Since the space on a product label or packaging is at a premium, it follows that any additional information that may be added to improve authenticity checks and usefully provide supplementary facts such as supply chain channels and product codes should be as functional as possible. This is of course without such data impacting on, or detracting from the primary functionality emphasized above.
It should also be borne in mind that graphical design can be adapted to carry overt, covert and forensically detectable features in a similar manner to those carried in raw materials such as inks and substrates in the form of paper or board.
At this juncture it is necessary to point out that graphical design is constrained firstly by the printing methodology employed by the converter and secondly by the number of colors available to the print process being applied.
In the fast moving consumer goods sectors, which include food and drink products, color is an essential part of communication between brand owners and their consumers. Here then, process color predominates with additional spot colors and often metallic inks being deployed to decorate and attract the buyer’s eye.
With industrial goods and mainstream pharmaceuticals, process color often gives way to graphics that are carried in monotones or duotones, and here a different approach to combining security features with graphic images is required.
Embossing and foiling are also important tools in graphical design and can provide useful security features as well as enhancing the visual appearance of a label or box.
Employing graphical design as a tool to deter and detect product related crime is one of the most economical methods of prevention and detection of fake products, since images and text are key components of brand recognition and information conveyance and are present wherever labels or packaging are deployed.
Whilst adding a security ink or a hologram increases the cost of the pack or label incrementally, design is an unrepeatable charge once created and therefore a highly economic method of authenticity check that is available to the most auspicious of brand owners.
It is of course important to recognize before entering into the design process the objectives you wish to achieve at the conclusion of the project. If there are no perceived product threats, such as tampering or counterfeiting that require countermeasures to be considered then there is little point in developing the security approach further.
Of course, if there is a history of previous counterfeit product attacks or a vulnerability to refilling a pack or bottle with fake product then precautions will be required.
Figure 5.1 - A simple but effective low level anti-copy feature can be delivered to artwork by using an overprinted varnish carrying a logo in negative and positive format
The design stage of any overhauling of the packaging or labeling will then require a degree of evaluation of the threats faced and how to counter these with specific features integrated into the design and production process.
This is because production is crucially linked to design and not every printing process is suitable for the deployment of all the various procedures available to embed the wide range of security features available within a label or pack.
To provide an illustration of this constraint, not all print processes are capable of carrying enough ink weight to provide an effective color change when using optically variable inks. Other processes are not able to deliver the very fine detail that is required in order to embed covert images that can be recognized easily with high magnification and other viewer assisted processes such as smart phone cameras.
More importantly, the move to digital and hybrid printing systems that incorporate inkjet and other variable non-impact processes with conventional printing will require a different approach to design and production methodologies.
The message here then is clear. It is essential to recognize that you research all the relevant facts not only about the materials and print processes involved in delivering an effective design, but also how those procedures will deliver a satisfactory result and provide the brand with a solution that is able to identify as well as deter unwanted criminal attention or fraudulent activity.
DESIGNING TO DETER AND DETECT COPIER AND SCANNER ATTACKS
Today scanners are ubiquitous, with high resolution devices widely available in the home office as well as the workplace.
Previously, scanning attacks designed to copy the existing labels or packaging on products under attack would only be possible in the printer’s origination studio.
Nowadays, most people have access to not only a scanner but also an embedded printer so it even becomes unnecessary to move the scanned image into a publishing program to print it out.
Labels and tags are most at risk from this threat as they are produced on relatively lightweight materials but carton packs too can be copied as many desk top printer/scanners can accommodate paste and pulp-board in their feed mechanisms also.
What needs to be remembered is that scanners can only reproduce material by converting the image to a dot screen and then replicating the dots to recreate an effective copy. Dot size here is important and we refer to this as ‘resolution’ or dots per inch (dpi).
During the scanning process, any color present within the image will be converted to cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). As we should know, these are the basic colors required in process printing in order to reproduce an image using the conventional printing color separation process.
