Special Effects Labels

By Steve Katz | August 21, 2008

In the wake of the sustainability movement and the desire to be cost effective, special effects labels continue to evolve.

Along time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." This is how the 1977 film Star Wars opens, with the words crawling or "rolling up" the screen, as the effect was called. It dazzled viewers, and what followed was one of the first films of its kind, one laden with a variety of special effects including laser beams, explosions, and even holograms. With this film, moviemakers stumbled upon the strategy of utilizing special effects as effective tools to capture and hold the attention of moviegoers. Similarly, label converters, like their movie producing counterparts, have also employed the use of special effects to captivate customers and end users alike.

The "Chicago" image was created using the patent-pending Cast and Cure special effect labeling process.
Special effects labels have come a long way, and label converters have several options when aiming to produce a label that does something special. Whether a label sparkles, shines, glows, changes colors, feels different, or is in 3D, it's doing something that hopefully is going to make it stand out from the crowd. Additionally, some labels designed with a special effect have the added bonus of the desired effect doubling as a security measure. Also, like most any other aspect of label converting, the drive to produce a product that gleams is also coupled with the goal of producing one that's green as well.

Cast and Cure

A common goal in label converting today is finding a way to produce a high quality, effective label, while at the same time maintaining an affordable and environmentally friendly product. Breit Technologies, based in Lenexa, KS, USA, is a company with more than 35 years of experience within the printing industry. The company is the exclusive sales and service agent of a patent-pending process called Cast and Cure, or C2.

Cast and Cure is a decorative coating process that integrates "casting" and "curing" techniques to form a consistent high quality surface that can include ultra high gloss, matte and holographic finishes on a variety of substrates. This effect can be created in both sheetfed and web (flexo and gravure) environments. C2 is designed as an application for the decorative print market and can also be incorporated with anti-counterfeiting features.

Here's how it works: The Cast and Cure process uses a holographic film in combination with a UV coating (or other energy curable product) on any substrate to "cast" a holographic effect into the UV coating. While the holographic film, UV coating and substrate are in contact, the UV coating is "cured." Then, as the film is removed from the substrate, the holographic effect is left on the surface of the material in the UV coating. Since there is no transfer of material taking place, as in cold foil, the film is reusable.

The Cast and Cure process is flexible when it comes to design. The effect is applied only where the UV coating is printed, allowing for a wide range of design options. Thus, the need for opaque white is eliminated.

In terms of substrate usage, C2 is also flexible. The process can be applied to almost any substrate that can be UV coated, allowing for a broad range of applications when compared with traditional holographic choices such as lamination and foil. Examples of C2's substrate capabilities include usage on toothpaste tubes and cartons, DVD "O" covers and slip sheets, outer cartons, as well as inside labels.

For a label converter who desires special effects capabilities, particularly one looking for an alternative to hot and cold foiling, C2 might be a good fit.

"C2 produces holographic effects without the traditional transfer methods of hot or cold foiling. Breit Technologies' proprietary application is a reusable and sustainable process. Compared to foil transfer applications, C2 reduces landfill waste and the overall carbon footprint is greatly reduced," says Dan Plash, sales manager, web division.

Plash notes what he says are environmental advantages to utilizing Cast and Cure as opposed to foiling. "The application and set up can be considered similar to cold foiling in web path only. Because C2 material is reusable, the web handling equipment must be far and above the current level of waste rewinds used with cold foil setups. Breit Technologies has developed a line of equipment that enhances the overall application and ensures that the full benefit of the process is achieved. Retrofitting of the equipment can be accomplished on virtually any web press as well as most sheetfed offset presses," says Plash.

Plash is sure to point out that C2 is not a process that will eradicate foiling as a special effects method, but rather as an alternative that is environmentally friendly. He explains: "C2 was not created to replace the need for hot and cold foil. There will always be customers wanting shiny silver or gold details. Rather, C2 will add yet another decorative option, an option that happens to provide unheard of profit margins while providing a green alternative to foil." Plash says that C2 echoes the objectives of Wal-Mart's sustainability mandates.

