Consumer Electronics

SPOTLIGHT: Label Technology

Posted: December 8, 2009 by
Ron Romanik

Traditional adhesive labels may become a thing of the past when Sherwood Technology’s DataLase™ ink and laser techniques start making the rounds. Sherwood Technology Ltd., the color-change specialist company from the United Kingdom, made quite an impression at Pack Expo 2004 in Chicago. Demonstrations of its instantaneous laser-marking color change solution were a hit with attendees.

The innovative application of this technology allows images such as barcodes, two-dimensional codes, logos, and graphics to be produced by a low power CO2 laser directly onto any surface. The company hopes this process will replace the time-consuming two-step process of printing labels and applying them. The “virtual” label becomes an integral part of the packaging, and unlike conventional labels will not peel or fall off the package.

DataLase™ itself is a non-toxic and environmentally friendly ink, coating, or substrate additive that produces a positive image when marked by a low-power CO2 laser. The ink, coating, or additive undergoes a simple chemical color change and creates an image that is stable and has high contrast. Using a low-powered laser to mark directly on the product is a much cheaper option than any established printing technique, as it removes the cost of the label itself, machine maintenance costs, and machine downtime losses.

Laser-marking transparent products
Sherwood followed up the highly successful 2004 launch of DataLase™ with the innovative DataLase™ Clear. As an additive that can be dissolved into solvent-based coatings, this DataLase™ Clear allows images to be marked directly into transparent materials. By combining chemistry, substrate conversion, and laser energy, DataLase™ Clear provides high-speed coding, marking, and printing.

DataLase™ Clear enables images to be transferred onto— or “into” transparent media without interfering with the translucency of the substrate. The advantages are high contrast images, rapidly applied, using a low power supply, and with higher fidelity. More importantly, because this process does not require the use of inkjet fluid or transfer ribbons, there is very little maintenance involved.

The ability to form images directly between the layers of a clear laminate film or self adhesive label while retaining the integrity of the uppermost layer is a critically important aspect of the technology. Absolute image permanence and resistance to abrasion are guaranteed. Furthermore, the embedding of the laser responsive DataLase™ Clear coating within a laminate construction can bestow a number of overt and covert security features as valuable brand-protection devices.

The process is carried out either by doping the additive directly into an existing coating or by a separate coating operation. When the coated material comes into contact with the output from a low power CO2 laser, it changes from clear to black, producing a high-contrast indelible image inside the substrate. The additive and technology are completely non-hazardous and compatible with a wide range of binder systems and ketonic, aromatic, and ester solvents.

Andrew Jackson, Sherwood’s applications marketing manager, says DataLase™ Clear has greatly expanded labeling possibilities. “We are extremely excited by the huge potential offered by this new additive,” says Jackson. “In the past, manufacturers of transparent products have had few viable options when it comes to the marking and coding of their materials.”

Anti-counterfeiting benefits
The DataLase™ technology can offer quite a range of labeling solutions, and one application is certainly the fight against counterfeiting. DataLase™ and DataLase™ Clear can be used for brand protection and security applications by providing products with their own unique mark.

DataLase™ can tag packages and products permanently and discreetly, and minimize their fraudulent reproducibility either overtly or covertly. For example, DataLase™ has the ability to overtly mark a product with its own distinctive “fingerprint,” such as a tiny two-dimensional datamatrix code formed through films. This finger print can be permanently embedded or “sandwiched” in laminates, and cannot be easily reproduced or removed.

DataLase™ Clear also enables the covert checking of a product’s authenticity. Counterfeiters are unable to spot the presence of the laser-responsive DataLase™ Clear material, because it only becomes visible when exposed to energy from a low-power CO2 laser. The DataLase™ Clear image remains undetectable up to the very point where authenticity needs to be verified.

Jackson says the application of DataLase™ technology for security is an exciting application of the technology. “Existing methods have become stagnant and predictable to counterfeiters who find ways around them,” explains Jackson. “We expect brand protection applications to be key development areas for the DataLase™ technology.”

In the applications laboratory
Sherwood’s recent opening of its Applications Laboratory allows potential licensees to see firsthand the future possibilities of laser marking, to test the final results of laser-marking their products, and to catch a glimpse of the future. Under appropriate secrecy agreements, prospective licensees are invited to share in early viewings of exciting new possibilities.

Using the facilities of Sherwood’s Applications Laboratory, products can be marked utilizing the most comprehensive range of CO2 lasers available, including the Domino S100; Markem SmartLase; Videojet S10 and Alltec CS10. A range of demonstrations show potential applications in date coding, bar coding, virtual labeling, and graphics printing.

It is also possible to test material responsiveness to a selection of energy sources at different wavelengths—and even using diode lasers. Diode laser technology is developing rapidly, and facilitates the marking of a wide range of substrates at a lower cost than a YAG laser. “We are really excited at the prospect of opening up this new initiative to provide our clients with infinite imaging solutions,” says Jackson.

Each of Sherwood’s technologies will be available through a series of application licensing agreements and strategic partnerships. Further information is available at