[There are of course variations to this such as red, green and blue (RGB) used mainly in TV’s, and commercial proofing systems that use hi-resolution inkjet printing that involves extra colors, but let’s ignore that for the moment].
The higher the resolution of a scan, the more dots per inch are required to reproduce an image and therefore the image reproduced attains a better quality.
An understanding of this basic constraint of all scanners provides us with a variety of responses that are available to deter and detect direct copy attacks.
Firstly, the use of continuous lines in the origination process will provide a detection device since any lines copied onto the fake packaging will consist of dots, which can then be easily identified with a loupe or other magnification tool.
Using ‘spot’ color is a further refinement since any scanner attack will convert the spot color into its relevant ‘process colors’ of CMYK and be identifiable again using magnification. Spot colors that are impossible to scan such as day-glow inks, metallic inks and fluorescents are also useful and act as a further deterrent if they can be incorporated within the design artwork.
USING SCREEN ORIGINATION TECHNOLOGY TO DEFEAT COPY ATTACKS
Screen modulation tools are also useful since by controlling and varying the dot size carried by the screen it is possible to leverage on the weaknesses of scanning systems that work on fixed resolutions of say hundredth’s and thousandths of an inch.
By finely tuning dot and line screen origination outside of these scanner threshold’s it is possible to create hidden images within the artwork that are only visible when a label or carton is scanned dishonestly. The hidden image is then highlighted in clear view to deliver a visible message such as ‘VOID’ or ‘COPY’.
Figure 5.2 - A ‘copy void’ screen built into a design to detect copy attacks- the void message is invisible in normal view
For effect then, it is possible to produce what is termed a ‘void pantograph screen’ by creating two thicknesses of lines or sizes of dot within the image to be protected. The thinner lines or smaller dots are set below the finest level of scanner resolution and the larger dots just above this.
Since some loss of quality through dot gain or drop out is inevitable during the scanning process, protected images will display the word or pattern chosen to alert that an illicit scan has taken place.
Since scanners, copiers and computer desk top printers are under continual development the process of embedding a void pantograph image into a label or carton design should undergo testing, evaluation and changes in color to obtain the best results.
Since any scanner or copier can only ‘average out’ images that it can identify, the designer can compensate for this weakness by using subtle pastel shades balanced by stronger denser color at opposing ends of the spectrum to ensure maximum effect from such copy protection screens.
Finally it should always be recognized that depending upon only a single anti-copy feature in any design is in itself a weakness and other complementing copy detection features such as metallic inks provide a good balance of security for little extra investment.
REFINING A LINE SCREEN TO PROVIDE HIGHER LEVELS OF ROBUSTNESS IN ANTI-SCAN SYSTEMS
A further more refined approach to detecting copies of labels and indeed any other form of packaging that carries a printed image is known as hidden image technology (HIT).
HIT involves the use of selectively pitched lines that carry a moiré interference effect and deliver a hidden message when print containing the covert embedded HIT image is viewed through a clear filmic filter. That filter carries a matching series of lines pitched in such a way that they interact with the printed screen to deliver the message.
Figure 5.3 - The image (left) shows an embedded covert HIT design- slightly enhanced
This system provides an easy to use tool that is both low cost and requires no training for teams involved in brand protection inspection activities.
HIT works through the fineness and quality of the print screens involved in the original print operation and is robust against scanning attacks as any attempt to copy a protected image will involve a certain degree of dot gain in the copy. This superficial dot gain blocks out the image in the viewer, revealing the fake copy.
Further refinement to the system involves a scrambling of the original hidden image (or indicia) in such a way that it can only be viewed through a clear prismatic lens. Both lenses and origination software can be combined to provide an individual system for each user or brand owner. When combined with other overt and covert technology such as a hologram this is seen as the ideal defense against copy and replication attacks.