"The 'greener' aspect of the Cast and Cure process is reached in several ways. The UV inks and coatings used in the process produce none of the harmful VOCs associated with other processes, the reusability of the casting film reduces the overall carbon footprint of the process, the casting film is recyclable, and finally the recyclability of the final product is unaffected by the Cast and Cure process," explains Tim Cain, president of Breit Technologies.

Breit Technologies' C2 Deco-Mod, one way of incorporating Cast and Cure
While label companies seek out and embrace green alternatives, the fact remains that these choices won't get adopted if they doesn't make sense financially. Cast and Cure's reusability is what might set it apart from other special effects options, as this characteristic makes it easy on a printer's bottom line – profit margins. Plash says one roll of Cast and Cure can be used up to 12 times, yet printers pay for only one roll.

"Cast and Cure's cost effectiveness is a major advantage, and a big reason why I can see this really catching on throughout the industry," says Jesse Crum, research and development manager, Ward/Kraft, Fort Scott, KS, USA. Ward/Kraft has been using Cast and Cure for about four months, and it has fitted both a flexo and sheet offset press with equipment to apply the Cast and Cure.

"There's a big difference between this and the typical method of buying a roll of holographic films and using part of it. With C2 we are casting and curing a coating in the shape of a holographic image, as opposed to transferring the film to a substrate and making it permanent," says Crum. "I could really see this becoming the next big thing in the printing industry."

Bill McKnight, director, Web Flexo Division, Ellis Packaging Group, Pickering, ON, Canada, also raves about Cast and Cure's performance, flexibility, and value. He says, "Our customers appreciate the element of customization along with the potential anti-counterfeiting properties. From a cost and performance standpoint, this technology outperforms any current package decorating option we have at our disposal."

The Cast and Cure process is currently being used in a variety of markets including consumer goods, media packaging, publications and pharmaceuticals. The decorative functions along with the added security and brand protection features allow for adoption on a large variety of packaging products.
C2 is available exclusively through Breit Technologies. For more information, contact Dan Plash at 612-270-6863.


Vacumet, headquartered in Wayne, NJ, USA, is a company that produces holographic and metalized papers and films. A leader in vacuum metalizing, Vacumet is the single largest commercial metalizing company in the world, and plays a key role in supplying label converters with the materials used to produce special effects labels. While Vacumet supplies face stock to the industry's major pressure sensitive converters, it also works directly with narrow web label converters themselves in supplying them with metalized and holographic materials.   

Vacumet's holographic materials have been essential components of products that have captured several packaging and printing awards. Vacumet's holography can be seen throughout the marketplace on Hasbro board games, Rolling Stone magazine, Miller Lite, Microsoft computer games, and Santa Sweets tomatoes.

Among Vacumet's products are its VACU-BRITE and HoloPRISM brands of films and papers. The VACU-BRITE substrates feature a smooth, shiny metallic appearance. The effect is designed to convey high quality and value, allowing a product to stand out from the competition. VACU-BRITE can also be embossed to create a textured feel and look.

The HoloPRISM papers and films feature illuminating, holographic effects. This material, when combined with print graphics, is designed to capture the attention of consumers. Joe Formosa, HoloPRISM business manager, Metalized Paper Division, talks about what he sees as a growing trend in terms of holography used in packaging. He says, "Holography used to be associated only with the Christmas season, promotions, or packaging targeting children. This has changed in recent years. Now, we're seeing it used a great deal more for branding purposes. We're seeing holography used more than ever when products are being branded or re-launched."

A great example of this, Formosa says, can be found in the toothpaste aisle of the market. "For years, Colgate toothpaste was the number two brand of toothpaste behind Crest. But they re-launched their product and used holography in its new packaging. Colgate's use of holography in its re-branding soon propelled them to number one over Crest. They see the value in using holography in its branding, so they've kept it that way," Formosa says.

Vacumet's metalized papers are used in labeling for both their decorative appeal, as well as an authentication and security measure.
HoloSECURE security paper is a product Vacumet offers that's not only used as a decorative effect, but appeals to customers as a security product. HoloSECURE uses covert imagery technology where an image, invisible to the naked eye, becomes visible when illuminated with a specific laser light. Formosa says, "Our papers have been used for some unique security and authentication applications. Some examples include stamps for verification of duty payment as well as some interesting ones like ID passes for entry into select NASCAR events."

