Given the costs of adopting new technology in a down market, print service providers (PSPs) are understandably wary about making new investments just for the sake of environmental positioning, admits Rudy Herrera, business development manager, graphics solutions business, Hewlett-Packard (HP). When HP launched its latex ink as a substitute for hard solvent, it knew print providers would not jump unless it was cost-competitive with the solvent it intended to replace. "It had to be a case of having your cake and eating it to," he says of the "green"-yet-cost-competitive benefits of latex.
Costs must be considered holistically, explains Randy Rickert, VP/GM, Mutoh America, Inc. "Our hybrid machine is not as expensive as other hybrid printers." Even if the ink is slightly more expensive, the margins can remain healthy, he adds. "What’s the difference if print costs are 23 cents a square foot versus 18 cents when you’re charging six to 12 dollars a square foot?"
The use of greener inks can yield cost savings that don’t need to be marketed to print buyers, suggests Reed Hecht, product manager, professional imaging, Epson. "Some sign shops use green to position themselves to eco-conscious print buyers," he says. "But other shops see a cost value in terms of avoiding air scrubs, ventilation, hoods, and the peace of mind that their employees won’t become sick from the volatile organic compounds."
There are still questions about whether environmental issues—either through regulation or customer demand—will drive further investment and innovation in ink.
Ink manufacturers walk a fine line between maximizing the performance, color, and durability of their inks while simultaneously minimizing its environmental impact, explains Terry Mitchell, director of marketing, Fujifilm Sericol U.S.A., Inc. This is why vendors emphasize the entire product lifecycle—the inputs used to manufacturer, package, and ship the ink—and not just the impact once the whole package is in a print shop.
"This is not a fad," claims Rickert. "Everyone is working on making inks more environmentally friendly." Improving the eco-friendliness of inks is an evolutionary process, ink vendors stress, with the technology still in its early stages.
Government regulations, as much as print buyer demand, are expected to drive the continued growth of eco-friendly inks, notes Mike McEvoy, director of commercialization, Sawgrass Technologies, Inc. "This is definitely not going to slow down."
As PSPs wait for the next advancements in green ink they continue to use all available resources, from eco-solvent, to UV, latex, and aqueous. Each come with different benefits and challenges, but all lessen the impact of harmful substances on our environment.