Cover art: combining digital printing techniques

27 June 2017



Digital design is reshaping printing in the global beverages market but the real shift is coming from combining printing techniques. Ceri Jones reports that these techniques produce labels that are more responsive to today’s changing lifestyles but still create deep connections with consumers.


The time-tested idiom ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is stretched to the limits in today’s visually overstimulating world. While the phrase may hold true for books, it certainly doesn’t extend to the expanding beverages market, where a label’s shelf appeal can mean the difference between a brand’s failure and success.

It is now vital to present well-crafted, original packaging that not only stands out on the shelf but also brings depth of meaning or added value to the product. This provides a richness of design as well as a concise idea of the brand’s ethos to help decision-making.

Digital printing techniques are gradually redeveloping the printing landscape, providing a way for manufacturers to create crisp, colourtrue packaging, yet allowing them to rapidly change the design on a run for a seamless, cost-effective printing process. Traditional printing technologies still have a strong position but the uptake of digital printing is opening up opportunities for creativity, producing packaging with powerful impact.

Print gets crafty

The concept of a craft beverage is changing, a necessary evolution due to continual market growth. Once defined as a small production using unusual ingredients, the rising popularity of craft beverages, particularly beers and lagers, means production is now larger to meet the public thirst and even major companies are using adventurous ingredients to stay on trend.

As GlobalData consumer insight shows, the craft market today exists as more of an ideology. Although the products themselves are still central, it is about the pursuit of a lifestyle of independence reinforced by choosing products that stand apart from the norm.

New printing techniques are helping manufacturers connect with consumers by making their packaging a statement of craft values, even if their production might not necessarily be. One trend in this movement is tactile packaging. Not only does a unique texture afford presence, but it may mean that once a consumer picks the product up, they won’t put it back down.

Twickenham Fine Ales in the UK takes this approach with its designaward- winning labels. The brewery’s Old Hands American pale ale is the first in the country to use the denali hop, a rich citrus and pineapple-flavoured hop grown in the US. To highlight this unusual ingredient and make a space in the expanding craft beer sector, the company wanted a dynamic label design that would be striking and also capture the brewery’s heritage.

A combination of printing techniques was employed for maximum effect. The lower half of the aluminium can was coloured a vibrant blue. The upper half was turned into a shiny metallic, textured copper created by using digital print on a silver substrate, then applying a reticulating varnish. The result is an attractive colour palette that’s rough to the touch, akin to ‘shaking hands’ with a beer.

Twickenham Fine Ales director Ben Norman says that the spot varnish has the texture of creases in the palm of a hand as well as a combination of vivid colours with copper effect. “The pattern of the varnish, mimicking the palm of the hand, helped feed into the brand name and rationale of being the oldest London microbrewery, and ‘old hands’ at the brewing scene, giving us the experience to make great beers. It literally creates a feel for the brand,” he says.

While the printing techniques are not unique, the creativity of the multiple stages has produced an original sensory experience and a deeper connection with the brand. “It created a bright stand-out on shelf – a talking point for consumers and trade, and an extra sensory level to the product when held and consumed,” Norman says. “All this helped create a point of difference in a crowded marketplace.”

Another design-award winner for combination printing is Scotland’s Pickering’s Gin, based in Edinburgh.

Leah Shaw Hawkins, Pickering’s Gin brand manager, says the 1947 Original Recipe Gin was released in July 2015. “As the third product in our core range, it was important that our packaging reflected our other products,” she says. “We produce small batch products with a premium edge and as such we require premium finishes, like copper foiling and tactile varnish over and above a standard digital print, which is common among our smaller competitors. We also needed our label to nod to the provenance of our brand, notably the Bombay recipe from which this gin is distilled.

“In contrast with our other core products – Pickering’s Gin and Pickering’s Navy Strength – our 1947 recipe is distilled exactly to the recipe written down in Mount Mary, Bombay, in 1947. The flavour profile is more fragrant and spiced than most on the market, so the label reflects the uniqueness of the product. The paisley print that covers the background is an elegant nod to the Indian recipe, while the colour management ensures that we retain strong brand recognition alongside our core range products.”

Pickering’s Gin uses combined label printing techniques to place its story front and centre, capturing the essence of its history and yet maintaining a core contemporary, luxury feel.

Get a grip

Brewer And Union’s unfiltered lager is intended to tap into the millennial market, showcasing what it terms a modernist, clean style while touting an ‘old school’ lager flavour. Importance is given to the “rationality, simplicity, and the honest expression of the nature of materials and their quality” which is expressed via the packaging of the beer cans.

It created a bright stand-out on shelf – a talking point for consumers and trade, and an extra sensory level to the product when held and consumed.

And Union’s unfiltered lager has a striking design in the form of a twopiece black and white aluminium can. The body of the can is printed white with a subtle pearlised effect, while the text is printed black with small areas of orange. It features a black ring pull. Heightening the elegant effect, the can is embossed with a pattern of different-sized, tessellating rectangles and squares that give the appearance of a brick wall. The drink’s nutritional information is precisely positioned to fill specific rectangular blocks on the back.