Vacumet's products are distinctly environmentally friendly and the company is in the process of being FSC certified. "When compared to the alternative of using aluminum foil, HoloPRISM and VACU-BRITE offer several sustainability advantages," says Franco Diaz, director of marketing. "We use a vacuum metalizing process which vaporizes aluminum to achieve the metalized and holographic effects. Our process uses a fraction of the amount of energy that's used to manufacture aluminum foil based products. We use upward of 700 times less aluminum than foil applications."

Diaz points out that Vacumet's paper products have been certified as having less than the allowable limits of heavy metal elements including lead, cadmium, chromium and mercury, as specified by CONEG (Clean Land Fill Requirements), the Standard Consumer Safety Specification on Toy Safety, and EN-71 (European standards).

In 2009, Vacumet will celebrate its 40 year anniversary of manufacturing and supplying metalized products for the packaging and printing industries.


LCR Hallcrest is a Chicago based manufacturer of temperature sensitive inks and promotional products that change color. The company works with label converters in the development and production of temperature sensitive labels using thermochromic technology.

There is a lot of science at play in achieving this special effect's goal in communicating a message to potential customers. Chromazone is the company's reversible temperature sensitive ink that changes color within the range of what LCR Hallcrest refers to as "touch sensitive temperature." The special effect of the ink changing color works on the principle of thermochromism. Scientifically, here's how it works: A solvent in a solid state, along with an organic acid and a colorant, are placed in a polymeric microcapsule. If the temperature is below the melting point of the solvent, the color-forming components are in contact. Thus, due to electron interaction, a visible color occurs. That's the science of it.

A popular example of LCR Hallcrest's Chromazone at work, is the recent marketing campaign of Coors Light beer in the United States. The campaign refers to the packaging as a "Cold Activated Bottle." The Chromazone is contained within the graphics of the mountains on the label, and when the mountains turn blue, the beer is "as cold as the Rockies." So, when chilled, the ink turns from white to blue. Similar jobs have been done with wine labels, where the Chromazone is used to indicate when the wine has reached its optimal temperature for consumption.

Scott Szafraniec, sales manager, LCR Hallcrest, says the company has worked extensively with narrow web converters. "In flexo and narrow web, we've done a lot of work in producing color changing labels in the beverage markets, particularly water bottles, milk containers, wine and champagne."

The specific color change, Szafraniec says, is determined by a number of things. "It depends on what type of color we're working with. Ambient colors change from color to clear when the temperature reaches between 25 and 27 degrees Celsius. The color's intensity is then determined by the thickness of the substrate, and is also dependent on the cell volume of the anilox roll being used," Szafraniec says.

LCR Hallcrest will work with converters in coming up with a custom color changing scheme. They work with flexo as well as UV screen inks, and the inks are available in nine colors: blue, black, magenta, red, orange, green, yellow, purple and turquoise. In terms of the type of change, there are three options: color to clear, clear to color, or color to color.

In addition to the beverage applications, Szafraniec says thermochromic game pieces have also been a big hit. A recent example, he says, is the game piece the company created for a joint venture with Burger King restaurants and Coca-Cola. The job was run on a flexo press. The tag line of the contest was "Chill It and You Could Win." Game pieces distributed to customers gave instructions to hold the game piece containing the Chromazone to the cold beverage container. When the piece reached a specific temperature, a message printed with the Chromazone ink revealed if the customer was a winner.

While this job was primarily a promotional game piece, it also doubled as a security device. "We had it as a two part label that once you peeled off the tamper proof portion of it you could not re-attach it. So this served as a security feature and then the color change was from invisible to visible once it got cold."

Not all of Chromazone's applications involve cold temperatures. For example, the ink has also been applied in "touch sensitive" products. Gift cards and game cards are produced that feature color changing effects when certain areas are simply touched, thus raising the temperature by using the heat emitted from the skin.

