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The ‘colourful’ art of counterfeit packaging

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The risk to the global pharmaceutical supply chain from counterfeit drugs grows ever year, and costs companies billions in lost revenue, and puts the health of consumers at risk.

While there are no reliable statistics for the volume of counterfeit drugs being marketed annually, the World Health Organisation (WHO) currently estimates 10% of all pharmaceuticals in the global supply chain are counterfeit. The only constant to the varied estimates is that the percentage is on the rise.

To combat the spread of counterfeit drugs, pharmaceutical companies are putting technologies and practices in place that will help assure consumers are getting the genuine article. These new wide ranging security techniques enable protection from tampering, copying and brand infringement - making counterfeiting a more difficult and costly process.         

These techniques include both overt and covert technologies and encompass sophisticated solutions such as unique unit coding, datamatrix coding and RFID type solutions. A packaging printer can offer numerous ink based solutions such as pearlescent, phosphorescent, thermochromic, metameric inks etc., coupled with the latest technology links of coding - but one of the most fundamental things to get right from the start is colour consistency.

The right colour is vital
Given the health and financial impacts of counterfeit drugs, protecting brand identity for pharmaceuticals is critical and brand colour is integral to that objective. In fact, studies show that colour tops the list when it comes to how a consumer identifies and selects a given brand.

So getting the brand colour consistent on every packaging type not only generates sales, but also protects consumers from being deceived into buying a bogus product.

Pharma companies have invested billions of dollars in their brands and are keen on doing whatever they can to protect those investments. And with the threat of package counterfeiting always looming, expectations and the pressure to deliver a quality result, within budget, is extremely high.
    Therefore, the value of improved colour consistency to a packaging printer is clear.

Digitising the ink palette
Any improvement colour consistency across ranges and production locations using current print techniques would therefore be highly beneficial.
    As colours reproduce differently on different substrates and using different processes - flexo, litho or gravure - any inconsistency could present an opportunity for counterfeiters.  

For pharmaceuticals, even the slightest variation in package colour could make the product suspect.
    In 2010, a number of leading companies, covering ink, pharmaceutical packaging and reprographics, came together to find a long-term solution that could accurately meet brand owner’s expectations.
    The objective is to bring consistency and control across all the materials in the production process and make certain that brand colours are right every time, on every possible packaging material.

The solution involves creating a digital palette of all the ink colours used in printing. This data represents a specific colour and allows that data to recreate the colour exactly the same every time, regardless of substrate.

The system now in application at a global carton manufacturer allows brand owners and print services suppliers to manage and maintain colour assets through a cloud-based repository for the storage and sharing of key colour assets so they can manage and communicate colours accurately - any place in the world.

By digitising its palette, a packaging printer can produce a digital proof that represents exactly what can be achieved on press.

A digital proof lets the packaging printer test a design with its customers which speeds up the overall approval process.             
Digitising the palette takes the subjectivity out of the process and the resulting colour consistency meets brand owners’ expectations.

Better consistency…and consumer confidence

The improvement in colour consistency has been dramatic. While the accepted industry standard for colour deviation, or ∆E, averages around 4, the results from a digitised palette are achieving no more than 2∆E - and in some cases less than 1∆E.
Consumer confidence is on the upswing, as well. Batch rejection rate is one measure of a happy manufacturer. In 2010, a maker of an over-the-counter drug was experiencing a complaint rate of 10% - out of a batch of 600 products, more than 60 were being sent back.

Within a year of moving to the new system the rejection rate from the printer’s customer had dropped to zero. Digitising a colour palette can establish true brand colours for brand owners, which results in print accuracy across a variety of substrates, leading to consistency from design to pre-press to print.
Colours that are true to the brand are tougher to copy and are a solid assurance for consumers.

By Bob Houghton, Head of Marketing Communications - Chesapeake


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