By Brittany Willes, contributing editor

“A lot of the time, it comes down to the packaging. We see it all the time with the wine market – once customers have a price point and budget in mind, they often gravitate toward whichever style of label they like best. We’re starting to see that same trend in cannabis retail,” stated Eric Smith, general manager for Ross Printing headquartered in Spokane, Washington.

With cannabis retail on the rise, it’s little wonder that growers, producers and brand managers would be looking to enhance their shelf appeal with higher-end packaging. This was the case for Artesian Farms, the third largest cultivator of cannabis products in Washington state. Ross Printing is no stranger to creating dynamic packaging for cannabis products and, thus, was a natural choice when it came time for Artesian to update one of its sub-brands: Area 51.

“The original file art was kind of dated and very much in need of refreshing,” stated Smith. “The company currently doesn’t spend much on its packaging, relying on generic stand-up pouches or jars with a simple full color label to identify it as Area 51 brand. Our goal was to provide them a series of embellishments for ideas and concepts that would make the brand look better and stand out more.”

Ross Printing took the brand’s original alien head illustration and gave it a much-needed makeover, while keeping true to the initial concept. The overall design of the refreshed packaging is simple – a modest rendering of a spaceship with an oversized green alien head peeking through a window, the Area 51 name overhead in gold lettering and a smattering of silver stars all set against a backdrop of psychedelic colors combine to create an appropriately groovy feel.

“We wanted to show the customer some over-the-top packaging that included Cast and Cure and spot varnish techniques,” said Smith. Multiple versions of the label were printed on clear, silver and holographic sheets. Some labels had matte or gloss spot techniques applied while others made use of Cast and Cure. “The end goal was to showcase different embellishment techniques and have the customer set a budget based on which designs they liked best while keeping in mind that concepts on the printed label would also be available on stand-up pouches.”

Ultimately, the label printed using Cast and Cure was considered as offering the most shelf appeal. According to Smith, “Cast and Cure is a unique process, introduced for commercial use in the US in 2005, that is still trying to find its footing in the industry. The Area 51 label, where Cast and Cure is applied to make the spaceship and eyes of the alien holographic, hold a lot of shelf appeal in a retail environment where the packaging is displayed in a well-lit case.”

“We continue to see the expansion of the Cast and Cure process within the cannabis market,” said Tim Cain, president at Breit Technologies. “The packaging market for cannabis has become more complex, and the desire for embellishments continues to grow. The retail cannabis market experiences the same challenges that face all retail environments: competitive shelf space, product differentiation, communication of product benefits and brand identification.”

The label sheet was printed two across and four around. Using that one label form, Ross was able to make several flexo plates in order to perform the Cast and Cure embellishment. “We had one file that was printed on our HP Indigo digital printing press. From that one file we had two different images across, four images around, and we had three different sets of plates for different variations. Those images were printed on three different substrates: a clear polypropylene, silver (chrome/metallized) polypropylene and a rainbow holographic PET,” said Smith.

Two different rolls of Cast and Cure were printed at the same time to demonstrate Ross’ capabilities of having multiple unwinds and rewinds, meaning that one label pattern of Cast and Cure was run on one lane and a different pattern was being run on the other lane resulting in several variations of the label form. “We were basically throwing darts at the wall to see if the customer liked one material, concept or style of embellishments better,” said Smith.

One of the great benefits to the Cast and Cure process is that it is very easy to change from one pattern to another. By simply changing out the roll the printer can move from ultra-high gloss, to matte, to texture, to several choices of holographic finishes. This quick changeover allows for multiple options to be presented to the customer with reduced time on press to produce comps.

While the final result is a beautiful Cast and Cure label that appears intricate and over the top, in reality the process is quite simple. “It looks over the top, like a challenging application, but it’s actually a straightforward process,” explained Smith. “Once the labels were printed on the HP Indigo, the embellishments were done on an offline CEI digital finishing press with four flexo units. Our unique capability of having four different materials unwind and rewind, four different materials coming in to four different flexo units, makes it a somewhat simple application.”

As Smith noted, Ross runs a lot of cold foil in flexo and in digital finishing and considers Cast and Cure to be a similar, simpler process. Despite its apparent simplicity, Cast and Cure is gaining more momentum, especially in the cannabis industry.

“We’ve had some customers adopt Cast and Cure for their cannabis labels for their more exotic or high-end products,” Smith stated. “We’re hopeful that, as the cannabis industry continues to become more and more saturated – and, therefore, more competitive – the use of Cast and Cure in packaging will continue to grow. Like we see with wine labels, the shelf presence of the packaging will continue to have more importance and value to the consumer’s decision. We see the trend already developing: growers, producers and brand managers are going above and beyond to try to gain that shelf presence and create a nice looking package to support their statement that theirs is a really nice product in comparison to others.”