More direct working methods between brand owners and hologram providers could unleash a spectrum of possibilities reports Steve Thomas-Emberson

There are two essential marketplaces for holography and both are pertinent to packaging. The first is security, which can cover branding issues and, secondly, design and that also can utilise branding as part of the overall creativity.

What both marketplaces do have in common is a high investment potential with security leading the way. A hologram used in a purely decorative fashion is by nature a simpler device than a hologram used as a piece of security.

The gamut can run from a simple two image affair right through to complete image rotation. Security pixel level is very high in resolution terms; it can be as high as 3000 but, more commonly, around 2000. To give this a perspective, a desktop laser printer is only 300dpi. Add the capacity to rotate each pixel, complete with other security variables, and one has a hologram which is very difficult to counterfeit.

The ability to add covert features into the hologram can be critical in marketplaces such as pharmaceutical and high-cost item packaging. The image could read ‘valid’ or have a code built in that can be read by the retailer and even at the checkout point. Microsoft, as one would expect, has feverishly protected its own brand and product – it is, after all, a global company operating in one of the largest counterfeit-afflicted markets in the world, with a product that is of very high value.

Its answer is to have a security hologram that is both a brand design icon on the outer pack which is also embedded into the CD material itself. The result is a sophisticated mix of security and branding which should be what any brand is attempting to achieve for its investment.

Volume is critical for the adoption of the use of holography as the set up and pre-production charges are relatively steep. However, there is hope as computer origination is bringing costs down and the actual embossing equipment is becoming cheaper, making the future look brighter in more than one way.

Clifford Parr of API Foils explains some of the subtleties concerning the use of holograms: “There are many reasons for using holography on a pack. It can be the avoidance of loss in its entirety, therefore protecting market position as well as profits, but it can also mean that it is a premium product. The use of a hologram which can give to the consumer confidence in the product enables the product to go off the shelf that way. So, there are many issues involved.”

A fast expanding marketplace for the use of holograms is in labelling, as Craig Monks of Walsall Labels enthuses: “The combination of holography, or to give it a wider appeal Optical Variable Device (OVD) and labelling in the packaging marketplace is very exciting.

“It is like an extension of the exciting developments in printing technology that we have had. The basis of it from a labelling point of view is that it is a holoprismic foil which is a 3D substrate which is then overprinted. Colgate mouthwash is a good example. The application for the use of such labels is vast just because they are labels that are very versatile anyway.

“Another element, and one which we would particularly recommend, is the addition of something like thermochromic ink which changes with heat and coldness. This has been successfully used on Tequila bottles as it gives great appeal in places such as pubs and bars.

“The future for the combination of holographs/OVD is in digital hybrid printing solutions. What we, and I suppose a lot of people involved in the holographic market, will find is that the more security features we are able to develop and build in to our labels, the less we will be able to talk about it!”

This all sounds exciting and, despite the market in holography only really being about 10-15 years old from a packaging point of view there are some fundamental management issues still at stake.

One of the most important points is the relationship between the potential customer of such a visual product and the provider. The marketplace is a complex one and a touch amateur. Very seldom are brands and brand guardians such as designers working directly with the providers.

It appears that it is generally one step removed so the potential for creating a unique holographic product is watered down. The relationship methodology needs refining in order to use the holographic potential to its zenith, both from the brand’s point of view and also the providers. Further work would undoubtedly expand this marketplace which has seen double-digit growth over the last five years.

One brand communication and packaging design agency that has taken the bull by the horns and completed its own piece of holographic research is GBH Design Consultants.

The findings are very clear and concise, as Jason Gregory, director, comments: “From a branding and communication standpoint it is a very interesting opportunity so as designers we need to know all the issues and potential for our customers.

“The majority of images have traditionally been a maximum of 2cm square but it is possible to print a full bleed hologram that then does not appear to be an item stuck on. This is critical from a point of view of on-shelf merchandising of a product. One can also use any colour including gold as a hologram, giving endless important colour possibilities.

“The ideal is to develop a single brand holographic image that is ownable and can work both as a branding icon and a security measure. An enormous stock library of images already exists – up to 80 000 – but as a brand you would not wish to see the icon you have used in, say, a drinks marketplace also being used by a toiletry brand. That would be fatal!”

The very fact that design companies such as GBH Design consultants are developing their own knowledge of holography, albeit most unusual, shows the significant potential for more direct working methods between brand owner and provider.

So, what of its packaging uses? As one would expect, security is a difficult issue to broadcast but the technological advance of blister packaging has enabled Holoprotec to develop a hologram for such a pack. It is designed to aid the fight against counterfeiting in the pharmaceutical industry which, to quote the World Health Organisation, equates to 5% of the world’s medicines with certain product types as high as 50%.

What the company has developed is an aluminium blister lidding foil and a PVC equivalent that incorporates a precisely applied hologram stripe which allows room for printing. These products can be processed on to existing blister packaging machines, removing the need for investment in new machinery. The cunning result is that the consumer is comforted at a difficult time and, from the pharmaceutical company’s point of view, revenue may get a boost.

From a purely design and branding perspective API Foils has broken open the bubbly in its work for Moet & Chandon champagne gift packaging. The Sterling Group based in the US has been designing cartons annually for Moet & Chandon and was charged with producing a holiday carton for worldwide distribution. Subtlety was the name of the game and a working relationship between holographers at Chromagen, API Foils’ origination studio and designers at Sterling group produced a hologram 22 x 15in with all the images and text set in different planes to give the pack total depth.

One marketplace which has fully taken on board the holographic potential is toothcare. Colgate is one of the first but one of the most stimulating is the McBride toothpaste tube which gives off a feel of freshness and brand awareness. This is probably why this particular marketplace is one of the most advanced, closely followed by the cosmetic industry. Escada perfume packaging by API is a more recent example.

The future is most certainly bright. Higher resolution will drive advances made and, hopefully, will make the whole holographic packaging offer even more exciting and cheaper.