Ink makes packaging wink

8 January 2018

Ink makes packaging wink

Often an unsung hero in the packaging world, inks can play more of a key role when they're chosen with eco-responsible care and used in innovative ways. Emma-Jane Batey speaks to brand owners and manufacturers who are proud to sing the praises of good ink.

From water-based to UV curable to edible, the range of inks available to converters and brand owners is increasingly adding to the visual calling card that is beautiful packaging. Yet another decision to make in the packaging process, the right ink for the right job is a skill that is taken seriously across the supply chain. Converters and manufactures are aware that by offering different types of ink applications they are broadening their offer and, in the highly competitive world of shelf appeal, that is always a good thing.


Innovative use of inks sees packaging being printed directly on, greater ecologically-responsible choices and impressive true-to-image quality... and sometimes all three. For leading UK ink manufacturer Needham Inks, its deep knowledge of inks has enabled it to be respected both for its experience and its fresh ideas. Initially founded in 1962 as a distributor of coding and marking products, Whitchurch-based Needham Inks has continued to develop a range of inks used in industrial applications. Initially focused specifically on inkjet inks for continuous inkjet printers, the company's range is now expanded to include inks for almost all types of inkjet printing technology.


Needham Inks director Aaron Pawson tells Converting Today, “We manufacture a wide range of inks but our main areas of speciality are continuous inkjet (CIJ) inks and wide-format inkjet printing inks. From food to cosmetics, CIJ printed are used to put date and batch codes on practically every consumer product that is manufactured today. It's the preferred technology because the printer can operate at very high speeds and also has the ability to 'throw' the ink a considerable distance, which means that the product being coded doesn't need to contact the printhead.”


Difficult as standard


Pawson notes that staying at the forefront of the inks industry means that Needham Inks is able to respond to the demands of its customers across industry sectors. “As packaging materials are developing, we are seeing an increased demand for inks to print onto what we call 'difficult' substrates. These are low surface-energy materials such as PE or OPP, which are designed to be non-stick, and so present a challenge to ink chemists to formulate inks that are capable of adhering to them. We are also finding that wide-format inkjet printing is increasingly replacing traditional contact printing methods. Initially confined to applications that required variable date, the cost of wide-format inkjet printing has fallen considerable to the point where it is now the preferred printing method for many mainstream printing applications, especially as this type of press can print on practically any substrate from paper to vinyl to textiles. As a result, the demand for inkjet inks has grown exponentially and will continue to do so for many years.”


Needham Inks has recently finished development of a range of aqueous inkjet inks which are suitable for wide-format presses that use Epsom printheads, based on a new CMYK colour set that both reduces consumption and enables the printer to produce an exceptionally wide colour range.



For brand owners, choosing the right inks is often a job left to their trusted packaging provider. But with smaller brands increasingly determined to take greater control across their own supply chain, working together can yield packaging results that truly reflect the brand identity. For Miranda Ballard, managing director of forward-thinking responsible meat retailer Muddy Boots Foods, the packaging of its products is one other area of the business that is taken seriously.


Standing up, standing out


Founded in 2008 and now with five shops across London and it's own production site in East London, Muddy Boots Foods are available through Waitrose and Ocado, having 'respectfully turned down Tesco'. Ballard is also the author of four books on meat - from sourcing it to cooking it – and so it is safe to say that she, along with her co-founder and husband Roland, is quite the authority on 'celebrating some of the best meat and farming in the country'.


The Muddy Boots USP is not just about being responsible when it comes to meat sourcing; it is focused on offering a delicious alternative to supermarket meat, so the packaging is integral to its success. Ballard tells Converting Today, “Muddy Boots is an alternative to mass and supermarket meat. People who like traditional butchery will still go to those. We're interested in the 90% of meat being bought from supermarkets – which is almost entirely packaged. We work really hard to match the supermarkets, from 9am to 9pm opening hours seven days a week to the range of lines. But we can do that with much better meat because we buy from the farms, we own the factory, we own the shops. No warehouses, no lorries, no head office.”


Ballard explains that 'packaging is vital' in this successful supply chain, with the company working with Wednesbury-based Quantum Packaging to design and manufacture food-grade packaging that meets its exacting requirements. “Rather than a traditional butcher retail format, I sell branded, packaged, labelled meat products, so packaging is vital. Inks for me means colour and style; two things not traditionally seen in meat branding! - but something I'm trying hard to explore. Quantum have produced our packaging from when we were a tiny start up on the farm in Worcestershire with £70k turnover, to the range we produced for Waitrose and Ocado, and are still growing with us now we have five shops and a £1.3million turnover. They let us start with small volumes and worked with us to find the best card, ink, layout, efficiency for scale...all the things we needed guidance on. For example, when Quantum invested in new kit for digital printing, they explained to us how it could specifically help the wrap-around sleeves that we use for trayed products like sausages. This innovation really helped us out from a practical sense as well as design and it's now one of our best sellers on Ocado and in our shops.”


Giles Foden, joint managing director at Quantum Print & Packaging Ltd, explains how the company's 30,000 sq. ft production facility and in-house design studio allows it to create positive solutions for customers like Muddy Boots Foods. Foden says, “We are a customer-led business and we offer a range of bespoke services that enhance our customers' products and brand identity. We buy in our inks from Interprint and we see it as a commodity, a utility of our business that is an important ingredient in our recipe for success. We trust Interprint to deliver our vegetable-based inks that allow us to print on whatever substrates our customers demand.”


Beautiful all over


Innovative use of inks can also be a valuable tool for the cosmetics sector – a market that is particularly driven by the visual appeal of products.  For fast-growing yet long-established multi-purpose skin balm brand Egyptian Magic, its unique directly-printed packaging is as integral to its expansion as its Ancient Egyptian formula. CEO and founder Lord-Pharaoh ImHotep-AmonRa tells Converting Today, “The core of our brand is selecting and blending the highest quality ingredients such as olive oil, honey and Royal Jelly. However, we've noticed over the years that many people first come to Egyptian Magic through its unique packaging. The packaging has a power of attraction and creates interest as it is so unusual in the beauty standards and intrigues many clients. The bright red and blue inks tend to contrast with the colours used in the beauty industry, with these intense primary colours creating a strong first impression. It is important for us as they attract potential customers and sparks their curiosity. It has a strong love/hate effect, but most agree it is what's inside that is the most important. In fact, some customers are unsure if it is a skincare product as the aesthetic of our jar contrasts with current beauty codes, but it is this that makes Egyptian Magic unique.”


So while ink is able to sit comfortably in the printing commodity list, so too does it occupy a unique position in the brand development field. Standing out on the shelf is one thing, but good packaging is not a one trick pony; dense yet able to print on difficult substrates or enabling brands to promote an interesting back story is the new normal.



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