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Not seen, not sold (Embellishing)

By Steve Crowe

The eyes have it.

Attracting attention to a single product in a sea of similar products is about an indefinable pull that drags attention from everything around it. It’s a psychological battle fought on every shelf in every shop.


While it’s almost always the visual appeal of a product’s container and label that first attracts attention, other senses such as smell and touch are playing increasingly important roles in turning passersby into customers.

That’s only going to get better (or worse, depending on your perspective) for local producers, their packagers and labellers. These promise to be testing times for them all.

New players are moving into the Australian market and challenging what has been a closely contested scene, especially in outlets like supermarkets and liquor stores.

Budget supermarket chains like Aldi understand the importance of the “right” packaging and labelling. Aldi learnt long ago that adding a “premium” look to their products boosts sales. Buyers instinctively gravitated to products with higher value packaging and labelling, and with a higher price, despite the fact they were shopping for bargains in a budget chain.

Simply, embellishments work.

That’s of particular interest to Australian producers, as another German budget retailer, Kaufland, has reportedly committed to setting up in Australia and is seeking large blocks of land and staff in its plans to establish flagship stores.

LO Cold foil
Cold foil

Its sibling retail chain, Lidl, also owned by retail mega group The Schwarz Group, one of the world’s largest retail companies, has already registered some trademarks in Australia.

Chief executive of the Retail Doctor Group, Brian Walker, says Kaufland is a “general merchandise hypermarket” that will carry everything from fresh food to electronics, home furnishings and a broad range of consumer items in a one-stop-shop model that Australia has never seen before.

Kaufland is a “big mothership brand”, according to Walker. Lidl, on the other hand, is more an Aldi shop model in smaller spaces.

Should these retailers establish footholds in Australia, will an all out price war between major retailers ensue? If so it will surely focus the minds of every marketing department in every producer of consumer items in the country.

Globally, a burgeoning middle class in China and India, but also in other Asian and Middle Eastern markets, means label production is steadily increasing, and is aimed at younger people eager to enjoy their newfound status as avid consumers.

With the potential for so much choice in so many product ranges for consumers, the effectiveness of a product’s packaging and labelling has never been more important.

Looking good

LO Avon Graphics C
Fine detail at Avon Graphics

A label’s effectiveness starts with good design. Most shoppers don’t take time to study every product label, so standing out instantly in the crowd is imperative.

According to leading US design house, designhill, sticking to essentials by ensuring customers can make an informed choice quickly is paramount. That means clean, uncluttered design with easy access to vital information. Those easy to read designs are more likely to be the ones pulled from the shelf.

But while smart design is the impetus, so often much more has been done to turn it into a winner. Embellishing that design with highlight elements often seals the deal.

Paul McCullum, director at Dragon Printing in Sydney, a leading label printer, regularly sees designers moving to embellishing after seeing its potential.

“Once designers see what can be achieved by embellishing they tend to use them more often on labels that wouldn’t traditionally see this sort of effect. A lot of the embellishing starts life on a wine label and spreads to the wider label market for that extra shelf impact,” he said.

“[Customers want] the biggest impact for the least cost. Many customers want the wow factor that embellishing can achieve with the smallest outlay, as the print runs for that type of label tend to be more in the boutique labels where the print runs are often small in volume. A spot gloss or matt varnish can make a large impact for little extra cost!” said Paul.

Colour is a critical component in every label design, and usually a primary criterion in a consumer’s choice. When words fail, colours step up to show their importance. This year’s trend is towards bold colours, often used in large blocks, with variations on colours used to differentiate products in the same product line.

Illustrations are making a comeback. Content rich, carefully designed illustrations can remind customers of stories or personal histories and make a connection with them.

Design elements that hark back to vintage themes are also popular this year. Familiar design elements jog memories for mature customers, but also amuse or pique the interest of young buyers. Vintage elements need to be used carefully, and prudently, to work well.

Handcrafted labels, or at least a design that appears as if it was made or written by hand so that every label looks unique, have gained some popularity in the past couple of years.

In tandem with these design parameters is a trend to intricate or sophisticated die cuts that enhance the original design by adding a wow factor of precision.

LO Fresnels OVF labelstock

Fresnels new Peacock OVF foils use nanotechnology.

Increasingly, good design needs to work not just on a shelf but on a screen too. Many more products are bought online, especially by younger consumers, so an effective design must “work” in a sales environment in which touch and smell are irrelevant.

Tate Hone, sales manager at Avon Graphics, points out that design is a key element of effective labels, and good design doesn’t sit still. “As always, designers are pushing the boundaries,” he told Labels Online. “We prefer to get involved at the design stage when possible to ensure that the project is produced with the best outcome for all.”

Look at me now

Great design is a good start, but it needs more now to stake out a serious claim on the market shelf.

Dragon Printing’s Paul McCullum points to designers’ greater sophistication in embellishment decisions.

“Little has changed with the overall design element of embellishing; the big change is multiple types of embellishing are on the same label, creating greater complexity of the production process,” he told Labels Onine.

Metallic foiling, holographic images and reflections add to the sheen of a label, and for many products that’s enough to turn heads. These effects can deliver an aura of premium quality, but can be overdone. A bright, sparkling holographic package or label can tend to denote toothpaste rather than top of the range perfume, so caution by some designers in the use of metallic effects has seen a less-is-more approach that combines with other effects such as textured substrates and embossed design elements to complete a more striking final presentation.

This motif fits quite neatly with the trend towards rather minimalist house and furnishing designs, for a clean, uncluttered, yet visually very arresting presentation.

