With an estimated cost to the worldwide economy of $700 billion per year, counterfeiting is top of mind for brand owners as well as their suppliers. Converters are meeting the challenge head-on, with printing and coding technologies that provide product authentication and enable tracking through the supply chain.

A KodakTraceless reader is used to authenticate wine by verifying that the invisible markers in the ink on the label are the brand-specific markers used by that vintner.

With an estimated cost to the worldwide economy of $700 billion per year, counterfeiting is top of mind for brand owners as well as their suppliers. Converters are meeting the challenge head-on, with printing and coding technologies that provide product authentication and enable tracking through the supply chain.

Some of the most interesting technical developments are in the area of covert authentication-that is, putting invisible markers or codes on packaging to tag the product as the real thing.

Printing technologies that use invisible markers called taggants provide a sophisticated covert authentication option for label and pouch converters. The Kodak Traceless System from Eastman Kodak Co., for example, uses proprietary, item-specific taggants to make it impossible for counterfeiters to replicate protected items.

The Traceless submicroscopic taggants can be mixed with inks, toners and varnishes for printing using any type of conventional, digital and thermal printing equipment. The taggant-containing materials can be used with the range of flexible packaging substrates.

Kodak creates a concentrated taggant solution using the printer’s regular ink or varnish and ships the concentrate to the printer, who dilutes it using more of the same ink or varnish. The taggants have no effect on the print quality of the finished goods.

“It’s not only aesthetically invisible, it has no functional impact on the finished product whatsover,” says Steven Powell, general manager for Kodak Security Solutions. The printed film “is not more brittle. If it’s a clear substrate, it’s not cloudier. If it’s a color substrate, it’s not muted.”

Before the printed materials leave the converting plant, quality assurance testing is performed using a Kodak Traceless reader to verify correct lay-down of the taggant-containing inks and varnishes. After the printed materials enter the supply chain, personnel equipped with readers authenticate the materials at various points during distribution.

The technology can be used for mass serialization, as well, by adding the Traceless taggants to bar codes and other serialization codes.

The Traceless system is priced based on volume of items printed, with a cost of less than a penny per item for annual volumes in the hundreds of millions of items.

TheVerigard covert authentication solution from Sun Chemical Security uses a proprietary reader to identify taggants in specified print locations.

The brand fingerprint

Another covert authentication solution, from Sun Chemical Security, is the Verigard dye-based taggant system.

“We can put Verigard taggant in practically anything, in very, very low concentrations, and then use our proprietary reader to analyze the fluorescent spectrum that comes back from the taggant and authenticate it,” explains Jim Reiman, director of sales for Sun Chemical Security.

The Verigard taggant-containing inks and coatings can be used across all print processes, often as spot color on a logo or other key part of the label. Thus the entire label or package does not need to be printed with security ink, which helps control costs.

With Sun’s VeriCode solution, taggants can also be used in high-speed ink jet printing to lay down invisible variable data such as two-dimensional (2D) matrix bar codes. The codes provide the benefits of mass serialization, including track-and-trace capabilities and prevention of product diversion. For quality assurance, the company provides a high-speed, in-line verification system than checks the print quality of the covert marks.

Sun provides its taggant-containing products in the form of press-ready inks and prices them on a per-mark basis, as part of a turnkey system. For a volume of 10 million, the cost is a fraction of a penny per mark; the cost shrinks as print volume increases.

To create a brand fingerprint that is nearly impossible to replicate, Topflight Corp. uses inks, coatings, varnishes, adhesives and printing substrates that contain specially marked taggants. The markings on the taggants may be in the form of text, numbers and/or images such as logos, patterns, shapes and bar codes. Topflight’s sister company, ARmark Authentication Technologies LLC, supplies the taggants.

“Our taggants are different from others in that they have the ability of carrying information,” says Dave Becker, marketing manager with Topflight. The text and images on the 75- to 120-micron taggants are viewable with any microscope; for bar coded taggants, a computer would be used to increase the size of the bar code so it could be read with a conventional bar code reader.

ARmark taggants marked with text, numbers and images can be incorporated into inks and coatings, creating a brand fingerprint.

Overt plus covert

Equipment makers are responding to the need for security printing solutions, as well. To print labels and the films used for blister-pack lidding and medical device packaging, CSAT America LLC has developed digital printing systems based on electrophotographic technology.

Images to be printed are generated on a computer, using desktop publishing software, and downloaded to the printer. A light-emitting diode (LED) array writes the image on a charged photoreceptive surface, to which the toner is attracted. The toner is then transferred to the substrate, leaving the image behind.

Compatible substrates include paper-foil laminates, plastic films and paper, with a web width of 5 to 400 millimeters. Plain foil also can be printed but requires a lacquer coating for toner adherence.

CSAT’s DTS 1200 Blister Printing Unit provides an anti-counterfeit solution for pharmaceutical packaging, allowing blister-pack lidding film to be printed with a combination of visible (overt) codes plus covert, ultraviolet-visible information.

The equipment can print a randomly generated, unique number for each package. It can also print microtext, down to 0.2 millimeters. The microtext stands up well to the rigors of blister packaging; it retains legibility, through a magnifying class, after blister sealing. Conventional and 2D bar codes can be printed, as well.

Joe Buono, sales manager at CSAT America, explains, “Because of the software-driven nature of digital printing…any combination of features can be used to ensure track-and-trace, including real time and date-different colors and microtext.”  

ARmark Authentication Technologies LLC.
717-227-3266; www.rmark.org
Bell Inc.
800-658-3396; www.bell-inc.com
CSAT America LLC.
303-666-9993; www.csat.de
Eastman Kodak Co.
866-563-2533; www.kodak.com
Sun Chemical Security
860-767-7711 x132; www.sunchemical.com
Topflight Corp.
717-227-5211; www.topflight.com

Security guards on site 24/7 at Bell Inc. ensure authorized access only and that materials are not removed from the production area. Employees wear specific colored shirts to provide visual verification of their authorization to be within secured production area.


An essential aspect of security printing is keeping raw materials and finished goods safe from tampering, theft and diversion. Bell Inc., which specializes in attaching flexible promotional game pieces to packages, has created a system to secure and account for the valuable game pieces before, during and after application to the package.

The strategy includes secured access to the facility; closed-circuit television cameras on materials storage, handling, manufacturing and transitional areas; security guards; two-way mirrors onto the game-piece work area; a secured finished goods area which, if breached, emits a facility-wide alarm; timed access to the secured finished goods area; and stringent waste control.

Many companies running the promotions permit their packaging suppliers up to 4% waste. However, “We have less than 1% spoilage in these game pieces,” says Marianne Von Seggern, vice presidentstrategic development, at Bell. “The less you waste, the more secure the whole operation is.”