LCR Hallcrest is proud of its ability to creatively use its products in a variety of ways and encourages custom made formulations and applications. The company states, "Bring us your color changing ideas, and we'll work with you to find a solution."

Capturing the senses

CCL Industries Inc., with North American headquarters in Toronto, ON, Canada, is a world leader in manufacturing, packaging and labeling for the consumer products industry. Truly a global label converter, special effects labeling is an area of focus for CCL.

Dimensional Vision, from
CCL Label, gives a label a 3D component.
"Bold Effects to Capture the Senses" is the tag line for CCL's portfolio of special effects labels. It is meant to convey the company's philosophy in regard to its products.

"With all the products on the market today, we believe that a label needs to do more then make a product look pretty sitting on the shelf. There has to be something extra to increase that shelf presence, engage the consumer with more then just the visual. CCL Label is working to bring scent, touch and the unexpected visual into the experience using special 'sensory effects' on the label," says Christie Bailey, group marketing manager, Decorating Solutions Group.

Bailey says that the use of tactile effects are a current trend among CCL's customers. "We have a popular product called Dimensional Vision that gives labels a unique 3D component. Dimensional Vision is very versatile in the number of ways it can be incorporated to enhance label graphics. Uses are raised alpha numeric type, detailed graphic figures or even the look of water droplets on the label. Dimensional Vision is a screen applied varnish based effect and has very good product resistant properties."

Two other special effects products CCL is excited about are Lightscapes and Kromavision. These products offer customers an alternative to more traditional options such as holograms. Bailey describes: "Lightscapes manipulates light creating a motion effect or a light interference 'sparkle.' There is also a tactile component to the printed piece as this is a screen applied effect. Lightscapes has an impact that can rival holograms and is simply printed over graphics as an overall effect or on a spot basis. There are products in the marketplace from personal care to garden care products that carry this effect."

Kromavision is a product that was developed to rival the expensive color shift pigments and uses CCL's proprietary lenses process. "On a label it creates a changing color palette within the graphics. It works best as backgrounds or solid graphic elements where there is enough area to achieve the movement," Bailey says.

Crown Roll Leaf

Crown Roll Leaf, located in a 175,000 square foot facility in Paterson, NJ, USA, is the largest foil manufacturer in the United States and has been in business for 36 years. The company manufactures a variety of materials for special effects labeling purposes including standard hot stamping products; golds, silvers, metallic colors, pigments, as well as holographic images and diffraction gratings. Crown's products are available both in the form of hot stamp film transfers and in the form of film laminates.

Crown Roll Leaf is a fully integrated company in that all processes including holographic originations and creation of new diffraction patterns are done within the confines of the facility where its products are also coated, metalized and converted. The company has its own holographic origination department and art department and offer customers design services as well as holographic production samples.

Crown's special effects and holographic and diffraction grating labels are over-printable, over-coatable and can be hot stamped, cold stamped or laminated. Stewart Glazer, Crown's national sales manager, discusses Crown's products that are popular among label converters today.

"Currently, most label converters are buying a variety of diffraction grating foils offering them highly reflective patterns chosen to be seen regardless of the lighting in which their products will be displayed. Our products are used on personal care items, food items, pharmaceutical items, security items and a variety of retail and commercial items that require product identification and visibility in retail store environments," Glazer says.

Crown's line of 2D and 3D products are made in Crown's holographic facility from start to finish. "Their appeal is that they reflect multiple dimensions which are hard to counterfeit but also draw attention to the particular products that they are used on. Their limitation is that they can only be used effectively in areas that are extremely well lit. 2D and 3D products are generally used to add security and to deter counterfeit products. Currently the most popular special effects used by our label markets are products that are very diffractive, both metalized and C-Thru that can be hot stamped, cold stamped or laminated but offer high visibility in all of the environments in which these products are displayed.

Glazer reports that decorated personal care items, in particular, have demonstrated successful returns on investments for manufacturers. He says, "Products using labels decorated with diffraction gratings will generate strong visual interest on retail shelves versus non-decorated labels. The competition for all products on store market shelves has increased dramatically and those that are designed and decorated with diffraction grating patterns have received the most attention and demonstrated the most sales."