Labeling Features Combat Product Counterfeiting

A combination of security methods helps brands take preventative measures against duplicates

By Stan Chess, Applications Engineer at RRD Label Solutions

The magnitude of counterfeiting and piracy is huge and growing. According to “The Global Brand Counterfeiting and Trademark Infringement Report, 2018,” by R Strategic Global, the worldwide impact of counterfeiting is expected to reach $1.95 trillion by 2022.[1] To protect their brands, manufacturers can take precautions with packaging and labeling security features, frequently changing them to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters.

Today’s packaging and labeling suppliers offer a myriad of security methods, from printed electronics to tamper-evident packaging. While the range of options can be overwhelming, the best path to the right solution begins with the adoption of simple—and often low-cost—measures like tamper-evident technologies. From there, manufacturers can extend into a mix of overt, covert or forensic features to create layers of protection.

Overt, Covert, and Forensic Methods

Products with multiple security layers stand a stronger chance against counterfeiters. Incorporating overt, covert and forensic methods exponentially increases the complexity of counterfeiting.

Overt features, like hot or cold foil or holograms, are visible to the naked eye, and often are the lowest-cost option. They allow authentication without the need of a special tool. Overt features allow product handlers to quickly glance at a package and verify its authenticity. Covert features are hidden security measures that can be detected using low-cost tools, like scanners or fluorescent lights.

High-security forensic features are undetectable and can only be authenticated by specially equipped labs. For example, taggants are microscopic particles containing multiple color layers which translate to a numeric code. The only way to read the information on a taggant is with a custom reader. Because taggants do not alter the label or package’s appearance, they go undetected by counterfeiters. Taggants can be used throughout the supply chain to confirm authenticity, and products with forensic security are uniquely encoded and admissible in court. Such features have applications in high-stakes industries like pharmaceuticals, where counterfeit products are a matter of life and death.

Combining Tamper Evidence and Discrete Features

Simple, tamper-evident verification solutions form an essential first step toward greater security as they allow consumers to instantly assess whether their products have been compromised. Such features include retro-reflective materials that verify authenticity and labels made with destructible substrates that easily fracture to indicate when a package has been previously opened.

Following the tamper-evident layer, manufacturers can incorporate print-based security features like hot and cold foil printing as well as microtext or coding that is printed so small it cannot be seen without a magnifying glass. Microtext characters can be inserted into overt images, text and other design elements without consumers being aware of them. Microtext is very difficult to replicate or copy without using advanced detection equipment, so counterfeiters simply copy the visible elements and examiners can verify authenticity.

Ink-based security features offer another level of protection. Advances in printing technologies allow packaging engineers to incorporate color-shifting, penetrating, thermochromic, visible or invisible, UV fluorescent and pen- or rub-activated inks for additional forms of verification.

Ever-changing Design

No matter how many security features brand owners manage to fit on a package, counterfeiters will eventually catch up. Not only is it important to combine and layer different defense measures, it is also critical to change those features often. Introducing new layers of protection and modifying existing features’ designs, barcodes and ink colors periodically allows packagers to both test out new security measures and preemptively stop any counterfeiters from replicating products.

To stay on the cutting edge of these technologies, brand owners should lean on their relationships with suppliers to stay abreast of advances in anti-counterfeiting technology and understand the latest solutions.

About RRD

RRD is a global provider of multichannel business communications services and marketing solutions. RRD offers a portfolio of capabilities, experience and scale that enables organizations around the world to create, manage, deliver and optimize their marketing and business communications strategies. For more information, visit


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