Paper manufacturer Sappi, producer of metallic and pearlescent pigments ECKART (part of ALTANA Group) and renown finishing specialist GT/Trendhouse 42 have joined forces on an exciting collaborative development project. The objective was to create a sustainable, print based premium alternative for metallic effects to existing finishing processes requiring films. For the Metall Ink project, Sappi contributed its premium Algro Design Nature paperboard along with its expertise in coating substrates, in-depth knowledge of finishing capabilities and very specific requirements in surface quality, printability, formability and processability.
In the face of the climate crisis the demands made on materials for the packaging market today in terms of sustainability – i.e., recyclability, carbon footprint and suitability for the circular economy – are skyrocketing. At the same time, packaging needs to achieve ever-greater impact at POS, with attention-grabbing finishes such as metallic effects. This was the challenge that brought together long-standing partners Sappi, ECKART and GT/Trendhouse 42 for a joint development project referred to as Metall Ink. Starting in September 2021 the three partners – established experts in their fields – started to explore the question of whether a more sustainable, cost-effective and premium quality equivalent alternative to established foil-based finishing processes, such as hot-foil stamping and cold-transfer, could be developed using printing technology.
“This project is about so much more than simply showcasing the partners’ products – be it paper, pigments or the latest printing and finishing technologies,” explains Lars Scheidweiler, Head of Packaging Solutions at Sappi Europe. “It was clear to all of us that we could best take on the market challenges together. With this in mind, we decided to think well outside the box on this project – to create a better and more comprehensive solution with our synergistic expertise in different areas.”
Through a revolutionary advance in printing technology, a third approach is being created alongside the established hot-foil stamping and cold-transfer to achieve high-impact metallic finishing effects. The three partners’ goal was to ensure that these print-based metallic effects are similarly attractive to other processes not only in terms of visual and tactile impact, but also relating to further processability, such as embossing or scratch resistance.
Another key objective is that the refined packaging material remains its mono-material character for easy recycling and hence the preservation of valuable resource for the circular economy while minimizing process waste. In the case of conventional hot-foil stamping, for example, it isn’t only the metallic foil that produces waste. The packaging board refined in the process, which until now was a fibre-based mono-material, also becomes a composite material that is difficult to recycle. Since the Metall Ink finishing alternative does not require the use of any foil, neither as a carrier nor as the effect provider itself, fossil-based production material and their costs can be saved. With this in mind it can also be anticipated that the Metall Ink process for decoration applications will come at a lower total CO2 footprint for the decoration.
For the industry, the state-of-the-art process is opening up entirely new opportunities: “With the traditional finishing processes, you can rely on suppliers who have the technology for hot-foil stamping or cold-transfer in addition to the required printing process. With the Metall Ink approach finishing can be similarly premium, but carried out via printing and hence opening premium metallic decoration to many more suppliers to work with. And this would guarantee widespread availability,” says Christoph Sontheimer, Global Head of Business Development at ECKART, explaining the business ramification.
All three partners contributed their respective expertise to the Metall Ink project. Whereas ECKART and GT/Trendhouse 42 shared their in-depth knowledge of pigment composition and state-of-the-art finishing technology, paper manufacturer Sappi provided the ideal substrate with its Algro Design Nature solid bleached board. The premium-quality paperboard and its ultimate surface consistency with a double-coated front and uncoated reverse side boasts high-level whiteness, a silky feel and brilliant colour reproduction – making it ideal for challenging premium packaging applications.
The idea was to demonstrate the printed metallic finish under real-life conditions. The partners selected three relevant market segments: perfume, cosmetics and premium beverage packaging. “We created an imaginary brand and packaging for each segment,” Désirée Frackowiak, Key Account Manager Marketing and Communication at GT/Trendhouse 42, explains the creative process. “We focused strongly on both the graphic and formal design. In addition to several print-based metallic options and combinations we also wanted to showcase different design styles and added unique visual and tactile accents as well as packaging shapes and structures. In the end this results in three entirely distinctive packaging samples, showcasing a magnitude of options in Metall Ink based metallic decorations, visual and tactile effects that boost brand attraction on all levels and appealing to all senses.”
The folding boxes, which realistically reflect the current packaging market and on which the Metall Ink process was used for the very first time, stand out with their striking designs. All three of the folding boxes received a premium finishing with gloss varnish and embossing. Whereas the beverage packaging for Piccolo bottles was given additional visual highlights with the help of matt varnish and shiny pearlescent silver pigments, the distinctively shaped folding box for perfume received a special haptic effect using sand varnish in addition to the application of matt varnish. However, it is the spectacular sample packaging for the cosmetics and skin care sector which is especially eye-catching:
It was developed in the style of the first circular architectural icon in the Middle East, the HQ Building in Abu Dhabi. In addition to its distinctive shape, it draws attention through the selection of finishing, colour and exclusive tactile quality. The packaging is designed as a slip-on box. With a height of 190mm, it offers space for three skin care products. With a depth of 65mm, it is also very user-friendly and, thanks to its double-walled design, stable enough to withstand the weight of the products. A stabilising inlet with a height of 30mm is inserted into the base to hold the products firmly in place. As a finishing touch, the three partners designed an oval dome which, thanks to Algro Design Nature’s flexibility, is snuggly placed over the packaging like a ‘cloche’, reminiscent of a cosmetic mirror. The packaging, which also obtains pearlescent gold pigments emphasising the premium quality, was refined thanks to the cutting-edge Metall Ink process.
Dedicated Metall Ink webinars will be offered to the entire value chain of the industry, providing brand owners, designers, packaging agencies and converters the opportunity to gain valuable insights and learn about the process and how they can best capitalise on it themselves. Current developments promise that small, medium and large print runs can be strikingly brought to life with this alternative finishing technique.
Free of charge Webinars with all 3 partners will be run via Eckart’s internet platform in which you can explore striking examples, your benefits and best practise guidelines for ink-based metallic decorations. The dates will be published soon on sappi-psp.com/metall-ink-project.