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Large Format Inks

A Means to an End

By Gretchen A. Peck

When choosing a large format printing device, speed and productivity features weight heavily into a purchasing decision. Inks are often overlooked, however in the creation of a print job, they are of the utmost importance.

A shop’s steadily produced applications should factor into printer choice. "Ink type directly relates to applications printed," agrees Scott Schinlever, VP/GM, EFI Ink Business. If printing on fabric, a dye-sublimation machine is the best fit, outdoor signage—solvent, especially if you are printing billboards or building wraps that need to withstand the elements. If clients are concerned about the environment or your sign shop is becoming eco-friendly, you may consider utilizing eco-solvent, latex, or aqueous inks. With low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), these inks meet the recent demand for sustainability.

Depending on a print service provider’s (PSP) application range, an ink solution is available. It is important to purchase a printer that works well with both current and future needs, to ensure that the final output is exactly what the customer requested.

Beyond Vinyl
As the soft signage market blossoms, the industry is paying attention not only to hardware, but also to the inks used in this type of work.

At drupa 2008, DuPont enhanced its line of inks for the DuPont Artistri—an on demand digital textile printer—with a reactive dye ink set. Artistri R500 series inks are designed for use in low-viscosity, piezoelectric printheads, and are suitable for short- to medium-runs on rayon and cotton fabrics. The dye-based products complete the Artistri family of inks.

Westar Systems LLC offers a full line of sublimation inks engineered for use with piezo inkjet printers—44 inches and wider—from Epson, Mimaki USA, Inc., Mutoh America, Inc., and Roland DGA Corporation. In addition to the company’s Vibrant Wide Format sublimation ink, Westar also develops Super Light Fast sublimation ink, which offers 200 percent more lightfastness compared to other inks. Recently, Westar introduced its Fluorescent sublimation ink, which prints on polyester-based substrates and reacts when viewed under a black light.

Roland developed HeatWave SBL2 Sublimation Inks, for exclusive use with the BU-1 high-capacity ink system on the Roland Hi-Fi Express FP-740. These sublimation inks are particularly adept at working with lightweight, flexible fabrics for applications such as flags, banners, and other textile related jobs.

Just recently, US Sublimation, Inc. updated its LFP dye-sublimation inks. "The LFP S5 ink set is optimized for high-speed printing on Mimaki JV5 printers," notes Michael Labella, product manager, PrintVillage/US Sublimation. "In our plant seven Mimaki JV5-160 printers run the ink at a top production speed of 580 square feet per hour (sf/h) without nozzle dropouts. Of those seven units, four run three shifts daily, six days a week. The new S5 formulation improves drying and reduces wet, cockling issues."

Building upon the LFP series, US Sublimation also developed LFP FloBrite, comprising of two fluorescent colors—yellow and red—and a compatible blue, according to Labella.

"The FloBrite inks are compatible with Epson piezo printheads," he explains. "FloBrite inks are currently installed in the Mimaki DS-1600 and Mimaki JV4 printers."

"In the last 12 months, the commercial and industrial products division introduced two new inks to our product lineup for the wide format market," continues Linda Carlisle, director of marketing, Sawgrass Technologies. "The first of these is SubliM Direct, which is specifically formulated for commercial customers that wish to achieve the vibrancy of sublimation with a direct print operation."

SubliM Direct is a four-color ink set formulated to achieve a color gamut that outperforms competitive eight-color inks, according to Carlisle. "SubliM Direct is for the flag and banner market, and its performance drivers include superior runability and the efficiencies of a direct print solution. Because transfer paper is not required, customers save on transfer paper costs, and up to 20 percent less ink is required," she explains.

M ink is the second brand Sawgrass’ new division introduced. "M ink is a remarkable development when it comes to performance," Carlisle shares. "The technology addresses the growing demand for natural fiber digital printing solutions. Available in six colors—CMYK, plus light cyan and light magenta—M ink is used on any fabric that’s prepared for digital printing, including cotton, cotton-poly blends, silk, wool, polyester, Spandex, and Lycra."

Carlisle acknowledges a growing demand for "green" products and eco-friendly principles among the wide format print buying base. She claims Sawgrass Technologies is poised to meet those expectations.

"Our wide format inks are at an advantage because they were always green in contrast to competitive solutions. They’re water-based, and as such, are significantly less harmful to the environment than solvent-based inks—even so-called eco-solvents, which achieve green status because these solvents are derived from corn," Carlisle explains."Eco-solvents are less harmful than full solvent predecessors," she cautions. "But they still have hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), toxic air pollutants (TAPs), and permissible exposure limits (PELs) to consider; you still need to worry about ventilation, worker comfort, and health. Because Sawgrass Technologies’ inks—SubliM, SubliM Direct, and M ink—are water-based, there are no HAPs, TAPs, and PELs to be concerned with. In addition to being eco-friendly, that’s beneficial for the work environment as well."

The Eco-Alternative
Dave Miller is the owner—and chief designer—for Warp Grafix, a custom vinyl shop based in Eugene, OR, and founded in 2005. Currently, the company owns two print engines—a Summa, Inc. DC3 and a Roland SOLJET Pro II SJ-540.

For the Roland, Miller swears by inks from Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd. "The Bordeaux colors seem a little brighter and every bit as accurate as the OEM colors," Miller confides. "I’ve been in vinyl for 24 years, and I can say, without a doubt, there is no loss or lack of quality in any of my prints since switching over almost a year ago."

