More than just a label - holograms

Packaging Professional magazine
15 Sep 2008
Pictionary special edition box

Manufacturers of leisure products have an endless battle against counterfeiters. Fake toys, games and sportswear cost revenue and sales, as well as damaging a company’s public image. Ian Lancaster, General Secretary of the International Hologram Manufacturers’ Association, Shepperton, UK, reports

It is impossible to measure the full impact of counterfeit leisure goods, but in a sector worth billions of pounds a year, it is unsurprising that millions of fake items are produced globally. And the situation is unlikely to improve as consumer demand for low cost ‘must-have’ products continues to grow.

The damage caused by counterfeiting to a company’s reputation, loss of sales and market capitalisation can be incalculable while lives are risked as copies have not passed stringent testing and quality assurance procedures.

The demand for low cost versions of premium brands is one factor behind the explosion in counterfeiting. Also, industrial globalisation, extended supply chains, lax regional law enforcement and derisory criminal penalties contribute to the problem. The impact of the Internet as a conduit for counterfeit goods has seen the creation of a boundless, multi-jurisdictional arena where regulatory and industry bodies lack full control. Access to high quality reprographic technology makes it easy and affordable to copy brand packaging.

Security service

Companies are ultimately responsible for protecting consumers who trust their brands and supply chains from fraudulent Internet practices, resulting in security devices that cannot be fully replicated or simulated by normal reprographic methods. Furthermore, advances in film coating and materials technology have boosted appeal, providing more eye-catching packs.

The complex origination technology involved in the manufacture of holographic packaging materials makes them secure, providing a pack feature that combines the best of both worlds – promotional and marketing functions with highly effective protection against potential counterfeiters. The packaging sector has grown to become an integral part of the hologram manufacturing industry, estimated to be worth in excess of US$500m annually.

The technology is used in tamper-evident labels and seals, shrink sleeves, blister and transfer foils, threads and tapes, hang tags, wet-glue and in-mould labels, laminating films and a variety of other packaging and labelling media to protect branded goods.

Difficult to replicate

Holograms provide effective brand protection due to layered authentication devices that are easily recognised yet difficult to copy accurately. The hologram has evolved alongside other authentication technologies, and in combination often provides first line authentication. Covert features such as scrambled images, microtext, UV sensitive or other specialist inks are authenticated by trained examiners with appropriate decoding equipment.

However, virtually anything can be copied and even the most sophisticated holograms can be reproduced to some extent. The intrinsic features of the devices mean that the techniques and visual effects make it difficult to copy 100% accurately an authentic hologram. The product and packaging they protect may have been counterfeited but a poorly copied hologram is a tell-tale sign.

Effectively, the hologram acts as an alarm bell, alerting people to the fact that all is not what it seems.

Enduring appeal

Manufacturers of personal care products and cosmetics have to capture customer attention, and maintain or grow their market share. The eye-catching and creative appeal of holograms helps meet these challenges by giving products a distinctive look.

Holography is limited only by the constraints of the imagination. Continuing advances in film coating and manufacturing technology have opened the door for new opportunities for embossed holographic materials to be used in packaging, while a range of specialist origination techniques offer a variety of colourful 3D visual effects. The combination of opaque and translucent inks with optical technology further increases the graphic opportunities available, reinforcing brand identities, capturing customer attention and bringing new life to mature or aging pack design.

In recent years award winning examples of holograms used for promotional as well as authentication purposes have been released. Hasbro celebrated the 20-year anniversary of its Pictionary board game with a special edition holographic box. The presentation box for the DVDs of TV series Quantum Leap features a custom-designed holographic image embossed and printed to create an eye-catching effect.

Holographic honours

At last year’s Holography Industry Awards, Hazen Paper, Holyoake, Shorewood Packaging, New York, Ivy Hill Packaging, LA, and NBC Universal Studios, NY, (all in the USA) were commended in the best packaging category for the design of the Heroes and Barbie: Island Princess DVD boxes. Presentation DVD cases for the films Dé Jàvu and the two-disc platinum edition of the Disney film Peter Pan have also benefited from the hologram treatment.

In sports the devices are also scoring well. The Nike Custom Radial golf balls presentation box from 2003 had a custom-designed holographic image embossed and printed to register. One of the companies involved in this, ITW Holographics, Massachusetts, USA, had its work commended for its part in the programme for US Superbowl 2003.

Future roles

The ability of holograms to incorporate other data forms and product packaging tracking information will become increasingly important. One example of this is image serialisation, which may be visible to the naked eye when generated by overprinting or using an optical numbering method, or can be covert and encrypted, requiring a special reading tool to decipher it.

This enables a range of anti-counterfeiting and brand protection applications, linking on-pack product identification with supply chain management, market enforcement and forensic support services. In this way, the identity and distribution of goods can be controlled through a total system solution involving security authentication features, tracking mechanisms and investigative services.

Further information:

International Hologram Manufacturers’ Association