Japan’s Developments in Metal Packaging Printing

Kirin Brewery traditionally releases Aki Aji (literally: 'Taste of Autumn'), a limited edition beer, in the fall every year. The changes of the seasons are always beautiful in Japan, but the turning leaves of the fall may well be the most ravishing sight of all. Design bureau Bravis has been designing the maple leaf-based packaging for this brand every year since 1996.

As said at the end of my previous article, one of the attractive aspects of the Japanese beverage market is the obvious willingness of the consumer goods companies to engage in sophisticated printing techniques, resulting in the most beautiful beverage cans I have ever seen. Just some examples and some words about the used printing techniques.

Conventionally, there are limitations in designing a printed label to be put on a metal can by a litho press or a 2-piece can decorator. Toyo Seikan, as well as Daiwa Can, have successfully eliminated such limitations that are attributable to the metal surface printing, and their customers now have added flexibility to reproduce vivid photogravure images on metal cans for enhanced aesthetic appeal of their products.
Before we take a closer look at the Japanese beverage cans, let’s talk about the printing technologies for cans in general.

Offset printing is a major method for printing on metal cans because of its hard and non-absorbent material. The printing methods are mainly classified into two types, dependent on the can structure. Sheet printing, using lithographic plates, which is for metal sheet applicable for 3-piece and DRD cans. Alternatively, curved surface printing, using plastic letterpress plates, is applicable to 2-piece DWI cans and TULC.

1. Sheet Printing
Multiple same images are coated on a pre-processed metal sheet, and then the sheet is transferred to the sheet printing machine (the rotary offset printing machine) one by one for printing.
The production process consists of coating and printing. Interior and exterior surfaces of sheets, such as tin plate, with a thickness of about 0.2 mm and large plates with a length and width of 1 meter are coated, and then each colour is overprinted on each sheet.
Production process includes; interior coating -> exterior coating -> printing (multiple times) -> finishing varnishing -> baking and drying.
Sizing (transparent paint utilizing the metal base for creating a metallic look) and white coating are used as substrates. After printing, varnish is applied by coating to protect the surfaces, and to provide gloss and smoothness.

Asahi Sky Tree Tower Cans (standard dry lager): The miniature Tokyo Sky Tree on the side of this can changes colour with a change in temperature. At room temperature it’s blue but once chilled, it darkens to purple. In the run up to the opening of the tower in spring next year, Asahi will be giving away a load of Sky Tree Tower related goods and 50 lucky people who buy one of these six packs of Super Dry or Clear Asahi will win a Sky Tree Tower themed prize. The cans were on sale until Oct 25.

2. Curved Surface Printing
After forming the can-body, printing on the exterior surface of the 2-piece cans (DWI and TULC cans) is conducted one by one using a curved surface printing machine. Each colour of ink is placed on a different (plastic letterpress) plate, and then sequentially transferred to a single rubber blanket, allowing all colours to be printed at one time. After printing and just before the ink curing process, an over varnish is applied.
The line control system automatically manages production consistency, from can forming to finishing, including printing and coating.

Kirin beer cans designed by Bravis

3. Gravure Printing Lamination
This technology laminates pre-printed PET film onto formed cans using a gravure roll. Gravure printing is a type of intaglio printing, allowing drying and overprinting by colour, offering advantages in the reproduction of a wide range of colour gradation and density.
A variety of reproduced effects can be achieved such as photograph quality resolutions, metallic, mirror-like effects, and pearl tone effects. This technology is also applicable to TULC, called laminated TULC.
The printed film is thermally bonded to the metal surfaces at high speed.
The process is environment-friendly with the least of VOC emission and energy consumption.

It is obvious that the samples we see here are printed according to the “laminated pre-printed PET-film” process. Here we go. Enjoy the beautiful design, admire the craftsmanship in printing and the creativity of the graphic designer.

Japan Tobacco Inc designed a specially shaped can for coffee, called “Roots”. The can suits perfectly the exclusive manufacturing method where the bottles/cans are sterilized at a higher temperature than normal. Its height and smooth contour are unique and enhance visibility at the point of sale.