Alternatives to conventional HIT printing involve the use of polarization filters and specially manufactured foils or filmic materials that carry no visible image but reveal a security message or logo in negative or positive form when viewed through a special filter that acts in a similar manner to polarized sunglasses that remove the glare from the surface of a lake allowing the viewer to observe the fish swimming beneath the surface. This process is tightly controlled and 100% effective against copier and scanner attacks.
ADDITIONAL REFINEMENTS THAT DETER COPIER AND SCANNING THREATS
As has been disclosed in the preceding paragraphs, something that interferes with the fixed resolution of a scanner or color photocopier can be used to protect printed images from such copy assaults. Since some printing technologies can be used to reproduce very small, almost nano-sized images they are ideal for the production of micro-text down to sizes lower than 1/100 of an inch. At this level of microscopic printing a 100 page text book could be fitted on to a sheet of paper 8.5 by 11.0 inches.
Lithography, gravure and intaglio are particularly suitable printing processes for creating micro-text images. Whilst intaglio is not a print procedure that is familiar in the label industry, some suppliers can be found that offer this highly secure process for brand protection applications such as swing tickets, tags and certificates of authenticity.
Litho and gravure are of course recognized as purveyors of high quality images and by using specific fine line micro-text typefaces and spot colors the process renders scanners and copiers useless for reproducing accurate facsimiles.
Finally, the ability to add some form of tactility to an image will result in the negation of copy attacks since they are unable to reproduce the physical properties associated with perspective and depth. Tactility can be introduced to printed paper and board through embossing or by adding a line-work screen from a finely etched plate that transfers a raised ink image to the material.
Such images are termed ‘latent’ (as in hidden) but are observable without any need for a viewer as required in HIT systems. Embossing or etching is used to create a series of micro-grooves that reveal an image when a label or pack is tilted towards or away from the observer.
Light interference patterns created in the artwork result in a clearly observable image that can be ‘flipped’ between positive and negative states when tilted away from or towards a light source.
In order to visualize the effect provided by a latent image it is necessary to envisage a freshly plowed field where the furrows are invisible from high above but become observable at eye level when their peaks and troughs can be seen in high detail.
The effect of a latent image can be seen on the illustration (Figure 5.4) where a combination of fine line embossing and litho-printing has been used to create a leaf symbol that can be tilted to reveal a more complex and markedly different image when observed from different angles.
Figure 5.4 - Latent images built into the artwork provide a visible check on tilting to light. Such devices are robust enough to detect copy and scanner attacks
Such latent images are popular with high security print applications such as banknotes and identity documents such as passports.
These are produced using the intaglio (raised) printing process. The introduction of latent images using the litho process is seen as a very positive development for brand protection applications that rely on labeling and packaging for their success.
DESIGNING TO DETER AND DETECT REPLICATION (RE-ORIGINATION) ATTACKS
With the widespread availability of origination software in all its forms there is also the risk of replication attacks on vulnerable product packaging.
Such occurrences are seen as more serious than copier and scanner attacks since they utilize conventional printing and converting machinery to create fake labels and cartons. This process can deliver more convincing counterfeits since close to original materials are used such as inks, self-adhesive label stock, carton board and the like.
There is no shortage of capacity in the printing industry which can be operated clandestinely by rogue staff during non-working hours in order to produce fake labels or containers. The industry is also defenseless against second hand printing equipment being traded on the open market. Such printing and converting equipment is then used by criminals who employ retired or redundant print staff to manufacture fake labels and packaging on their behalf.
It is not unusual for legitimate converters to be approached by criminal gangs who pose as re-sellers or agents and purchase ‘on-behalf’ of brand owners. Such an underhand approach removes any skill necessary to produce the counterfeit materials themselves. In some parts of the world and in the USA in particular it is an offence to be caught in possession of fake labels and packaging. That’s how seriously the problem of product counterfeiting is being taken by national governments and authorities.
Adding security to the designing process requires special software or at least the inclusion of add-on ‘security’ modules to Adobe or other artwork origination systems. These resources provide the software tools necessary to create a whole range of security features within the artwork that are not available to the commercial printing sector.
