The Evolution of Smartwater

Jonathan Collins

August 20, 2021

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Ever wonder what goes into the makings of one of the world’s most recognizable water bottle labels?

For any brand, finding themselves with a roaring success on their hands is the ultimate dream. However, for the printer, keeping up with their increasing demand over time can be very challenging.

As designers push the limits of label design, oftentimes their print partner is challenged to deploy multiple print technologies on a single label. Combination printing – in which various foils, numerous screens, debossing or embossing, offset, and flexo can all live on the same label – is increasingly becoming the norm.

Such was the case when Glaceau originally released Smartwater in 1996. Opting for print technologies typically reserved for low volume, high-end beauty products, the brand’s designers transformed a simple, clear plastic bottle into one of today’s most recognizable brands. Their initial design included 3 screen colors, 6 flexo, and a blue metallic hot foil printed 1 across on a Mark Andy 4150 press. Given the nuances of hot foil, we were fortunate to reach 140 feet per minute (fpm) consistently. The resulting label was striking and revolutionary in the water market. It became instantly recognizable because of that blue metallic hot foil and no-label premium look.

As Smartwater grew in appeal with consumers, the number of labels needed to support demand also increased. That said, the existing design did not lend itself well to high volume production. For Glaceau, the integrity of the branding was critical, so we embraced the challenge to help them find a design that didn’t compromise their aesthetics. As a result, we engineered a new reverse printed label design, and transitioned to a new 17 inch press. This label design required 3 screen heads and 9 flexo units, but we could now run 2 labels across the web, at speeds of 170fpm. As demand continued to soar, we were able to increase capacity with faster press speeds and multiple labels across. But, we eventually added a second press.

In 2009, Coca-Cola purchased Glaceau. Once again, we were challenged to increase production, while staying true to Smartwater’s flagship design. We started to engineer the ideal press to meet current and future demand. Twelve stations would be needed on the press, with an ideal web width of 22 inches. Due to the requirement of 3 screen heads, speed was our biggest limiting factor. Through collaboration with our vendors, we were able to run and maintain screen ink laydown and curing speeds of 350fpm. The introduction of this wider, more efficient platform allowed us to move Smartwater from the two previous presses.

As predicted, Smartwater continued its success in the market. It quickly became evident that we would need to chart a new path forward, yet again. We convened a small group of engineers to head up the task. We wanted to create a true large-scale printing process that could meet this added demand, and position us for the next decade.

It was obvious to us that the inclusion of screen was an extremely limiting factor. But, because the label was reverse printed, the opacity was needed. To tackle this, we experimented with various ink options and the latest in laser engraved ceramic anilox rolls and curing technologies. We soon discovered another hurdle: the inability to control heat at all stages of the printing process. Often, the heat needed for a particular process would contrast markedly with the requirement of its neighboring operation. In the end, the project team delivered a 40 inch wide-web printing asset that addressed all of these factors, while staying true to the brand that consumers loved.

From our humble beginnings on a 10-inch press, the Smartwater design remains instantly recognizable. Today, the machinery that prints your Smartwater label can maintain speeds of up to 1000fpm, over seven times faster than what we achieved in 1996. Over the years, we’ve had many technological challenges but remained true to our innovative spirit. As consultative creative partners, we remain dedicated to moving brands towards peak performance; Smartwater was no exception.

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