Digital Magazine

Brand Security Innovations Technical Report: Tamper Evidence

Developments in nanotechnology, alongside increasing sophistication in converting, including electronic printing, are making it possible for brand owners to be even more clever in confronting fraudsters. They need to be. Counterfeit goods today are worth well in excess of $250 billion worldwide and account for 8% of China's GDP alone.

What are the most effective remedies? How are legislative authorities reacting today? What are the latest options for packaging converters?

The number of levels at which authentication, tamper-evident, and track-and-trace elements can be added to products — and particularly to their packaging — has grown exponentially in response to the efforts of fraudsters. The three major solution platforms employed today are as follows:

  • Devices for visual authentication of a product (with the naked eye or with a scanner of some kind)
  • Secure tracking systems (creating a continuum through the supply and distribution chain)
  • On- or in-package technologies that are difficult or impossible to replicate

The devices may be overt or covert to provide the broadest possible umbrella of protection for everything from ethical pharmaceuticals and medical devices to legal documents, designer handbags, automotive and aerospace parts, prepared foods, toys, music CDs, consumer electronic goods, and computer software. Since packaging is the prime area to which authentication and tamper-evident devices are added, the printing process can play a major role.

Today converters active in package or label production are contributing extensively in this market. Although it is a small sector at 5% (see Figure 1), it's a high value one. It is one of the few that is not price-sensitive but focused on continuous innovation.

Bar Coding

Perhaps one of the most familiar devices for identifying an authentic product is the bar code, which, for nearly half a century, has played a key role in supply chain management, documenting a variety of data from unique product identifier to production location, batch number, and expiration date. The simple one-dimensional bar code has been joined today by two-dimensional bar codes, and based on the 2-D technology, even three-dimensional bar codes.

They are the natural partners for today's product authentication technologies, the most ubiquitous track-and-trace technology. They deliver mass serialization, which can trace right down to an individual bar code, making it a unique identifier of a single item.

Bar codes may be applied via a simple label, sometimes preprinted with a logo or other message, often in partnership with other variable information print (VIP). The image today can be created by the direct thermal, thermal transfer, inkjet (including flatbed), and laser print processes. Bar codes also may be applied as unique identifiers via digital print units on modular narrow web press configurations or via the stand-alone roll-to-roll digital label presses.

From what was originally a “professionals only” operation, bar code reading has become an option for the world's camera cell phone owners, for whom another “app” is available: the ability to use their phone to read a 2-D bar code via a QR (Quick Response) code on product packaging and connect via WiFi to retrieve product information and traceability. This technology is finding favor as an alternative to “specialist” readers across the entire authentication market.

International standards for the many available bar code system platforms are now resident within the global GS1 supply chain management standards association. They include EAN/UPC, ITF-14, and GS1 DataBar and DataMatrix, as well as the EPCglobal standards for radio frequency identification (RFID) implementation.

In the face of alerts around the world concerning authenticity, and particularly the safety of foods and drugs, there are many initiatives that mandate track-and-trace and product authentication technology as key elements in the protection of consumers and of genuine brand owners. Good examples are the US Food Safety Modernization Act and a number of EU initiatives. New ISO standards are in preparation that cover anti-counterfeiting tools and their performance criteria.


While standard bar codes require line-of-sight reading, RFID does not. RFID tags or “smart” labels — generally applied to packages via a pressure-sensitive (p-s) label — may be passive (generally read-only), or active (tag data can be modified or rewritten and can be transmitted over a longer distance). They can be read using either a handheld device or via a computer portal. Tags may be overt or covert, according to the needs of the product and brand. System options and tag capabilities are proliferating, although for the converter, sophisticated equipment is required to insert a tag into a p-s label laminate.


Overt, entry-level security devices often used on packages are familiar to consumers and are a first-line choice as a means of reassurance of brand authenticity and purity. Good examples are over-the-cap, easily frangible p-s paper seals on jars and bottles, as well as perforated stretch or shrink sleeves over the neck and cap of bottles, which provide ready visual evidence of tampering.