Get the feeling

Labels with textured surfaces, providing a feeling like linen, felt or vellum, are now popular among younger consumers, many of whom consider them quite refined, especially for wine and spirit labels. These materials are also particularly adaptable to embossing and foil stamping.

LO HP Indigo 6900

                                    The new HP Indigo 6900 can use GEM technology.

The flourishing craft beer industry, alongside the more established wine market, has gravitated to new waterproof labels, especially for chilled bottles that are often plonked in ice buckets. “Wet strength” labels might survive in an ice bucket in a restaurant for an hour, but the demand for better performance in a wet environment and resistance to tougher handling and transport has seen ranges of waterproof, fine, self-adhesive papers made available by several label manufacturers including API, UPM Raflatac and Avery Dennison.

Ringing in the changes
On the ground, label printers are investing in new technology ideas that make embellishment techniques easier, faster or more efficient.

LO HP Indigo GEM

HP Indigo’s GEM technology can deliver embellishments in one pass.

The most discussed is, of course, a transition to digital technology which, advocates say, makes the production of very short runs of labels possible, especially with variable information, and reduces the often high wastage levels in label manufacture by eliminating plates, processing, run-ups and ink use.

“To date digital embellishing has not had any impact on the label scene other than in variable data/images. Virtually all the embellishing is still produced by way of screen, foil, emboss, specialty inks and varnishes, etc,” said Paul McCullum.

“[But] there is a lot happening in digital embellishing. The standout at the moment is spot matt/gloss varnish with a high-build effect through inkjet. We expect to see more embellishing options coming from the digital sector in the next year or so with the growth in short run, highly embellished labels. Several of the digital embellishing options still have a long time in research and development before they are commercially viable,” he said. “We expect to see a growth in digital high-build and foiling once the technology gets to the point where it is commercially viable for everyday supermarket labels.”

Not everyone is convinced yet. Avon Graphics’ Tate Hone commented, “We have seen no change in the form of digital embellishments in the production world. We are aware of the machinery available and keep a close eye on the technology, but have no plans to move into it. Unfortunately, the technology is a long way off being ready to use in a quality production environment.”

Avon Graphics has made significant changes to its production processes though, to meet tougher deadlines from clients who might otherwise be attracted to digital production houses because of quicker digital setups.

“The main change that we have seen is in turnaround times. We have worked on our systems to improve on turnaround times, which has made us more flexible than ever,” he said.

Using technology

That is often achieved through automation. At Labelexpo 2017 automation was the catchcry on nearly every stand as a key motivator for equipment manufacturers’ new developments. Inkjet and digital technologies talking points at the exhibtion.

Fujifilm (FFEI) released Printbar Uncovered last year at LabelExpo for short-run jobs with embellishments like cold foiling, spot varnishing, rotary screen white replacement, printing variable data and textured labels.
Printbar Uncovered mounts Xaar printheads on a range of digital and traditional webfed presses, and can be retrofitted. It can handle a range of inks and fluids for spot colours, protective lacquers, spot and tactile varnishing and cold foil adhesives. Widths from 140mm to 560mm can be printed at speeds up to 75 metres/minute.

FFEI Printbar Uncovered:

FujiFilm Printbar
                                                           The Fujifilm Printbar

Large drop printheads are now being used to create tactile effects. White ink can be built up to create textures and can be used in combination with digital CMYK printing and varnishes. Bump maps like those used in 3D rendering can model the ink’s topography to emulate micro-embossed paper.

Also at Labelexpo Europe 2017, HP Indigo introduced GEM (Graphics EMbellishment) technology, a joint development between HP Indigo and UV inkjet specialist JetFX. It uses an UV inkjet-based unit to apply fully digital graphic embellishments in one pass with an HP Indigo digital press. GEM is able to create digital spot and tactile varnishes, digital foils, and a range of other creative effects in a single pass using piezo inkjet heads. Foils have to be specially spec’d for the GEM.

HP Indigo has just released the Indigo 6900 digital press, which can be integrated with GEM, as well as Pack Ready for Labels, suitable for producing high-resistance food, household, chemical and pharmaceutical labels.
It has also released HP Indigo ElectroInk Silver for metallic effects similar to Pantone 877, and HP Indigo ElectroInk Invisible Blue and Yellow, which are visible under UV light for brand protection and promotional labels.
Another solution is the Graphium hybrid digital inkjet label press using a Xaar digital print bar. This can pre-print and/or post-print digital finishing and embellishment processes in a single pass.

LO Peacock Foils

Fresnels new Peacock OVF foils use nanotechnology.

The Xaar digital print bar offers mono inkjet printing with white, black or clear UV inks. Graphium’s system sits the Xaar print bar anywhere on Graphium’s rail system, so convertors can add digital printing at any position on the web before the main print engine or perhaps as a post-print process.

API launched the new generation range of its TA cold foils, TA-Plus, at Labelexpo Europe 2017, which the company says can deliver very fine detail and the ability to cover large solid areas, as well as over-printability. API says the range of colours and effects they can produce are limitless.

Down to the microscopic

Nanotechnology is now influencing packaging applications and is evident in the development of new print materials and foils.

Fresnels has developed new optically variable foil materials that can display colour switching patterns which can be applied to packaging and even labels. These new foils may in time replace laminates for lens effects on labels and folding cartons.
The company says its Peacock stamping foil was “inspired by the iridescence found in nature”, and can be applied by printers and converters using standard foil application techniques.

Finding the future
It may be time to book a seat for Labelexpo Asia 2018, to keep track of new developments in label production, as there’s no doubt labels are not stuck in a rut.

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