The unsung heroes of the packaging world, inks play a vital role for converters and brand-owners alike, offering much more than just the ability to stand out from the crowd. Emma-Jane Batey explores this essential packaging element and how it is developing.
From edible to water-based to UV curable, the range of inks available to converters and brand-owners is increasing the creative possibilities of packaging. With the right ink, a product can be original and eye-catching; essential attributes if it is to survive and prosper in a highly competitive market where shelf appeal is king.
For leading UK manufacturer Needham Inks, its deep subject knowledge has enabled it to become respected for its experience, but also for its fresh ideas. Initially founded in 1962 as a distributor of coding and marking products, the Shropshire-based company has continued to develop a range of inks used in industrial applications. Initially focused on inks for continuous inkjet printers, the company’s range now includes inks for almost all types of inkjet printing technology.
“We manufacture a wide range of inks, but our main areas of specialty are continuous inkjet (CIJ) inks and wide-format inkjet printing inks,” explains Needham Inks director Aaron Pawson. “From food to cosmetics, CIJ inks are used to put date and batch codes on practically every consumer product that is manufactured today. It’s the preferred technology because the printer can operate at very high speeds and also has the ability to ‘throw’ the ink a considerable distance, meaning that the product being coded doesn’t need to come into contact with the printhead.”
Difficult as standard
Pawson notes that staying at the forefront of the inks industry means that Needham Inks must be able to respond to the demands of its customers across industry sectors. “As packaging materials are developing, we are seeing an increased demand for inks to print onto what we call ‘difficult’ substrates. These are low surface energy materials such as polythene or oriented polypropylene, which are designed to be non-stick, and so present a challenge to ink chemists to formulate inks that are capable of adhering to them.
“We are also finding that wide-format inkjet printing is increasingly replacing traditional contact printing methods. Initially confined to applications that required variable date, the cost of wide-format inkjet printing has fallen to the point where it is now the preferred printing method for many mainstream printing applications, especially as this type of press can print on practically any substrate from paper to vinyl to textiles. As a result, the demand for inkjet inks has grown exponentially and will continue to do so for many years,” he concludes.
Needham Inks has recently finished development of a range of aqueous inkjet inks suitable for wide-format presses that use Epsom printheads. They are based on a new CMYK colour set that reduces consumption and enables the printer to produce an exceptionally wide colour range.
For brand-owners, choosing the right ink is often a job left to their trusted packaging provider. But with smaller brands that are increasingly determined to take greater control across their own supply chain, working together can yield packaging results that truly reflect the brand identity.
For Miranda Ballard, managing director of forward-thinking responsible meat retailer Muddy Boots Foods, the packaging of its products is another area of the business that is taken seriously.
Founded in 2008, Muddy Boots Foods now has five shops and a production site in London, with its products being available in Waitrose and Ocado. Ballard is also the author of four books on meat – from sourcing to cooking – and so it is safe to say that she and her co-founder and husband Roland are quite the authorities on “celebrating some of the best meat and farming in the country”.
The USP of Muddy Boots is not just its responsible meat sourcing, but also its delicious and quality foods that provide alternatives to supermarket meats. To stand out from the crowded market, it implements clever packaging.
“Muddy Boots is an alternative to mass and supermarket meat,” Ballard explains. “People who like traditional butchers will still go to those. We’re interested in the 90% of meat being bought from supermarkets – which is almost entirely packaged. We work really hard to match the supermarkets, from our 9am-to-9pm opening hours, seven days a week to our range of lines. But we can do it with much better meat because we buy from the farms, we own the factory, we own the shops. No warehouses, no lorries, no head office.”
Packaging with a punch
Ballard explains that “packaging is vital” in this successful supply chain, with the company working with Wednesbury-based Quantum Packaging to design and manufacture food-grade packaging that meets its exacting requirements.
“Rather than a traditional butcher’s retail format, I sell branded, packaged and labelled meat products, so packaging is vital. Inks, for me, mean colour and style – two things not traditionally seen in meat branding – but it’s something that I’m trying hard to explore. Quantum has produced our packaging from when we were a tiny startup on the farm in Worcestershire with a £70, 000 turnover, to the range we produced for Waitrose and Ocado, and they are still growing with us now that we have five shops and a £1.3-million turnover. They let us start with small volumes and worked with us to find the best card, ink, layout and efficiency for scale – all the things we needed guidance on.
“For example, when Quantum invested in a new kit for digital printing, they explained to us how it could specifically help the wrap-around sleeves that we use for trayed products like sausages. This innovation really helped us out in a practical sense as well as with design, and it’s now one of our bestsellers on Ocado and in our shops,” she says.
Giles Foden, joint managing director at Quantum Print and Packaging, explains how the company’s 30,000ft² production facility and in-house design studio allow it to create effective solutions for customers such as Muddy Boots Foods.
“We are a customer-led business and offer a range of bespoke services that enhance our customers’ products and brand identity,” he explains. “We buy our inks from Interprint and we see it as a commodity; a utility of our business that is an important ingredient in our recipe for success. We trust Interprint to deliver our vegetable-based inks that allow us to print on whatever substrates our customers demand.”
Beautiful all over
Innovative use of inks can also be a valuable tool for the cosmetics sector – a market that is particularly driven by the visual appeal of products.
For long-established multipurpose skin balm brand Egyptian Magic, its unique packaging – which is directly printed upon – is as integral to its expansion as its Ancient Egyptian formula.
“The core of our brand is selecting and blending the highest-quality ingredients such as olive oil, honey and royal jelly,” says CEO and founder Lord-Pharaoh ImHotep- AmonRa. “However, we’ve noticed over the years that many people first come to Egyptian Magic through its unique packaging. The packaging has the power of attraction and intrigues many clients. The bright red and blue inks tend to contrast with the colours used in the beauty industry, with these intense primary colours creating a strong first impression. This is important for us as it attracts potential customers and sparks their curiosity. It has a strong love/hate effect, but most agree it is what’s inside that is the most important. In fact, some customers are unsure if it is a skincare product as the aesthetic of our jar contrasts with current beauty codes, but it is this that makes Egyptian Magic unique.”
So, while ink is able to sit comfortably in the printing commodity list, so too does it occupy a unique position in the field of brand development. Standing out on the shelf is essential; but ink is by no means a one-trick pony. It allows brands to get creative and truly represent themselves, promote their back-story, and compete with large and established retailers.