Large format print suppliers share in their customers’ goals—to create print that gets their messages noticed. It’s no small endeavor. All of the technological fates—the workflow, the hardware, the media, and the inks—must align to create a print piece that’s vibrant and effective.
Fortunately, there has been remarkable cooperation between equipment, print head, and ink manufacturers to bring to market total solutions that meet the increasingly demanding expectations of print suppliers and their clients alike.
Ink manufacturers have been under particular pressure to create consumables that adhere well to a very diverse array of media and extend the color gamut to enable brand-critical color matches. Print suppliers expect inks to meet their high standards for quality and longevity. And, increasingly, print companies are demanding more environmentally responsible products.
Despite economic pressures—Sun Chemical recently announced price hikes, for example—ink manufacturers are living up to these very lofty expectations.
Today’s Versatile Inks
Arthur R. Monteith was founded in 1959 as a manufacturer of industrial coatings, but in the 1970s, the company expanded its horizons and began to develop products for the then-young digital print market—printer-, substrate-, and application-specific inks.
Today, Monteith—now a subsidiary of Dominion Colour Corporation—manufactures inks for a spectrum of digital print engines from EFI/VUTEk, HP, Mimaki, Mutoh, NUR, and Océ. And its inks are used nationwide in color-critical applications for such coveted brands as Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, and Toys R Us.
In the flatbed space, UV is the new kid on the block, but becoming increasingly popular among large format print suppliers, who appreciate its versatility.
"[UV] can print on just about everything—paper, vinyl, plastics, metals, glass, wood, leather, fabrics, etc.," notes Rak Kumar, president and CEO, Raster Printers. "Our inks are UV-curable, which adhere to—or work with—a very wide range of substrates. They are considered environmentally friendly because the ink dries from a chemical reaction … that instantly converts the ink from liquid to solid when ultra-violet light is applied to the wet image, which is the case with solvent inks."
"Customers are becoming much more knowledgeable," Kumar adds. "They are starting to understand that if you want to print on a wide range of roll and rigid media, they must acquire a printer based on UV-curable inks."
Triangle Digital INX Co. manufactures a range of inks for flatbed print applications under the PicturePerfect Ink brand. These ultraviolet-light-resistant pigmented inks were created under strict guidelines and conditions, according to Triangle. Their pigment particle size is sub-micron, and color is computer-controlled to ensure consistency from batch to batch.
The PicturePerfect line comprises RHU UV Curable Inks, designed for select RHO models; TMP Series UV Curable Inks for printers from Inca Digital (Inca Columbia and Inca Eagle), NUR (NUR Tempo), and Zünd (Zünd 215 Plus and Zünd 215C).
Triangle’s PicturePerfect inks are said to provide up to two years of outdoor durability on qualified media, without any need for coating or lamination. Adding ClearFlex protective coating will extend the outdoor life to three years.
In addition to distributing digital inks for Brother, EFI/VUTEk, Epson, and Roland printers, Nazdar Source One also carries the Nazdar brand of UV-curable inks. Nazdar Lyson inks are available in a variety of formulations for use with various digital flatbed printers from Inca Digital, NUR, and Zünd.
And SunJet USA, the inkjet division of Sun Chemical, offers its Crystal UV-curing inks for use in display graphics, packaging and label printing, among other applications. They’re compatible with any digital press equipped with Xaar drop-on-demand inkjet print heads.
Gerber Scientific Products (GSP) unveiled its latest wide format UV printer this Fall. The Gerber Solara ionx, according to the manufacturer, is a technologically advanced printer—a merger of a true flatbed and true roll-to-roll printer.
GSP distinguishes this new printer from other hybrid devices by hardware configuration. Unlike other flatbeds that have been retrofitted with a simple roll media holder, the Gerber Solara ionx features a heavy-duty roll system and winding unit that can accommodate substrates up to 64 inches wide.
The new printer uses GerberCAT inks, "an exclusive, four-color … cationic ink set that UV cures at approximately room temperature," according to Curt Brey, director of digital solutions. "This greatly expands the range of materials that can be printed by the Gerber Solara ionx. Heat-sensitive plastic, vinyl, fabric, and paper-based materials can be printed using Gerber’s Cold Fire Cure and GerberCAT inks, without concern over ink adhesion or material damage." The manufacturer says the ink set is also adept at handling more challenging jobs, like glass and textile applications.
EFI, Inc. offers QS Series UV inks for its VUTEk QS2000 and other superwide UV flatbed/roll-to-roll printers. Specially formulated for the printer, they work well on a wide range of flexible and rigid media, according to the manufacturer, including styrene, Lexan, foam board, card stock, pressure-sensitive vinyl, textiles, and more.
Like all VUTEk inks, QS Series UV inks have a submicron pigment size and offer two years of outdoor durability without a secondary coating—five years with with the application of a protective clear-coat.
Laying Down the White
For many print suppliers, having the ability to apply white ink is becoming increasingly important to landing color-critical accounts.
Gandinnovations introduced new white ink for use with all of its Jeti flatbed printers, according to Clem Sison, GM and director of ink R&D, Gandinnovations.
"[It] has excellent opacity, through high pigment load, while still maintaining good stability in the reservoirs, so there is no need for constant mixing in the bulk tanks like most competitor printers," Sison explains. "Excellent white density is possible with just single-strike printing."
