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USPS Challenge: “Hidden Message” Special Effects Screen Printing with Flash-Activated Photochromatic Ink

Published on March 22, 2018

In the hunt for new print techniques and technologies for mail, Trish leads us to H&H Graphics in Chicago for a photochromatic ink technology that is designed to work in conjunction with the camera on your smartphone

The USPS challenged me to discover new printing techniques and technologies for mail, and my latest find is from H&H Graphics in Chicago.

H&H uses special effects screen printing to print customized multi-sensory solutions on paper, plastic gift cards and reward cards, corrugated packaging and POP displays, wood, metal, or virtually any other flat substrate. 

UV or Screen Printing for Special Effects?

Having just spent time with my friend Jeff Hernandez at Classic Color talking about highly customized multi-sensory effects using UV ink technology, my first question to Michelle Leissner, president of H&H, was regarding the difference between UV and screen-printed sensory effects, and why you might choose to use one over the other.

Michelle shared that special effects screen printing is an offline process, as opposed to the generally inline UV coating process, and that the offline nature of the production gives them the ability to have a heavier laydown of ink, limitless combinations of effects, and a wide variety of substrates to print on. 

Socially-Savvy Ink for the Win

Much like Jeff’s team at Classic Color, Michelle’s team also develops customized special effects in their on-site research and development lab—everything from glitter to scratch-off, to fragrance and texture. All of this was interesting, but I wanted something new. Really new. I wanted something that no one had seen or heard of before.

I’ve always been fascinated with inks that are affected by light (photochromatic), heat (thermochromatic), and water (hydrochromatic), and although we don’t see these inks in the mainstream, the technology has certainly been around for a while. And then, Michelle mentioned that they had developed a “SnapShot” photochromatic ink that is activated by the flash of a camera on a mobile phone! The integration with a mobile device is exciting to me, because it’s not just interactive— it also makes the SnapShot ink effect a powerful solution for social media campaigns.

So, how does it work? There is a specific activation point in the photochromatic ink that makes it visible for only a split second—so fast that the naked eye can’t see it, even if you’re staring at it as the flash hits the ink. But, if you look on the photo you took, the message appears! Now, that’s something new and exciting. Watch the video to see it in action.

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