By Tom Kerchiss, RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd

Many brands are in a bind, so too are consumers, retailers, governments, economists and just about everyone else. What to do in a world that now thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and the gathering economic fallout seems to be so different from the one we thought we knew so well? Lock down, stay at home, social distancing, retail and businesses affected, home working, furloughed workers; government aid, governments lending a hand with the wages; borrowed money and for some, perhaps a reckoning to come? What about retail? Even though governments try to encourage us to spend, consumers for the moment it seems are cautious and holding on to their money. Maybe that hoped for ‘V’ shaped bounce back that the economists, governments and businesses are waiting for may take time.

Having said that, some product sectors such as snack foods, comfort food and personal care items, hair colorants, beauty products, skin care, fragrancies, hand washes, both sanitising and moisturising have seen sales expand exponentially during periods of lock down and self- isolating regimes. While retailers and brand owners in the early pandemic weeks witnessed stockpiling with hand sanitisers, disinfectants and toilet rolls being swept up off shelves, the reality of being at home and without being able to go to hairdressers and beauty parlours has sparked off another round of consumer must have goods, these are the personal items, many of which are packed in paperboard.

Brand owners and their various partners know that in an age of mass communication consumers are inclined to use a variety of retail and on-line services and shopping channels in search of a more positive experience. For certain categories of products such as cosmetics and personal care, hair grooming and hair colorants it is essential that the design, colour and value-added enhancements together with the chosen substrate come together to form a unified package, one that engenders confidence. Consumers want to be certain, especially with hair colorants that the item is safe to use, safe to apply and that there is little to go wrong. They don’t want the hair colour to be different from the picture of the woman or the on-pack colour swatch, colour must be accurate, which of course in large measure is determined at pre-press and at printing. Consumers want a product that will enhance their appearance.

Hair brands want to stand apart and are often more than ready to set design standards, they are also more than willing to experiment with regard to pack shape, texture and structure. Brand owners will not compromise or make radical changes with regard to colour repro, print quality and value-added enhancements, which could include the addition of special inks (metallics) and coatings; embossing/de-bossing and the addition of holograms and anti-counterfeit/and-tamper devices.

Packaging plays an important role in establishing and maintaining brand positioning. For many products such as hair colorants, grooming products and luxury cosmetics and fragrances, the material selected is one that offers a suitable canvas for image display on front of pack, with side panels and flaps incorporating informational content and colour swatches, etc. Paperboard stock is an obvious choice, its receptive surface allows printers/converters to shine, to interpret the brief in the best possible light.

Value-added processes can transform simple paperboard into a visual treat. For the ultimate visual impact, a paperboard stock based on primary fibres with a uniform white coated surface allows for high smoothness and good print reproduction and is often selected for minimalistic and luxury or IT consumer product packaging. But the packaging technologists and others involved in decision making within the supply chain can choose from a range of stocks depending upon brand requirements and those of the printer/converter, etc., The retailer/distributor, consumers and legislation regarding health and safety also influences product selection.

With hair colorants the colour swatch image or model on the face of the carton or top flap of container provides the WOW factor, enabling the passing consumer to quickly identify the hair colorant or grooming item they need. Many retailers help make it easier for the consumer to make that purchasing decision even easier by stacking hair colorants on the shelf by gradation of colours with all brunette colours and shades together; all of the blonde colours and shades together and so on. Each and every individual brand owner differentiates their packs with a specific ownable colour unique to them as well as a distinctive logo. Metallics, pearlescent inks/coatings and holographic and layering effects often adorn packs when aimed at a younger audience. Top branded products generally go for a more restrained pack with more of a reliance on high quality print, variation in pack shape and style. Gravure as a print process is used in many cases for photorealistic image, though UV flexo also has its place. The exterior of the pack often incorporates an overprinted coating or wax layer for barrier resistance and/or to enhance gloss appearance. Treated packaging either via coating or laminating prevents grease and oil from marring pack appearance and which can make a product harder to sell. This grease and oils may be due to repeated handling of the packaging and leaks off of shoppers’ fingers and onto packs.

Hair colorants, grooming and personal care brands want to stand apart, they want pack graphics, text and particular colour and photo-realistic, life like aspirational depiction of models. Brand owners will not compromise or make radical changes in the area of colour representation and print quality in general.

Gravure is noted for its wide tonal range, ability to print on a broad range of substrates and colour stability. For added value work in line cold seal, PvdC coating, varnishing, laminating and sheeting can be done. Nevertheless, printability issues impact on profits and reputation and quality control and monitoring devices are essential. Matching colour so it agrees with customer expectations takes time. Setting up a job for the first time generally raises a number of printability and colour related issues (ink/substrate interaction) that have to be resolved before the press starts to yield commercial results and benefits. Colour communication or proofing systems such as the GP100, a dedicated gravure proofing device and the K Printing Proofer for the production of high-quality proofs using gravure, gravure-offset or flexo inks are customer confidence boosters and help in identifying problems in the early stages. The K Printing Proofer can also be used for undertaking wet or dry laminating samples.

Both the GP100 gravure proofer and K Printing Proofer, designed and developed by RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd are part of a large portfolio of colour communication systems, which includes the award winning FlexiProof family of devices for users and producers of flexo inks. Also available are pilot/production coaters and lab/pilot coater systems, all of RK’s equipment is installed in many countries around the world.

The GP100 gravure proofer can be used for the production of high-quality proofs using gravure inks of press viscosity. It can accommodate a wide range of substrates and incorporates a microprocessor-controlled servo drive, offering a high degree of controllability with variable printing speeds of from 1 up to 100 metres per minute.

With regard to the K Printing Proofer, this is a bench top device that measures just 400 x 500mm and is able to handle any flexible substrate including films, paperboard, aluminium foils, PVC, etc., which may be printed or laminated. Interchangeable flexo and gravure heads make for a versatile and easy to use system. For gravure-offset, the flexo head is employed, fitted with a plain rubber covered offset roller to transfer ink from the plate to the substrate. For the evaluation of wet or dry laminating samples the gravure head is used with RK Print Coat Instruments K-Lam laminating accessories, which includes a rubber covered bed and wired K-Lam bars that are fitted in place of the doctor blade assembly to control adhesive coat weight.

Many brand owners like the vibrancy and the colour impact that UV flexo inks can provide. The FlexiProof UV is a multi-tasking device that offers many benefits, one of which is that it eliminates the need to take a production machine out of line in order to trial products and/or resolve problems surrounding the use of inks and substrates. This results in better production machine uptime, better yields, less machine waste, better make ready times and speedier solutions to colour matching, quality control evaluation and product development. The FlexiProof UV and the FlexiProof LED UV incorporate an integral miniaturised UV system enabling this colour communication system to print and cure in a single seamless process