Anticounterfeiting Packaging 101

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InnoPack, which runs alongside CPhI Worldwide in Paris Nord Villepinte, France, is specially focused on pharmaceutical packaging. This is the place where companies gather to showcase their latest innovations and technologies in packaging. In this article, Martin Dallas from Essentra explains the role of innovative packaging technologies.

InnoPack, which runs alongside CPhI Worldwide in Paris Nord Villepinte, France, is specially focused on pharmaceutical packaging. This is the place where companies gather to showcase their latest innovations and technologies in packaging. In this article, Martin Dallas from Essentra explains the role of innovative packaging technologies.

Protective packaging has come to mean so much more than ensuring a product won’t be damaged in transit or in-store. It now encapsulates tamper-evidence and anti-counterfeiting. It is estimated that counterfeit drugs are currently worth over $75 billion (1) in global trade and criminals are becoming increasingly competent in packaging their products.

One approach adopted by many pharmaceutical companies to prevent counterfeit problems is to integrate security within the product packaging. In the healthcare market, this can include a variety of technologies that can be integrated into the product packaging, be it a carton, label, overwrap or specialised tear tape.

Bespoke packaging solutions can carry a variety of sophisticated brand protection devices including layering overt and covert authentication and tamper-evidence technologies alongside the brand design features. So what is the difference between overt and covert technologies?

Overt technologies
Overt features enable instant authentication of packaging through visual inspection by the user without requiring expert knowledge. Optically variable features such as holographic devices, and colour-shift inks, are some of the most common and effective overt security features, enabling packaging to be validated both quickly and easily.

Holographic devices. Easily identifiable holograms are primarily used as first-level identification devices, and are designed to enable successful authentication at point of inspection. Secure holograms have been used successfully on a number of customers’ products for many years for brand protection purposes and are supplied on a variety of carriers, including self-adhesive formats.

There are many different holographic technologies including fully metallised, de-metallised and high refractive index. At Essentra, we also carry out our own in-house holographic design and then work to achieve the highest levels of security design using a wide range of origination techniques. To further enhance the security of the hologram a variety of features can be included in the design enabling the hologram to be built up using a combination of these features depending on the level of security required.



Colour-shift inks. Another overt technology is colour-shift ink. Colour-shift inks appear as two or more distinct colours when viewed from different viewing angles. Such features are easily verified by tilting the item carrying the colour-shift in order that the different colours can be seen.
Different colour combinations are available and both strong opaque and subtle transparent effects can be created to complement the existing design of the document or product.
Colour-shift pigments are highly specialised and require specific technical knowledge and bespoke equipment. The supply of colour-shift inks is carefully controlled and they are only used in genuine circumstances under strict codes of conduct and including end-use agreements.

Covert technologies
Covert technologies such as infra-red (IR) and ultra-violet (UV) inks, microtext and microscopic tagging are invisible and difficult to detect and replicate without specialist detection equipment. Forensic solutions include molecular markers, and biological tracers offer another level of authentication, but these features can only be identified using laboratory equipment.

Images printed with UV inks are only visible under a UV light. UV inks are available in different frequencies, so depending on the formulation of the ink, the investigators will need to use either a long-wave or short-wave UV light for the printed images or text to become visible.

In addition to this, covert technologies such as taggants can also be placed on to packaging, with the most effective being completely invisible and only detectable with a special reading device. As with other covert technologies, taggants can only be identified by the brand owner, or people they equip with the appropriate knowledge and technology, to provide conclusive verification.

Many companies are looking at packaging to demonstrate whether a product has been tampered with. Indeed certain legislation in parts of the world is now demanding this requirement. The Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD)—Directive 2011/62/EU—was enacted in 2011 and in Article 54, it highlights the need ‘to verify the authenticity of the medicinal product and identify individual packs.’ This requirement has led to a focus on serialisation within the industry. Article 54, however, also requires ‘a device allowing verification of whether the outer packaging has been tampered with.’

Authentication solutions used to ensure tamper-evidence can be overt, covert, forensic or any combination. They can protect against tampering, refilling, counterfeiting and diversion and assist in meeting the requirements of the FMD.

Tampering can often render products unsafe, dangerous or in some cases even fatal. Tamper-evident seals provide a clear indication that tampering has occurred and can protect your customers and brands from potentially harmful interference.

Tear tape
Tear tape is an ideal medium to incorporate easy-opening, tamper-evidence and security into product packaging efficiently and cost-effectively. Essentra currently produces more than 31 million kilometres of tear tape each year to achieve these objectives.

Ten colour gravure printing and sophisticated slitting lines ensure tape products meet exacting print and quality standards and can be applied to a wide range of packs, from flexible overwraps and sleeves to cartons, boxes and even hermetically sealed packs.

Integrated design
So how can companies maximise security? It is important to use both overt and covert design features that complement each other and are jointly used on packaging, integrated into the design of the carton, label or tear tapes.

Packaging companies’ design studios can provide design capability for customers, adding value and delivering customised design concepts and artwork creation for packaging, building in security as part of the overall pack design. This enables a wide variety of features to be integrated into products to meet the overall brand security needs.

With the use of increasingly sophisticated counterfeit methods, drug counterfeit criminals continue to advance and profit at the cost of public safety and company revenue. It is essential to implement overt, covert and forensic technologies to ensure that criminals are unable to re-use, copy or misappropriate pharmaceutical drugs or drug packaging.

Anti-theft, tamper-evidence and authentication solutions enable inferior and potentially harmful counterfeit products to be reliably intercepted and stolen genuine products recovered. By implementing the new packaging security techniques, robust and reliable protection from tampering, copying and brand infringement is enabled and counterfeiting will become a less profitable and more challenging process.

1. World Health Organization, Expert Committee on Specifications for Pharmaceutical Preparations (36th Report), accessed 24 Sept. 2014.


Martin Dallas is managing director of Specialist Technologies at Essentra.