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Keeping it real: Techniques for using packaging as a front-line defense against counterfeiting

Posted By: SGK July 22, 2015
How to brands can beat counterfeiters at their own game

How much money and prestige does your brand lose to counterfeiting? Do you even know?

Here’s the thing: No one really knows. That’s the nature of counterfeiting. It’s a black market, and we can only know for certain the value of counterfeit products that are actually intercepted. What fraction of the total counterfeit market do those known examples represent? All we can do is make educated guesses.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trying to understand the scope of the problem. In fact, you should be doing everything you can to discover as much as you can about how your products are being counterfeited, where the fakes are coming from, where they’re going, and how much it’s costing you in money and brand equity – all with a view to stopping it.

The challenge for brands is to adopt anti-counterfeiting measures that are extremely difficult to detect or reproduce, easy for supply-chain and retail partners to validate, and also affordable to implement either alone or in combination.

Smart brands and smart technologies can thwart the bad guys. 

Secure packaging is an important part of what Saueressig, part of our brand deployment group, does. They have a portfolio of security technologies and customer-specific techniques that we cannot talk about publicly. In fact, their security operations are isolated from the rest of their printing and converting business, with physical and informational access only possible by their security specialists with the right credentials and a need to know.

Nothing is more crucial to the anti-counterfeiting project than scrupulous security hygiene. However, there are two innovative techniques we can talk about that illustrate the characteristics brands should be looking for in a packaging security system. These techniques are available to any brand, relatively easy and affordable to implement, and highly secure.


One technique involves micro-text printing. An extremely fine-resolution lasing method is used to create text on a gravure cylinder that’s too small for the unaided eye to detect and can easily be hidden within the overall package design.

For example, a single character of fine print on the package that’s already difficult to read at 1mm high might reveal, under microscopic examination, that it’s actually composed of dozens of smaller letters on the order of tens of microns high. Microscopic line images are also possible, and can be hidden within larger text or another image.

These features can be placed anywhere on the package, and the micro-text can be changed and/or moved to a different location in subsequent printings. To copy the micro-text, counterfeiters would have to know that it exists and where to look for it. Plus, they would need access to extremely sophisticated, proprietary pico-laser engraving equipment that’s simply not available on the market and impossible for a counterfeiter to engineer independently.

However, the specialized gravure cylinder can be incorporated cost-effectively into a normal printing line, and the micro-text can easily be verified by anyone who knows where to look with suitable magnifying equipment. 

Hidden Images.

Another approach is to include a hidden image within a design element. An image that is completely invisible to the naked eye can be included within the package design, and people who need to verify the authenticity of the product can be supplied with a special decoder. Typically about the size of a credit card, this semi-transparent decoder is embossed with a special line structure designed to reveal the hidden image. The user simply places the decoder over the package to reveal the image.

The hidden image can be created as part of the normal printing process, and the decoder is simple and affordable for a security provider to produce. But the combination provides very strong security. 

The image is not visible to the naked eye, and, similar to two-factor authentication, a counterfeiter would need to know the image exists in the first place and also have access to the correct decoder in order to discover what it is. Even with that knowledge, the hidden image is nearly impossible to scan at the required resolution and essentially impossible to reproduce with the line structures and detail that would be required to “fool” the decoder.

As difficult as the system is to copy, however, product authentication couldn’t be easier: Just place the decoder over the package and check for the hidden image. Simple validation is essential for any package security system to be fully effective.

Beating counterfeiters at their own game ultimately depends on the ability to identify them in the marketplace and using product authentication technologies that are far beyond their reach. Though the search for fakes may range far and wide, it begins with securing the product package. 

Download Patterns – Innovation Everywhere: Improving Brand Performance from Concept to Consumer and more about how to use packaging as a first-line defense against counterfeiting.