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Enhancing Your Brand with Digimarc Barcode | Designing for Digimarc Barcode for Packaging

09 April 2021

Effective design and enhancement of packaging requires consideration of a number of factors including printing technology, package size, package form, the amounts of process color and spot color inks on the package, and the overall ink coverage.

Designing for Digimarc Barcode for Packaging

Effective design and enhancement of packaging requires consideration of a number of factors including printing technology, package size, package form, the amounts of process color and spot color inks on the package, and the overall ink coverage. The figure below provides an overview of how much visual impact these factors have on an enhanced package. The discussion following elaborates on each of these factors.

Printing Technology

Printing technology includes digital printing, offset printing and HD flexography, flexography, metal decoration, and dry offset and screen printing. In all printing environments, the same factors that affect overall image quality similarly affect the effectiveness of Digimarc Barcodes. However, Digimarc Barcodes are sometimes applied to spot colors that have been screened back, so minimum dot requirements and dot gain are often particularly important factors. The production designer must understand the printing environment and have accurate profiles to achieve optimal results.

Some newer dry offset technologies have improved the quality of image reproduction and permit the use of process colors. These developments make it simpler and more effective to apply Digimarc Barcodes in this environment.

Package Size

The size of packages becomes an issue for enhancement only with smaller packages. Very small containers pose a challenge simply because of the small area of ink available for enhancement. Generally speaking, it is challenging, though not impossible, to apply a Digimarc Barcode effectively to an area smaller than two inches on a side.

Package Form

Like traditional barcodes, Digimarc Barcodes are most easily read on rigid packages with flat surfaces. This obviously includes boxes, but it also includes specialty packages with flat surfaces and labels that are applied to flat surfaces.

Flexible packages are more challenging for achieving good enhancement results, but replication of the Digimarc Barcode across the package makes good results possible. Firm flexible packages permit better results than softer packages. For example, a firm pouch with a flat bottom that stands on its own or otherwise holds it shape is a better enhancement target than a soft pouch that does not stand or hold its shape.

Labels applied to firm cylindrical surfaces can work well, though smaller diameter cylindrical containers with more dramatic curvature may require a bit more enhancement strength to achieve adequate readability. The same is true of labels printed directly onto cans or curved plastic containers.


Process colors in a design provide good opportunities for enhancement. Process color images typically have sufficient texture, noise, and color variety to enable application of a readable Digimarc Barcode with minimal perceptibility. If the process color elements are large enough and strategically placed in a design — covering corners and central areas of a panel, for example — you can achieve sufficient readability without applying Digimarc Barcodes in more challenging elements such as spot colors and white areas.

If your design does not already include process color elements, you may wish to consider adding them. Images that include woods, gardens, plants, people, crowds, or busy backgrounds are very good candidates for enhancement, as are images with textures such as wood grain, sand, or fabric.

Effective application of Digimarc Barcodes in spot color elements can be challenging. Spot colors are often applied as solid inks for vibrancy and brand identification, but modulation in solid inks may be unacceptably perceptible. When it is necessary to enhance a spot color art element, keep in mind that colors in the midrange of red reflectance are better candidates for enhancement than colors with high or low red reflectance.

Before you finalize a package design that includes spot colors, work with your production designer to review your enhancement options and avoid surprises. If you have the flexibility to place spot color elements near other art elements that are more susceptible to the application of Digimarc Barcodes, such strategic placement can allow spot color elements to remain solid and vibrant while not diminishing the overall readability of Digimarc Barcodes. Regardless of other considerations, you should not apply Digimarc Barcodes to recognizable branded elements such as logos.

Regarding the strategic placement of art elements to maximize Digimarc Barcode readability, it’s helpful for you to know that an individual Digimarc Barcode is about the same size (~1.5” square) as a standard 1D barcode (1.47” x 1”). Smaller art elements may be too small to apply the Digimarc Barcode successfully without significantly increasing the strength of enhancement, and even that may not provide adequate readability. However, combining several small elements in a collage can provide sufficient area for the successful application of the Digimarc Barcode, as can enlarging small elements or adding a background.

Ink Coverage

In general, a good level of ink coverage is around 80% for any individual ink, whether a spot color or one of the process colors. Coverage above 90% for a single ink may be problematic with some printing technologies due to dot gain. The optimal maximum ink coverage for Digimarc Barcode readability is no more than 300% in process color artwork; around 280% is preferable. At least 10% coverage with inks of mid-range red reflectance is required for Digimarc Barcodes to be read by POS scanners.

It is possible to apply a Digimarc Barcode where ink coverage is near 0% or 100%, but it might be necessary to increase the strength of enhancement to compensate for the lack of latitude for modulating the ink to higher and lower levels of coverage. Increasing enhancement strength also increases Barcode readability but can also increase its perceptibility in an area where the eye is already sensitive to variations due to flat color tones. In this situation, it is important to carefully balance the competing requirements of readability and perceptibility.

Very high or low ink coverage can also be an issue if the printing environment cannot hold that percentage of ink reliably throughout a press run. This is especially true for gravure, dry offset, and traditional (not high-definition) flexographic printing. In this situation, consult with your production designer and the printer regarding options, test samples, and realistic expectations.

Completely white areas in a design work against your ability to distribute the Digimarc Barcode over your whole package because Digimarc Barcodes cannot be applied in white areas without the addition of a light tint or texture. There are techniques for working with white areas, but you might also consider the strategic placement and size of white areas with respect to art elements that are more susceptible to Digimarc Barcodes.

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