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Combat Counterfeiting with Color Control

May 11, 2016

Real or fake? When it comes to medicating children, consumers need to know the products they choose are genuine.

Real or fake? When it comes to medicating children, consumers need to know the products they choose are genuine.

When you hear the word counterfeiting, do you automatically think of counterfeit money? Unfortunately counterfeiting goes much farther than that. It’s impacting just about every industry worldwide. It is a huge problem for product integrity and results in financial loss. Estimates put counterfeited and pirated goods at some 2 to 2.5% of world trade, with a value of $600 billion or more.

Counterfeiting can damage a brand’s image. Apparel, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, electronics, cosmetics, tobacco, sports merchandising and footwear have all been subject to counterfeit activity over the past few years. Not only is the rate of counterfeiting growing each year, so are the number products involved.

Counterfeiting can also lead to health concerns for consumers. Foods like cooking oils, olives, and baby food, wines and spirits, healthcare and personal care products, medicines, aircraft and automotive components, and critical electrical safety components are all targets. Some products have even been found to contain injurious or toxic components.We heard of one case where counterfeited tablets were actually coated with road paint to achieve a similar color!

As you can imagine, the Internet marketplace is making counterfeiting even easier. Luckily, there are a number of other ways packaging design and color management technology can help. We had the opportunity to sit down with Cliff Crosfield, an independent, freelance consultant in brand protection, anti-counterfeiting and packaging, to discuss these issues.

Cliff Crosfield deals with anti-counterfeiting technologies and their application to packaging, labeling and products. The owner of Print Future Consultancy, his main focus is on brand protection, anti-counterfeiting issues and solutions, and print development for packaging.

X-Rite: What role does color play in anti-counterfeiting strategies?

Crosfield: Consumer confidence and quality assurance are vital in all markets, and anti-counterfeiting strategies are designed to detect and deter counterfeiting and to reinforce a brand’s integrity. Brand protection technologies can track and trace as well as provide authentication, proof of ownership, and brand assurance.

The counterfeit Botox on the left used the wrong name for the active ingredient. The bottle on the right includes a holographic image to verify authenticity. Image courtesy of

The counterfeit Botox on the left used the wrong name for the active ingredient. The bottle on the right includes a holographic image to verify authenticity. Image courtesy of

The integrity of a brand is often linked to color on the product, labels, and packaging. Counterfeits in the past were characterized by poor quality print or incorrect color on the packaging and labels. However, the quality of counterfeit components, including packaging, has increased to a level that makes it difficult to see the difference between the counterfeit and the genuine product.

Color can be a useful tool in authentication. Security inks can create visible color or react to a particular light source wavelength, such as fluorescence. Substrates can include invisible fluorescing planchettes, watermarks, hidden encryption or embedded threads, which can incorporate micro text and holograms. Nano and forensic taggants can be applied to packaging by incorporating them into the inks or coatings.

Taggants are uniquely encoded materials or chemicals that are virtually impossible to duplicate. When integrated into the packaging, forensic taggants are detected by proprietary laboratory equipment and some have a portable version as well; initial detection can be via portable light source in some cases.

Holograms with optical effects that change color and images can also be used with or without thermochromic inks, which reveal images or text when rubbed or heated.

X-Rite: Do different technologies work better for different markets – food, pharma, cosmetic, apparel, etc.?

Fake Hairdryer

Like most fake hair dryers, this one is missing a GFCI to prevent electrocution if the dryer falls in water. Image courtesy of

Crosfield: In some markets such as pharmaceutical and spirits and tobacco, regulatory requirements influence the technology choices. Packaging formats and brand image also play a role because marketing will look for technology integration that will not affect the graphics and brand colors.

Certain technologies are focused on specific functions, such as track and trace or tamper evidence. Inks and holograms are a good choice for customer assurance, such as for branded products, luxury, and sports merchandise. Covert applications using invisible images, hidden encryption or taggants are often used for detection and authentication of wines, spirits, and pharmaceuticals. High value branded products may utilize both overt and covert technology.

X-Rite: Can you offer any anti-counterfeiting best practices that brand owners can implement?

Crosfield: My recommendations include –

  1. Define the problem. Are you trying to combat counterfeiting, product diversion, refilling, or tampering?
  2. Consult with internal and external stakeholders to determine the role of the packaging and graphics, and decide which packaging components will be included (cap, label, leaflet, primary carton, swing tag?) If a multi-component approach is required, for example to the primary carton, a seal, a label, a blister foil inside the pack, find out which packaging or design elements cannot be altered to accommodate these changes.
  3. Define the objectives. Do you want to track and trace or assure consumers?
  4. Consult with your security, label, and packaging suppliers to evaluate which technologies are best suited for your needs, the level of security required, and how to integrate them in all packaging components throughout the manufacturing and supply chain.
  5. Consider where and how to verify the product and packaging in the supply chain and retail environments. Who will do this?
  6. Remember counterfeiters may attempt to circumvent your applications, so consider the upgradeability of the technology you choose to be able to stay ahead of them.

X-Rite: What emerging anti-counterfeiting packaging technologies are you most excited about?

Crosfield: There are a number of developing technologies, but here are a few:

  • Nano coatings (which allow for non-reproducible features) and enhanced functionality, such as grapheme-enhanced and quantum dot inks
  • Taggant technology with remote ID
  • Smart and intelligent packaging/printed electronics using conductive inks
  • 3D-additive technology with embedded taggants
  • Hidden image/encoding with mobile authentication

Some of these are in the development and early commercialization phases, while others are evolving out of other authentication technology developments.

How X-Rite can help

Consistent color helps consumers identify brands, and color management technology from X-Rite, such as the X-Rite eXact, can help manufacturers ensure consistent color – and therefore brand consistency – across the supply chain. Contact us to learn more.

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