; and covert, features that are purposely hidden.
Juart says watermarks, holograms, and tactile effects are overt measures. She adds that covert techniques are intentionally hard to detect and often requires special equipment to locate or read hidden technology. Examples include microprint or color shifting, UV, fluorescent, and infrared features.
The variability afforded by digital print technology allows for an overt solution that may not be readily apparent to the counterfeiter but allows for easy discovery of counterfeit products by the manufacturer or end user.
“Labels can be enhanced with unique barcodes and software that allows for different information to be transmitted from each barcode. An additional level of security is achieved if the uniqueness in labels is random,” explains Ducharme.
Purdef recommends print providers also implement techniques such as security slits, which are die cuts in the label that make it more difficult to remove from the application. Destructible labels such as ultra-destructible vinyl, acetate, and other frangible label stocks, or void products that leave a residual image when removed are products used in a protection strategy.
Very small or hidden codes are printed onto labels, requiring significant magnification or other methods to detect. “Some organizations use decodable, hidden graphics generated by closely protected software. Absence of these graphics indicates a counterfeit product,” says Hensley.
Off-the-shelf optical brighteners offer a relatively low-cost solution to help verify whether or not a product is original. At a slightly higher price point, specific optical brighteners offer a higher level of anti-counterfeiting protection. “Some optical brighteners fluoresce at specific wavelengths under a special reader. These effects are typically not visible to the naked eye,” shares Robert Waddington, VP of sales and marketing, Daybreak Technologies.
Ink-based security measures don’t involve added features for adhesives and facestocks, but instead require the use of specialized inks. Two examples are iridescent ink that changes color based on viewing angle or thermochromatic ink that changes color based on temperature, notes Hensley.
Tamper-evident media options present a visible sign that a package or product was toyed with. Juart says these can range from a label that breaks permanently when you try to remove it from the package, to a void technology that leaves some type of visible indicator when removed.
According to Hensley, tamper-evident product labeling is an easy and relatively cost-effective way for brand owners to protect against product tampering, alteration, and counterfeiting.
With strategies such as tamper-evident and destructible films, security features are hidden until removal is attempted. “The challenge here is that by the time you see evidence of tampering, the deed has already been done. Unless a label is compromised, there’s no way to know if the item is genuine or fake. And again, once the counterfeiter understands the covert challenge, the tamper-evident labels can be replicated,” offers Ducharme.
Digging deeper into covert options, forensic security features offer the highest level of protection. Juart says these require specialized laboratory equipment to analyze or confirm authenticity. Forensic measures typically include taggants or other advanced security measures and require the label be destroyed for complete and definitive testing.
With taggant security measures, companies may mark products by inserting difficult-to-obtain materials into adhesives or topcoats. “The material’s presence or absence must be detected by forensic methods. The limited nature of taggant materials makes them tough to duplicate,” admits Hensley.
Security tags suspended in a traditional UV or water-based topcoat can be applied to packaging, labels, or added to the product itself. These offer a higher level of protection. “Packaging features such as substrate or other security elements built into the packaging can offer more protection. In addition to protection, some features will show if a medicine is exposed to an unacceptable temperature threshold,” explains Waddington.
For those worried about functionality loss when it comes to security coating options, experts say have no fear. “Most substrate or packaging elements are minimally invasive in terms of product performance,” assures Waddington.
“Security-focused media does not have to detract from the functionality of traditional media,” shares Purdef. He says this often depends on whether the application will be covert or overt. In an overt application, graphic appeal might be more important and security features that create tamper evidence might be more desirable so consumers can see that the packaging was tampered with and the contents may be compromised.
For more sophisticated applications, Purdef explains that the focus might shift to using labeling materials that are less frequently used for graphic appeal and offer increased security. This often comes in a layered approach, taking the adhesive, facestock, and printed information into account. Covert may also include an intelligent label component or other methods that are anti-counterfeit.
In terms of printability, Ducharme reports that the printable portion of the facestock provides a quality surface for ink laydown. However, frangible films have a history of sometimes being too destructible to withstand converting processes such as stripping of the matrix. Film integrity is critical to enable printing, converting, and dispensing.
The quality and look of the labeling solution is still paramount while incorporating security features. “Some security products like holographics and fluorescent materials may even accentuate the look of the label or provide design opportunities,” suggests Purdef.
Ducharme agrees, noting that some features such as holography—which produces a prismatic effect—can enhance the look of the label while also adding a level of known security simply by its presence. “If your security feature is overt, this can enhance the label image. If the feature is covert, the end user may not know it’s there.”
Pricing is a consideration, the more security features utilized, the more costly a label is going to be. “All security products cost more than their non-security counterparts. The more specific the security feature, the higher the cost will be. On the low end, off-the-shelf optical brighteners cost five to ten percent more, while security tags mixed in coatings can run as much as 50 to 200 percent more,” states Waddington.
Particularly with packaging-specific solutions, some security features might erode return on investment. It is also important to weigh out the extra costs of the security features against the real-world threat or liability brought on by the security risk itself. “The hardest cost to properly calculate is damage to the brand,” adds Waddington.
Cost depends on the level of security in the label. “If you select a label stock that is already tamper resistant, one that does not require additional processing or added functionality to make it secure, the labels are both economical and effective. On the other hand, for high-end products, a manufacturer might want to add covert or forensic options, including RFID or security printing techniques, which certainly increases cost,” shares Purdef.
He says products such as a tamper-evident synthetic paper or tamper-evident litho are relatively cost neutral. However, when considering options for brand protection or security the choice often depends on what is being protected or the level of protection that will be achieved. A layering approach may be necessary.
Hensley points out that there are many cost-effective, basic means of improving product security. Tamper-evident security labels make consumers aware that a product or enclosure has been accessed when is shouldn’t. “One of the most widely known label stocks leaves behind a void pattern on the applied surface and can’t be resealed or reused. This product has a lower cost and minimum order because it is so common. The more features needed in the security label will tend to add to the cost such as specialty inks or features like invisible UV fluorescent voids, which allow for authentication under black light,” she offers.
Security labels create a single or multi-layered defense against counterfeiting, tampering, or other criminal activity. “They are used for authentication, theft reduction, protection against counterfeiting and piracy; increasing privacy, warranty validation, and keeping an area secure. Use can be simple or advanced,” explains Hensley.
Many security features are added to labels and packaging during the printing process. A range of options are available, ranging from overt, covert, and even forensic. Depending on budget and level of security needed, it is worth considering to combat counterfeiting, diversion, and product tampering. IPM
Jun2020, Industrial Print Magazine