Overall, the effect of embossing and use of black and white print meets And Union brand’s ‘old school’ ethos, suiting consumers seeking retro and highly individual products. Also, embossing the metal improves grip. Despite the obvious work put into the aesthetic, the can appears modest, placing confidence instead in the quality and taste of the product. As many craft beers are choosing increasingly bold artwork to grab consumer attention, the absence of any artwork here makes the can instantly eyecatching and therefore enticing to an audience that is deliberately moving away from mass appeal.

Several other craft beers are adopting this tactile packaging by printing on aluminium or shrink-sleeve plastic. For instance, Bristol Beer Factory’s Southville Hop American IPA is supplied in bottles with a selfadhesive opaque film label that is matte printed, with a rough finish from a varnish coating. The label looks like paper but feels like textured film. Similarly, Fuller’s Montana Red US-style red ale uses a self-adhesive metalised film label, matte printed with a varnish topcoat for texture, that is wrapped around an aluminium can. In both instances, the minimalism of design elements and focus on ‘hand feel’ help the beverages develop an attitude that fulfils consumer desires for an alternative product and a practical tactility that improves grip.

The power of three

Larger mainstream brands also have a lot to gain from cutting-edge printing techniques, particularly when releasing limited or special edition beverages. This approach ensures the packaging remains in keeping with the brand’s image, while declaring a one-off identity.

People between the ages of 25 and 34 are most drawn to beverages that match their individualism.

Market leader Heineken decided to do just this with the introduction of a lager series called Lager Explorations, where each limited edition brew features ingredients, and therefore a taste, redolent of a specific geographic region. The first is H41, a lager brewed using a new type of yeast recently discovered growing wild in Patagonia. The yeast is said to be the ‘mother’ of Heineken’s A-yeast, and adds fruity and spicy notes to the lager, resulting in a more sophisticated, premium taste than the cool, crisp standard.

The label takes its name from the latitude coordinates of the place where the yeast was discovered. It was essential for it to reflect the distinctive character of the lager as well as the wild, rare and exotic elements of the yeast. To convey this, H41 has a complex label concept – covering the bottle neck, front and back – that is produced by combining the three printing techniques of rotary screen, flexography and foil stamping.

Although the label is clear, the midsection is paper, using paper and metallic effects. In a nod to Heineken’s signature green, the label has a softer, smoky green colour for a sense of mystery. The bold, clean H41 name and brilliant silver “limited edition” text, along with the subtle green hue deliver a premium presentation and an emphasis on ingredients that is more commonly found on wine packaging. The Wild Lager label manages to balance brand identity and exclusivity, reassuring loyal consumers while also encouraging them to try something new.

A graphic statement

Bottled wines vary in shape, colour and decoration but rarely stray from the elegant packaging tradition of a paper label or screen-printing directly on to the glass. Considering this, Kiss Me Grüner’s grüner veltliner wine is a real disrupter in more ways than one. The Austrian dry white wine is being marketed as an alternative to a sauvignon blanc but the real wow factor is the sheer originality and borderline aggression of the printing.

The wine is in a blow-moulded clear glass bottle with a glossy white spray coating, making it immediately eyecatching. In addition, the bottle label consists of an unusually shaped selfadhesive paper that displays vivid artwork. Some parts of the artwork have a thick, gloss paint finish, so that it appears to be slicked on to the bottle like graffiti.

Designer Oxana Prantl uses pop art prints splashed over the label, with the stylised face of Queen Elizabeth in lime green and candy pink colours. The label harks back to iconic images of the queen in punk culture. It also fits the aesthetic of modern day post-punk palettes.

Prantl’s use of labelling as an ‘expression of freedom’ and youth culture is powerful. Design takes precedence over information, subverting perceived snobbery in the wine sector. It juxtaposes radical artwork on the front with the chic white gloss bottle and silver embellishments that suggest a premium product such as a specialedition champagne. GlobalData consumer research shows that 43% of consumers enjoy products with a personalised element that enables them to express their identities. People between the ages of 25 and 34 are most drawn to beverages that match their individualism, and this creative printing produces a product that helps consumers make a choice while also making a statement.

While some messages are upfront, other companies make a barely noticeable change that has enormous impact. For instance, pressure-sensitive labels have been in use for some time, helping the plastic recovery process by preventing PET contamination. Brands such as Glaceau Smartwater now use 100% recyclable pressure sensitive labels that can be easily removed, while the label itself and inks used are entirely recyclable, so that more can be recovered.

Nick Brown, head of sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners, says, “We are continually evolving our recycling strategy through new investment and product innovations, with the 100% recyclable label used on our GLACÉAU Smartwater bottles being an example of our best practice in sustainable packaging.

“We are committed to minimising the environmental impact of our operations and contributing positively across society, including our efforts to increase the recyclability of our products and the overall ease of recycling for consumers. In doing this, we work together with the public, local and national stakeholders, and other industry professionals to support a strong circular economy for packaging materials.”

Heineken’s limited edition lager.
Pickering’s Gin label has hints of luxury.
The striking, colourful Old Hands beer label.


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