Such software is only provided to bona-fide and trusted Protecting against replication converters in order to negate the risks of such design tools falling into the wrong hands.
There are a number of intricate steps that can be taken to secure a design against replication and we will review a few of the most practical for brand protection in the next few paragraphs.
These features are most widely used in banknote design. They consist of geometric patterns of closely packed line-work that involves a number of colors for maximum security although single color printing of a guilloche together with an overprint of a spot color will provide a basic level of security on the simplest of label designs.
Figure 5.5 - Generic security design patterns used for protection against fraud or counterfeiting of printed products. Images courtesy of Agfa Graphics
VARIABLE LINE THICKNESSES AND LINE MODULATION
This feature allows the designer to change the thickness of intersecting lines within a close screen in order to create an image within the screen that becomes evident when viewed from a distance in much the same way as a half tone made up from dots.
Pictures found on the Web and photos you import from your digital camera are raster graphics.
They are made up of a grid of pixels, commonly referred to as a bitmap. Security designers can design their own individual pixel shapes and then in conjunction with software tools use these pixels to create more complex shapes that can be ‘grown’ like a snowflake into interlinking backgrounds that change in hue as they progress across the design. Without special software these features are difficult to reproduce.
This is the creation of complex symmetrical patterns that interlink and form a pleasing aesthetic effect and background upon which other security features can be built.
These effects are used to create the illusion that text is embossed or in a 3D font thereby adding a level of security through manipulating line screens into a series of curves and intersections that create the shadows and impression of relief printing.
One popular technique that is designed to quickly identify a fake copy that has been re-originated is to introduce an intentional defect into the artwork. This may be as covert as a missing serif on a character in one line of text or a broken or damaged line in a frame around an illustration.
MICRO LOGO SCREENS & MICROTEXT
The introduction of micro-logo’s into a screen of micro-text and the ability to rotate and morph these into a background screen or as use as shading around a central object is also a method of making it very difficult for anyone trying to copy an original design through the use of all-purpose desk top publishing type software packages.
SPLIT DUCT PRINTING
Popular in high security printing applications this skill involves the splitting of a central piece of artwork within the copy into two or more colors, but from a common plate. To achieve this objective it is necessary to add duct dividers to the ink troughs and rollers and add an offset roller to one color unit on the press.
A different color is added to each split off section and when in operation the colors merge (where they intersect) into a pleasing mixture of shades that are unbroken in their hue and impossible to recreate without access to the necessary skill and resource of the original artwork and press used to produce them.
PLATEMAKING/C’THRU DUPLEX PRINTING
Another skill that derives from the security printing preserve is the ability of a plate-maker and printer to co-ordinate impressions on both sides of the sheet in perfect register (perfecting). This requires the capability of in-line duplex printing and the creation of a design or pattern (in two segments – one negative, one positive on alternate sides) that create a complete image that can be viewed when held to light.
An alternative to split duct printing that is less secure but offers the designer with the ability to fade a screen from a solid 100% coverage of ink progressively and smoothly through to lower levels of saturation. Also known as gradient or blended screens these features are difficult to scan or copy effectively so that they retain the smooth properties of the original.
Figure 5.6 - The 20 denomination top left hand corner of illustration is made up of two interlocking sections of artwork printed on alternate sides of the sheet (see slight differences in shade)
Please note that the printing technology used to produce a book is unable to reproduce all the security illustrations in the kind of detail that we would like.
Inevitably some quality is lost during image processing and our references to solid lines and solid spot colors may not always transfer to the illustrations accurately
Figure 5.7 - The illustration shows various security designer skills and how they may be deployed in the protection of a carton board box against replication attacks. Source- Agfa Graphics
DESIGNING TO APPLY COVERT AND FORENSIC SECURITY FEATURES FOR TRAINED PRODUCT INSPECTION (DIGITAL WATERMARKS)
With the correct software installed it is possible to store a completely covert mark within any piece of artwork that carries a screen. This mark is secure inasmuch as it can be designed so that it is not possible to transfer the mark from an original to a scanned image. Such marks also protect against replication attacks where re-origination is involved, because any replica images will not carry the covert mark.
