Sappi and partners develop sustainable alternative in metallic finishing technology

Paper manufacturer Sappi, finishing specialist GT/Trendhouse 42 and pigment manufacturer ECKART have created a sustainable, print based premium alternative for metallic effects to existing finishing processes requiring films.

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 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.

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 minimising 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.

“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,” said Christoph Sontheimer, Global Head of Business Development at ECKART.

The objective of the Metall Ink project 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,” explained Désirée Frackowiak, Key Account Manager Marketing and Communication at GT/Trendhouse 42. “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.”

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 three 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