Canned coffee might seem like a cheap, forgettable product but there is actually a lot of innovation in the area. These efforts from the makers aren’t at all surprising; there are statistics that claim around half of Japan’s salary-men start their working day with a can of coffee.

Dydo Drinco, a soft drink manufacturer in Osaka, decided to jump on the history bandwagon with their “Hukkokudo Hero” series, a range of coffee each with a design that pays homage to a Sengoku or Bakumatsu period warrior. As befits a proud samurai, the coffee is a straight-up zero-sugar espresso.

Samurai-Espresso, is one of DyDo Drinco’s major product series. The packaging design, which won the Pentawards 2011 Silver Award in the Beverages category, expresses the quality of the beverage itself through a “samurai” motif. It goes beyond the framework of ordinary packaging design to employ the image of samurai, with a focus on military commanders and patriots from Japan’s samurai era, incorporating armour, helmets, and samurai costumes into the packaging. The design concept of this product has been well-received for evoking a dignified solemnity as a work of art. Rengo Co. Ltd, a “General Packaging Industry” (GPI), in Osaka was deeply involved in the development, and design, based on the development concept of DyDo Drinco.

The creators of the Dydo cans have replicated the clothes of the hero right on the can itself, including armour and swords.

Before we have a look at Tea in cans, let’s talk about the tea market in Japan.

While some of Japan’s coffee suppliers are seeing sales flatten as their consumers’ ages creep up, the tea brands are seeing just the opposite. According to a study by Asahi Soft Drinks Co., the greatest consumers of bottled or canned tea products in Japan are men in their 30s. Espresso Tea, designed by drinks giant Kirin Holdings Co. in manly, dark colours, sold 4.57 million cases within a year of its release. Flush from that success, Kirin released a sugar-free Black Espresso Tea in April, adding to a growing stream of lower-sugar, lower-calorie tea products that cater to male consumers looking for a healthier alternative to coffee.

Three more beverages from the vending machines you find everywhere in Japan. The Kirin Espresso Tea was taken early in 2010 from a vending machine in Tokyo at Shiagawa-eki. The two Wonda coffees from an Asahi machine in Yokosuka outside Shioiri-eki.

Midlife Japanese men are drinking more black tea, earning themselves a new monicker in some quarters – “kocha danshi,” or “tea men”. According to data from the Japanese Ministry of Finance, black tea imports increased by almost 14% between 2009 and 2010. While coffee drinks producers like Coca-Cola focus on boosting sales among younger men, tea producers are targeting men in their 30s and 40s, who are increasingly health-conscious and abandoning the coffee market. In a country where the notion of drinking tea often conjures up images of quiet, contemplative sipping by women in relaxed café or home surroundings, it seems men are now getting into the idea of tea on-the-go.

New in the series of Kirin Beverage's Espresso Tea range is Black Mutou. Kirin Beverage’s Gogo no Kocha Espresso Tea was one of the most successful new launches last year in Japan. It has zero calories and comes in a 190g steel can from Hokkai Seikan. Photo: Galloway & Associates.

Lightweight American-style coffee always had its dark, dreamy counterpart in European espresso. Green tea had its bitter premium version in matcha. There has not been, however, a similar parallel in the world of black tea  — until now.

Kirin Beverage, maker of the ubiquitous Afternoon Tea (Gogo no Kocha) line, has launched a luxuriously dense version of its usual British-inspired drink under the name Espresso Tea. Kirin claims to use “highly fragrant tea leaves, richly extracted with hot water and high pressure” to create the concoction.

With its small, dark blue body, the 190ml can of Go-go No Kocha (Afternoon tea) Espresso Tea looks about the same as a regular can of coffee that Japanese salary-men pick up for a boost in the morning or during work breaks.

So far some printing examples from the Japanese canmakers.

Asahi super dry slim, designed by Nippon Design Centre

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