Jellyfish Livewire last week launched a digitally printed gift card, paving the way to eliminate up to 3,100 tonnes of plastic that is used to produce 600 million gift cards in the UK, a market that is valued a £6 billion a year.
The marketing agency has worked with Transcend Packaging, HP Indigo and Iggesund to develop the process. While it has been possible previously to print 760 micron Iggesund boards on litho presses before finishing at Thames Card Technology, there has been no practical way to extend this to digital printing.
And digital printing on card is key to establishing Green Gift Cards, argues Graham Lycett, managing director of Jellyfish Livewire. “We started looking for alternatives to single use plastic more than ten years ago. We tried materials from wood, chalk, bio plastic and bio PVC, before working with folding box board."
The company had first encountered gift cards when asked to produce a wall display in 2006. Since then gift cards have been a major line for the company. The plastic cards have inherent disadvantages: two pieces of PVC plastic must be laminated in a heat press, creating distortion and using excess energy. In all each card needs five elements to come together. And in order to achieve a reasonable unit costs, the cards need to be produced by the million, stored and thrown away when becoming out of date or when terms and conditions change.
Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs gave the board approach a boost in 2012 when announcing that gift cards for iTunes would not be using plastic.
In contrast to plastic, fibre based solution is easier to assemble with digital printing opening the way to print on demand, greater promotional possibilities, and even collectability, thanks to being able to switch designs easily.
The problem has been that the Indigo 30000, HP's sheetfed carton press, has not been able to handle this calliper of board. Now through work with the factory in Israel, adjustments have been made to the Indigo 30000 at Transcend, making this the only press of its kind able to handle board of this thickness. And because of HP’s technology roll out schedule, it will not be able to deliver a similar machine until the end of this year at the earliest.
The launch is in time to catch the huge interest in sustainability that is pushing retailers to turn away from plastic. “Previously,” says Lycett, “customers have focused on unit cost and the environment was not a focus for them. 1p extra was simply too much.”
The proposition now is around speed of turnaround, and ordering in smaller amounts to cut the cost and risks of storing cards until needed. Green Gift Cards is able to link to a retailers EPOS systems to manage stock levels in accordance with sales with a faster turnaround than the four weeks typically needed for litho printed cards.
A meeting with Iggesund has also been transformational. The board producer’s Workington mill is fuelled by biomass grown by local farmers to assist drainage and so reduce flooding in the area. Water is returned cleaner than when extracted and nothing from production is sent to landfill.
Iggesund’s Invercote board has a similar stiffness to plastic. The personalisation magnetic stripe is applied, embossed and laminated in cellulose based Clarifoil to a give a card that is entirely recyclable. The magnetic strip is made from iron, which Lycett points out will rust into elemental. Only the backing for this material cannot currently be recycled.
The alternative is to use a scratch off code or QR code to register the value of the amount stored on the card as used in other countries and Lycett is in conversation about a transition away from the magnetic strip.
“We take clients to Iggesund where they buy into the unique environmental story,” he adds.
Transcend has an equally strong environmental story, being set up to produce packaging with the strongest sustainability credentials and developing paper straws for the fast food industry. Working with Iggesund and HP, the solution to run this material at the extra thickness has been found.
Lorenzo Angelucci, Transcend CEO, says: “until now, brands have been restricted by the incredibly wasteful use of plastic – something which is becoming a turn off for consumers. With their impressive suite of customers, Green Gift Cards prove that premium brands and customers are drawn to more sustainable solutions.
“With our HP Indigo 30000 digital press, we can get cards to market much quicker, help brand owners hit their launch dates, print in smaller batches and potentially customise the design of every card they print, opening up endless possibilities.’’
It is not just gift cards: personalisation and short runs can be used for membership cards, for hotel key cards and ID cards. “There is a lot of long tail business from companies that do not want to be forced into a minimum quantity of 1,000 cards,” says Lycett. “And staff ID cards do not need to be made from plastic. We can replicate the performance with graphene inks and dye sublimation for printing on desktop printers and that is a market of 50 billion cards a year across the world.’