By Chris Davis, IST America, and Volker Selg, IST Metz

Q: Haptics and sensory effects have gained popularity. Why?

Sensory experiences are very prevalent in how we interact – even more so on items that we buy. Explained in another way, sensory inputs influence our purchasing decisions. The combination of what we see, smell, hear and feel creates emotions. Consumers often choose what they buy in fractions of seconds and, guided by their senses and emotions, haptics create a powerful purchasing trigger.

Q: As the industry now is able to produce a spectrum of great printing effects, it is worth the additional cost to implement tactile effects?

We are “overloaded” with visual messages! As an example, if we walk around in a supermarket, we will find shelves filled with different brands of baby diapers. How do we select the correct product if we, as consumers, are not simply focused on the price? (Remember – we want what is best for the baby!)

The packaging for those products often has a “soft-touch” coating, which creates a warm, soft surface that, in turn, creates confidence (the diaper packaging mimics what baby’s skin feels like) and pushes undecided consumers to select a particular brand of diapers. All of this happens subconsciously – and not only with diapers. There are plenty of examples of commodity items that distinguish themselves simply by “feeling good in the hand.” This printing technique also is used with items that spend a lot of time in our hands, like a TV remote.

Q: Soft-touch has been known for being easily scratched or marred. How can that issue be solved?

The coating technology uses a “dual cure” system, and the last step is the UV cure – resulting in a surface that is hard and wear-resistant. UV-cured hard coatings are well known for their superior wear and scratch resistance. It also has the added benefit of moisture resistance, which is necessary for products and packaging that spend a lot of their life cycle in damp environments, such as a bathroom.

Q: Are there other effects available that we can apply online in the printing process?

Sure! Wet-touch coatings are UV-curable coatings that provide a surface that feels wet and fresh. A good example is an iced tea in a cold glass from the fridge, which feels wet – a perfect sensual experience that is achieved simply through the use of a coating applied via a flexo or gravure unit.

This 2014 sample folder from IST METZ was printed on the company’s own press using the UV sheet-fed offset printing process and given a high-quality soft-touch, matt and gloss finish. The structure of the surface, which imitates leather, is what immediately catches the eye and also is interesting to touch. Inline embossing has been used here, which has been achieved with an embossing plate from Kocher + Beck GmbH + Co. Rotationsstanztechnik KG in the printing unit. Photos and caption courtesy of

Q: Packaging film consumption continues to grow, with more focus being put on recyclable materials. Will that have an effect from eco-conscious consumers?

This is hard to predict, but for sure there are trends in Europe that indicate a greener consumer. Assuming this trend continues, there is a solution. Packaging board and paper are often smooth, which allows for trouble-free press operation without technical issues. These substrates can easily be coated with effects such as a “sand-touch” coating in the last unit to mimic the appearance of a “natural” craft board.

Q: What do printers and converters need to consider? Can they use any kind of substrate?

All these effects are achieved utilizing different coatings (and application techniques) – and sometimes different curing technologies – in tandem to achieve the desired result. UV-curable coatings can be used on almost every material (film, paper, board) for any kind of product. There may be some technical challenges with surface characteristics or thickness, but operational solutions are well developed and known. It should be noted that in some cases (as an example: pharmaceutical products or food packaging) nitrogen inertization may be needed to ensure a completely safe product, free of migration concerns, with the desired sensory characteristics.

Another item to consider, particularly with thin films, is the overall thickness of the product. Imagine a partial coating with a layer thickness of 15 micron on an 8 micron film – this could be challenging to rewind in roll-to-roll production. There are many technical aspects to this topic and, as with any new development, there are many supplier sources that can objectively guide a printer/convertor through this topic to ensure consistent, integrated and trouble-free live production.

The combination of what we see, smell, hear and feel creates emotions.

Chris Davis is head of sales – Web & Industrial Systems for IST America. A degreed mechanical engineer, Davis joined the industry in 1993, driving narrow- and mid-web press sales until 2015, when he joined IST. Areas of expertise include printing, converting and industrial applications.

Volker Selg is head of sales – Web Print at IST Metz. On completing his technical education, Selg started in the graphic arts industry in 1989 at IST Metz GmbH as technical engineer. Since then, he has held various positions within sales and now leads the team. He is a market specialist in packaging, printing and converting.

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