Such marks are termed ‘digital watermarks’ and should not be confused with their security paper counterparts. Neither should they be confused with the watermarking software used to embed background images such as ‘confidential’ in word processing documents.
For security and brand protection applications digital watermarking relies on a process that involves steganography. It is a technique designed to secure a message by hiding that message within another object so that it can be kept secret from everyone except the intended recipient.
This is quite different from cryptography that renders the message (which is typically visible or audible) unintelligible to unauthorized viewers to prevent access.
Digital watermarking can be applied to both analogue and digitally printed images, although it delivers different attributes in each procedure.
Digital watermarking is achieved by varying the size and shape of some of the pixels that are used to compile the printed image.
This is achieved by running the pre-press artwork file through a watermarking generator which applies the covert image chosen and invisibly embeds this in the pre-press artwork. When printing occurs the covert mark is replicated in every image produced from the protected printing plate.
The digital watermarks can be extracted from the protected image through the use of a scanner, or the camera on a smartphone equipped with a suitable app.
Both scanner and smartphone need access to the appropriate extraction software that is linked to the original embedding process. Extraction of the authenticated image can take place visually in which case the covert image is converted to an overt form that can be viewed normally, or it may be programed to deliver a message or audio response of recognition to a screen on a laptop, mobile phone or tablet.
Figure 5.8 - Adding a digital watermark to print
Whilst digital watermarks applied to analogue print will always display the same image on every copy reproduced, with digital printing it is possible to embed a watermark that changes with every copy generated.
Therefore, digital watermarking in digital printing applications is an extremely powerful tool; since it can be made to deliver, say, a covert serial number in every piece of print created.
One distinctive benefit of digital watermarking is that it can be utilized to embed valuable supply chain information within the printed artwork on a label or carton. Since space is always at a premium on product packaging such as consumer goods, the availability of a process that allows additional information to be carried on products in this way is seen as a real benefit, since it offers the dual advantage of authentication linked with factual supply chain data.
DESIGN ENCOMPASSES BOTH ‘SYSTEM’ AND CONSUMER ENGAGEMENT TOO AND REQUIRES MAXIMUM ATTENTION TO THE ‘REAL ESTATE’ (SPACE) AVAILABLE ON PACKS AND LABELS (ON-LINE PROTECTION)
The introduction to security and product protection article identified and deliberated on the major tasks of packaging. These were those of protection, containment and as a carrier of information.
Labels too are required to carry information and as has been revealed, both of these components can be exploited to carry evidence of authenticity; evidence that can be tested in real time and if needs be forensically.
The primary task of packaging and labeling is to inform. In most cases where counterfeiting or diversion are considered major threats to a product line, this requirement carries the responsibilities of communicating the brand effectively together with a record of nominal data such as sell-by date, use-by date, identification (universal product code/lot number and source of origin) etc.
Additionally, in some market sectors such as pharmaceuticals there is a requirement to carry a unique serial number in order to identify each product and thereby create a pedigree that allows for provenance to be tested at every stage in the supply chain and again at point of purchase/use.
In applications like these, the informed designer will have to ensure that other important information such as a listing of the contents and directions on product safety and usage are not impacted through space restrictions triggered by the requirement for overt authentication and tracking devices.
Therefore, data carrying systems that require little or even no space, such as digital watermarking, embedded NFC tags and the use of covert inks such as UV for the embedding of tracking data provide a useful compromise to the pressures of real estate on packs and labels.
In future it may well become necessary for each and every product to carry its own unique identity. If the benefit of the Internet of Things (IoT) is to be realized then such technology may well become mandatory from a practical point of view so that each and every item may be identified securely and tracked during its journey to final use.
Protecting against replication