"Our focus here at the ink division is to produce environmentally friendly UV inks, while at the same time, achieving excellent adhesion to many difficult substrates, such as glass, tiles, and also non-polar substrates and polyolefins," Sison adds. "The images printed with our UV inks have excellent outdoor durability, as we use only automotive-grade colorants, which will outlast most of the substrates they are printed on. And our UV inks do not require any pre-coats or primers to ensure adhesion to difficult substrates."
Taking Environmental Responsibility
Early this year, Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies (L&P), introduced a brand new line of environmentally responsible inks for its Virtu printing systems—BioHueV Inks, which are said to produce virtually no VOCs.
L&P’s new line of inks may be used in applications requiring fabrics or popular graphic substrates, and other more challenging textiles like acrylics, glass, metal, and wood. BioHueV Inks are rated a seven (out of eight) on the Blue Wool Scale for outdoor light-fasted-ness, and promise two-year durability.
According to Avi Bukai, director of business development for Megaink Digital AS, BioMG inks took his company about a year and a half to develop from conception. "What inspired us was the growing global concern surrounding non-renewable energy resources, and the shift toward concern for the environment," Bukai explains.
With the exception of CA, which has had stringent environmental laws impacting print suppliers for years, much of the U.S.-based large format print industry has lagged behind. But that’s changing, according to Bukai. "We have been getting more and more environmental requirements from U.S. dealers—more so than from other dealers elsewhere in the world—some because they truly want to take care of the environment, and some who want to be ready for future regulation," he confides.
Clearly, a more Earth-friendly chemistry was a driver in the creation of BioMG inks, but Bukai notes that it was also Megaink’s goal to produce a product that would not sacrifice print integrity.
"We were very concerned about the UV resistance of the inks, and surprised ourselves with the results—three years of UV resistance for popular materials used in the market," Bukai boasts. "The print quality is great. We never compromise on the color gamut or density."
BioMG inks are already commercially available for use with the Mimaki JV3 and Roland’s SJ, SJ PRO, XC, SP, and VP series printers. By year’s end, BioMG inks will be available for other printers from HP, Mimaki, and Seiko, among others. And by Q1 2008, they’ll be available for some models of super wide format printers.
Brainstorming the Possibilities
Building upon his education in industrial and packaging design and 25 years of print sales experience, Andy Fox founded Brainstorm of Kansas City, KS, in 1996. The company serves three primary customer demographics—nationally scattered companies participating in event management, trade show and exhibits, and fine art reproduction, with point-of-purchase displays representing Brainstorm’s bread and butter.
Fox’s mission is not merely to be a large format print supplier. Rather, he aims to "solve our customers’ challenges, to provide them with unique solutions that best represent their brands in the marketplace. … A lot of jobs we do start out as experiments. Let’s just say, we’re not a printer in the traditional sense, where customers drop off their file and we print it. Our business is more about collaboration. Our customers come to us and say, ‘what if,’ or ‘can we,’ or ‘have you ever’ …," Fox explains.
Brainstorm was in the business of flatbed printing relatively early in the game. The company’s first press was an Inca Digital Eagle flatbed, which remains in operation to this day.
As the company expanded over the past several years, and the volume of the workload increased, Fox realized that he needed some more power. He began to research other digital printers in the market, and the Leggett & Platt Virtu 7200 caught his eye.
"It had some very diverse capabilities," he recalls. "It allowed us to switch between rigid and roll-to-roll media, and that enabled us to avoid going out and buying multiple printers to handle the different types of projects."
Brainstorm prints on a multitude of substrates, indeed. Beyond the commonplace graphic substrates, the company has printed jobs on everything from glass to tile, from carpet to more delicate fabrics.
Hardware configuration was important when Fox analyzed his print-engine options, but inks were a vital factor, as well.
"We were trying to stay away from solvent printers, because of the issues of ecology and safety," he explains. "We were only interested in a printer that was going to use UV inks."
Today, Brainstorm sources its Sun Chemical SunJet inks through Leggett & Platt. Fox says the UV-curing brand provide him with the flexibility he needs to tackle most any print challenge. Currently, Brainstorm’s L&P Virtu 7200 isn’t equipped with the white ink option, but Fox says that he’s in the process of purchasing a new flatbed device from the company, which will enable him to apply white ink.
"We’re looking forward to having this option," he remarks. "It’s going to be a door-opener for us, in terms of generating new revenues and allowing us to do more types of jobs."
Inks are not a dime a dozen. There can be some significant variations in performance based on chemistry and how the inks react with the print heads.
"You’ve got to ask: How well does the ink perform? How does it look? How does it lay down? How does it attach itself to the wide range of substrates you may be using? What kind of color gamut is it going to give you?" Fox stresses. "And what is the cost?"
"But most importantly, you’ve got to think about inks in relation to the type of work you’re producing. Are you dealing with a lot of flesh tones or printing photographs of jewelry, for example? You’ve got to address these issues right up front when you’re investing in a digital printer," he concludes.
After years in the print industry, Fox also knows how important it is to have a manufacturer that stands behind not only the equipment it supplies but also the inks it recommends.
"As a customer, you need to know that there are people there, real experts in ink, who you can call and get good solutions to the obstacles you may encounter in this business. Every day brings its own set of challenges, but I’ve yet to find something that we can’t print on."