Other first-level devices include “hidden word” p-s label constructions. Applied as a clearly visible pack seal (for example to a CD jewel case), they provide strong visual proof of tampering if the seal is broken, since they leave behind a visible warning message. The word “void” is standard in the industry, but personalization is possible. Both these solutions are easily sourced from the leading p-s materials manufacturers.

Inks — both standard and “sympathetic” — and varnishes can be used to create patterns or other identifiers on packaging in the process of printing the package or label.


Optically variable devices (OVDs) in the form of holograms vary today in their level of sophistication. At their simplest, they are merely generic — created by a patterned print substrate (again available in p-s format) — but today they also may include advanced features for unique, instant verification of product authenticity that are difficult to simulate.

Italy-based Diavy, part of the Diaures Group, specializes in p-s/non-p-s holographic solutions (both in terms of technology and machinery as well as the complementary consumables). Its patented process of direct holographic embossing onto aluminum foil is particularly suited to blister packs for pharmaceuticals as well as for other markets in which aluminium foil is used as an essential component for airtight closures, such as high-value foods and drinks.

The system works by generating thousands of micro-incisions directly onto the surface of the foil to create the customer's unique image. The image then can be reflected using a normal light source.

The new generation OVDs from API Holographics, trademarked Hologuard and Holoshield, adopt a different approach. They use kinetic effects — the appearance of relief and structure for a smooth, flat surface; parallax; and color-changing effects.


Many features can be engineered into a p-s label substrate, such as two- or three-dimensional customer-exclusive watermarks; ultraviolet (UV) or infrared (IR) light-detectable nylon fibers of a specific length or color; metal strips or fragments; polyester security threads; thermochromic threads; and micro-marked fibers, invisible to the naked eye. In the wider world of packaging, solvent-sensitive papers, which prevent information from being removed with the use of solvent, are available.

Iridescent security color stripes, impossible to reproduce by photocopier, offset print, or computer printers, can be added to papers. Near-IR fluorophores, chemical taggants, and microtaggants, including plant DNA, also can be added to a container or label, detectable only with dedicated scanners. There is even a tagging system that is invisible to forensic trace methods.

Aqua.ID is a forensic marker, introduced by UK-based SmartWater Technology Ltd., manufacturers of the highly successful technology that can be used in a variety of ways to create a unique “fingerprint” on packaging and labels. It can be combined with printing inks and is authenticated using a portable reader that is able to “sniff” a chemical signature and identify it on contact.


One market where we are seeing a major drive toward increased, layered brand security is pharmaceuticals. The global pharmaceuticals market is forecast to grow up to 7% this year to an estimated $880 billion — largely as a result of emerging economies such as China, which is set to become the third largest global market for pharmaceuticals.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Assns. (EFPIA) reports that more than 11 million illegal medicines were stopped at EU borders in 2009 alone. According to the United Nations, an estimated 30% of anti-infective treatments in Africa and Southeast Asia are fakes — including half the anti-malarial drugs sold in Africa. Unofficial World Health Organization estimates indicate that counterfeit drugs could be responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 people every year.

Pharmaceutical packaging therefore has a major — but challenging — role to play in protecting the world's populations from counterfeits, both in terms of providing physical solutions and meeting the legislative requirements now being implemented.

In Europe earlier this year, the EU Falsified Medicines Directive 2001/83/EC was approved. It calls for the outer packaging of all prescription medications produced within the European community to carry a unique non-predictive alphanumeric number supported by tamper-evident labeling. It will be mandatory and applies to all drug manufacturers (including generic), contract packers, re-packers, and importers.

Although the final details have yet to be ratified, it is probable that the unique number will be represented in human-readable and ECC200 2D data matrix format — a tried and tested system.

Beginning July 1, the Indian government requires bar coding on all exports of pharmaceutical products, making track-and-trace technology mandatory at all levels of packaging to ensure that GS1 global standards are met. Use of serialization is now the subject of legislation in Turkey and Brazil for pharmaceuticals — with most pharmaceutical legislation today appearing to favor mass serialization. This can be a major driver for the future of this brand protection technology platform.

