A spirited spectral solution

3 June 2020

Brands are volatile, they’re not invincible; they can just as easily slip back as they can go forward.

Brands are volatile, they’re not invincible; they can just as easily slip back as they can go forward. They depend not only on what is being offered but also on the brand owner, marketer and the packaging converter’s ability to promote the product. Consumers are drawn more than anything to products that look good. However, creating that memorable image, one that captures the essence of a brand, that defines the product as special, that makes the consumer purchase the product, and then return for a repeat purchase is not easy. For life’s little luxuries, such as that bottle of Scotch or similar uplifting spirits, the labelling and packaging employed can almost be regarded as ‘theatre.’ Designers, converters and packaging technologists must pull out all the ‘look at me’ stops.

UV flexo continues to impact on labelling and presentation packaging of products such as bottled spirits, fine wines and other items that command a premium price. Generally, products, such as single malt whiskey provide a feel-good factor; when given in a presentation box, as is often the case with bottled spirits, they can make the recipient feel more valued.  The high solids content of the inks means that UV inks provide for high gloss, high scuff, heat resistance and excellent resistance against chemicals. These properties make UV flexo ideal for products that might be subject to bumping, scuffing during processing on an accumulator line, during shipment or when displayed and handled on the retailers’ shelf.

It has taken many years for radiation curable printed and coated products to become relatively well accepted in the print and converting industries. Benchmark testing, peer group reviews and a better understanding of light/energy manipulative technology together with better pre-press support has made implementing ultraviolet curing of inks in the label and package production environment less troublesome than it once was. Process developments, innovations such as improved power sources and reflector technology as well as LED or Light Emitting Diodes make UV curing in print and converting more relevant when brand owners, marketers, designers and packaging technologists consider the next job.

Prior to the widespread acceptance of radiation curing in the graphic arts and converting sectors, it is worth remembering that the process was and indeed is used for quite different reasons in beverage, distilling, brewing, etc.

In the beverage sectors UV has been used for many decades to assist in the production of high-purity liquids as well as for rinse water applications and the sterilisation of surfaces. The use of UV technology for water treatment (bottled water, soft drinks, fruit juices) has inherent advantages in that it does not ‘add’ anything to the water or other liquid stream such as undesirable colour, odour, chemicals, taste or flavour.

Printers, formulators and others have found ways around problems that made many users cautious about using UV. Today, UV delivers high quality image enhanced reproduction that quality committed and value-conscious printers need to maintain their competitive edge and grow the business.

The marketing, distribution and selling of premium branded spirits such as whiskey, tequila, brandy and cognac is big business and highly competitive. More robust competition and a greater willingness on the part of younger consumers to experiment and try different brands, perhaps try different types drinks and make vodka, brandy and rum as a base mixer in cocktails, does mean that brand owners cannot afford to be complacent. 

The sale of spirits and cocktails in clubs and bars is to a much younger age group than in the past, and while this is good news on the marketing front, most tend to agree that consumers can be fickle.  What’s cool today may not be so cool when there is less money around, when the job market gets worse, when the economic fall out from Covid-19 takes centre stage.  At present, the sale of all alcohol including spirits is at a record high as many consumers endeavour to make the lock down due to Covid-19 easier to cope with at home.

From the designers perspective the old adage keep it simple tends not to apply. Certain branded items like a well known fine malt Scotch whisky has an allure about it, a pedigree that commands attention. In this instance product labelling and other elements may be occasionally tweaked, but major changes to a product that is readily identifiable on the retail shelf could actually harm product sales.  Where there isn’t a firm allegiance to a brand the consumer may be tempted to switch labels. For these reasons there is a need to pull more than a few white rabbits out of the hat. The packaging converter and label printer needs to produce innovative labels that incorporate intricate illustrative elements, which encourage closer inspection and product handling by the consumer. Colours may include feel good elements such as a vibrant red indicative of a setting sun, suggestive of evening relaxation; turquois blue and subtle yellows to create an almost holiday feel or to create a party ambiance.

Whatever the spirit being marketed, the one thing that all spirits, fine wines and other alcoholic beverages have in common is that they all come in glass bottles. Glass makes for class! Glass is non-porous and impermeable, so there are no interactions between glass and the liquid contained within. Glass is effective in keeping gases out and in itself can play a prominent role in a marketing campaign. Bottles can incorporate a frosted finish; they may incorporate a clear ‘no label look,’ a favourite for vodka. Bottles and cap seals may also be coloured and shaped to add to differentiation possibilities.

It is worth bearing in mind what print is all about. It is about being able to translate the client’s vision into a product that meets or exceeds expectations. In order to achieve this day in day out and from job to job those engaged in using or producing energy cured materials need to have in place reliable colour communicative equipment that can undertake reliable test procedures. Pre-press and other operatives need systems and devices that can monitor, highlight and help resolve issues surrounding the use of UV inks; colour matching, determining how inks and substrates interact over time and for the trialling of materials, consumables and other product quality related issues.

RK Print Coat Instruments FlexiProof UV and FlexiProof LED UV can be used for colour matching and determining how the ink and substrates perform and to assess gloss, durability, chemical resistance and durability, etc. Moreover, because the FlexiProof incorporates a miniaturised UV it cures inline in a seamless operation so that print inconsistencies or blemishes including pinholes can be detected.

Because in essence the FlexiProof is a scaled down but exact version of a flexographic press, the device can be used in place of the production press for trialling unfamiliar inks and substrates. Ideal for example, when an ink maker is developing a low migratory ink that needs to be tested in an environment that is as close to real world production as possible.

The LED UV variant of the FlexiProof is an alternative option to conventional UV systems that use dichroic mercury vapour lamps.  The lamps integrated in with the FlexiProof LED UV are solid-state devices with the LED lamps providing a tailored output either at the important 385 or 395nm wavelength. The lamps are energy efficient, require little in the way of maintenance and being both ozone and mercury free meet ‘Green Working’ objectives. They are ideal for processing heat sensitive substrates and can be ideal for situations where a client seeks proof of concept.

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