Haptic textures can elevate a product above the competition and fix a brand in a consumer's memory. Jacqueline Revet and Arend-Jan Scholten of DSM Coating Resins discuss how new coating resins for printing and packaging can turn a package into a sensory experience.
Much of packaging design relies on visuals, but there's a good reason humans have five senses; touch can deliver a wealth of extra information to help customers make a decision. Weight is one factor: if a high-end product feels too light or flimsy, the consumer might think 'cheap'. Texture is another; a plush, velvety feel is a signal of luxury.
Studies have shown that a package that stimulates more than one of a consumer's senses not only draws their focus, but also results in better brand recognition in the long term. Touch, or 'haptic' feedback, could well be the next frontier in branding differentiation.
As a materials manufacturer, DSM Coating Resins operates a long way from the branding side of the industry: it takes raw materials and creates polymer resins, which are then passed to formulators and film producers before reaching converters.
The company's recent research into haptic packaging, however, has spurred it to seek out converters, designers and brand-owners to talk about new ways of making a package stand out.
"We're coming into a digital age, so if you want to increase consumer engagement, it goes through experience - and I think haptic can be the key element to create that," says Jacqueline Revet, global marketing manager for DSM Coating Resins. In the near future, Revet believes, every brand will have a signature feel as well as a signature look.
Adding a haptic aspect to packaging can be a complex process. DSM's strategy is Skins, a series of polymer coating resins that each delivers a distinct haptic experience: silk, velvet or rubber.
They have been formulated by DSM's customers to require only a thin coating to create the right feel without disrupting the look of the inks underneath or driving up costs, which means they can be added to posters and other laminated products as well as packaging.
Water-based and non-formulated, they have been created to be stable and easy to apply without slowing down converters' processes. The same features that make them simple to work with also help to ensure that they are recyclable.
Arend-Jan Scholten, DSM Coating Resins' global industry manager, says Skins began with a velvet coating developed for the automotive industry. "The original idea was to have something with different mechanical properties, and then we found out that if we changed the mechanical properties, we ended up with a completely different feel. Now we are working the other way around to say, 'this is the kind of substrate we want to mimic,' and we design the polymer by defining the substrate," he explains.
DSM needed a way to get the technical aspects across to an unfamiliar customer base of brand-owners and graphic designers. "We say 'feeling is believing'; how are you going to visualise something that you have to touch?" Revet says. So the Skins were rendered as colourful, original characters: dainty Silky, techy Rubbert and classy Vel-Veeto.
Each one has a personality, a catchphrase and some eye-catching visuals to show the kinds of products they might be used for. A silky coating for cosmetics and perfume echoes smooth skin or soft hair, while matt rubber adds an exciting element to headphones, gadgets or wearable tech. Velvet, of course, is targeted towards the luxury segment for jewellery, watches or liqueurs.
Brand-owners can also send in a sample of their current packaging for a full run-down of how it feels and what it's saying to their customers. An in-house team of haptic experts will measure the texture of any given material and create a 'DNA profile' to describe traits like slipperiness, stickiness, moistness and particle size.
More textures are in the pipeline, including Sandy, which will come in a range of options from fine to gritty, and Packert, which mimics artisanal paper packaging with an 'old-world' feel. There are millions of other materials in the world to explore, too - enough for every brand to have a texture of its own.