There is proof that such initiatives are truly effective. In the US, Merck Serono's adoption of one of the pharmaceutical industry's earliest data matrix coding strategies for its Serostim product eliminated counterfeit HIV treatment drugs in the supply chain within less than two years.

The EC Directive is expected to be implemented in most European countries within the next 18 months at an estimated cost to manufacturers and importers between e6.8 billion and e11 billion. Like the EU REACH hazardous chemicals legislation, it will have major impact around the globe on the whole pharmaceutical supply chain.


Authentication and track-and-trace solutions often are layered on packaging in customer-unique (and even product-unique) applications, especially for high-value goods. Many of the available options easily can be incorporated into the stock-in-trade of package and label production companies.

Some high-visibility cases of counterfeit wines recently led to a focus on authenticating such products. Recently in China, a maker of fake wines was arrested, in possession of 50,000 empty wine bottles bearing labels from dozens of real brands, ready to be filled with a chemical concoction.

In the UK, counterfeit wine has been discovered for sale in numerous off-license premises, labeled as “Jacob's Creek,” believed to be imported from China and doing no favors for the excellent name of Australia's largest wine brand. Fake spirits — particularly vodka — also are a problem around the world. About 50% of all vodka sold in Russia is counterfeit, with more than 40% of all fatal poisonings attributable to counterfeit alcohol.

The label on a bottle can be an effective carrier of both overt and covert brand security devices. High-value wines can be effectively destroyed if the bottle must be opened to authenticate its contents, so overt solutions have much to contribute in this arena. France-based Prooftag's trademarked Bubble Seal tags are secured on the seal of a bottle, guaranteeing that the bottle has not been opened previously. The potential buyer can simply and instantly verify the bottle's provenance via the Internet or a mobile phone.

This is just one example of a leading-edge technology that has particular affinities with a highly specific product market, and the available platform continues to proliferate.


The fitness for purpose of such product security solutions and the continuing drive to create new dimensions make them a valuable addition to any packaging converter's or label converter's business model. Adding track-and-trace and authentication technology to a label or package is a real benefit for a brand owner and can promote customer loyalty as well as delivering improved profitability.

However, this is a field in which continuous change and development are necessary; providing the solutions developed at today's higher echelons of authentication technology is not for the faint-hearted, since it requires specialist expertise and in many cases specialist inventory. That said, this is an opportunity for converters of all packaging to offer added value in a global marketplace where consumer safety is becoming ever more paramount.

Dr. William Llewellyn is VP and senior consultant with AWA Alexander Watson Assoc., Amsterdam, Netherlands, a market research firm specializing in packaging and converting. Contact him at +31 20 676 20 60; www.awa-bv.com.



A new multilayer security label is available from 3S Simons Security Systems GmbH, Nottuin, Germany. A hologram made of VOID or PET foil includes a micro color-code SECUTAG, which is microscopically small, consists of different colored layers, and is manufactured in sizes beginning at 8 micrometers. The tag offers users easy identification of their original products by use of a microscope; protection is invisible to the naked eye.

In addition, the label can be provided with additional security features, including tilting and kinegram effects and serial numbering. Special security stamping further protects against unauthorized removal of the label. In the PET version, recesses for the company logo can be integrated into the upper foil. Track-and-trace codes also can be implemented into the label.

The permanent adhesive labels can be applied either as closure seals, security stamps, or stickers. They are delivered as neutral security labels, or they can be individually manufactured and equipped with the requested security features in 3S production facilities.

The views and opinions expressed in Technical Reports are those of the author(s), not those of the editors of PFFC. Please address comments to the author(s).


AWA Conferences & Events organizes PABS11, the established product authentication and brand security conference, taking place in Chicago, IL, September 14-15. Topics include:

  • Cost-Effective Brand Protection Through Industry Working Groups
  • Medical Device Protection
  • Centralized Authentication Feature Management in a Decentralized Manufacturing Environment
  • Engaging Consumers and Patients in Reclaiming Market Share Lost to Counterfeiters
  • Brand Protection from the Street Level
  • Online Brandjacking Trends

For further information and online registration, visit www.awa-bv.com.

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