When choosing ink products, Miller says quality is king. "My first priority is color consistency and durability, so my customers get the best I can produce. Then I look at the price issue—within reason—because to me and to my customers, image is everything," Miller notes.

"Eco-solvent ink is our hallmark product. It doesn’t require ventilation and is known for vibrancy, color gamut, and fade resistance designed to match OEM products," notes Steve Igoe, sales and product manager, North America, Bordeaux, Inc., a division of Bordeaux Digital PrintInk.

"Bordeaux products are characterized by our philosophy of easy conversion from the OEM ink product," Igoe clarifies. "Our Mix and Match slogan covers a lot of territory. It means the customer can change all or one cartridge at a time. Our inks are completely compatible with OEM inks. This means that no flushing or profiles are required. As an added advantage, if the end user wants to be cautious and not wasteful, they are free to use up all OEM ink in their printer alongside Bordeaux ink with no detectable difference in color output."

In other eco-solvent news, Mutoh’s Eco-Ultra Inks are now available for the Mutoh Toucan LT and ValueJet printers. For as much as 20 percent less than previous inks for these devices, Mutoh says that Eco-Ultra inks provide "rich ink density for bright, vivid prints, quicker drying time, and no odor or fumes."

Bio-solvent inks are considered another eco-friendly alternative. Mutoh offers its Mubio inks, which are composed of 80 percent plant derived substances, contain no harmful VOCs, and have faster drying times. EFI manufactures VUTEk BioVu inks. Designed for use in place of solvent-based applications, these inks provide all the benefits of traditional solvent inks. BioVu inks primarily consist of corn, a renewable source. Currently, BioVu inks work with the VUTEk 3360 product line. Both Mutoh and EFI’s bio inks are recognized under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment Program.

"There will be more eco-friendly inks introduced—in terms of better environmental as well as improved health and safety profiles. The benefits of today’s eco-friendly inks focus around work safety given reduction in VOCs and HAPs. With the emergence of bio-based inks, the use of mostly renewable materials becomes a larger benefit, along with better profiles in terms of biodegradability," explains EFI’s Schinlever.

Bob Jones, digital imaging manager, Tri-State Reprographics, of Pittsburgh, PA specifies inks for a range of digital print engines—a 60-inch Hewlett-Packard (HP), two Rolands, a 44-inch Epson, and a KIP Color 80 from KIP America Corp.—and takes a multi-supplier approach when it comes to purchasing ink. "We buy OEM inks to avoid vendor finger pointing if any hardware or printhead issues arise," Jones explains.

"Color gamut and longevity are two key factors I look for in an ink," Jones adds. "The Epson K3 inks are my preferred brand of choice. The consistency and vibrancy of color prints is outstanding and the B&W photo prints have a D-min/D-max range that is second to none. My clients are extremely happy with the work that Epson produces."

Though it isn’t labeled green, Epson’s new solvent-based ink is an ecologically responsible alternative to other solvent formulas.

"Epson was in the solvent arena for a long time" recalls Reed Hecht, product manager, Epson. "But we didn’t have a branded product. We worked with other manufacturers who used our printheads and inks. However, Epson developed a new ink technology, called UltraChrome GS solvent ink."

"This technology was developed by Seiko Epson specifically for the indoor and outdoor sign graphics market," Hecht explains. "We don’t refer to it as an eco-solvent, a low-solvent, or a hard-solvent. If I had to say where it falls, I would say that it acts like and has the color gamut and the quality of a hard-solvent ink, but the unique technology makes it act like an aqueous pigment."

The new Epson UltraChrome GS ink set features eight colors—CMYK plus light cyan, light magenta, orange, and green. It is compatible with any type of solvent-ready media, including coated and uncoated substrates; has a quick dry time; and is virtually odorless. The new formula reduces the amount of VOCs, and nickel—a recognized carcinogen—was removed completely.

The ink set is currently used in Epson’s new Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 64-inch roll-to-roll printer.

"We don’t like to use the blanket term green but this technology offers less impact on worker health and the environment itself, it is less caustic than other forms of solvent," explains Hecht.

HP is devoted to creating environmentally friendly devices as well. This year, the company launched a variety of new ink solutions for large format printing equipment. "HP is committed to providing a wide range of compelling alternatives to traditional ink solutions with a selection of aqueous, eco-solvent, UV-curable, and now HP Latex Ink technologies," adds Francis McMahon, director of marketing, U.S. Graphics Solutions Business, Imaging and Printing Group, HP. "UV- and water-based inks, such as HP’s Latex Ink technology, are more pervasive in high- speed, flexible, and rigid applications."

"These new solutions improve ink coverage, durability, color choice, and even lower the total impact of printing on the environment, allowing customers to grow businesses and meet customer demand for vivid, long-lasting applications," McMahon suggests. "New ink solutions include HP 73 Chromatic Red ink for the new HP Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer; HP TJ200 Scitex Ink, a new generation of UV-curable ink developed specifically for the HP Scitex TJ8550, which delivers improved quality and reliability while reducing operational costs; and HP Latex Ink technologies, a revolutionary new ink technology offering PSPs a compelling new printing alternative for a wide variety of applications. Latex ink provides durable, odorless prints; sharp, vivid image quality; application versatility; and high productivity."

Finding Just the Right Cure
UV-curable technology is slowly growing in popularity due to developments in ink labs.

"SunJet, the inkjet ink division of Sun Chemical Digital, introduced three new solutions earlier this year," recalls Peter Saunders, sales and marketing manager, SunJet. "At drupa, SunJet announced the development of a new and novel ink chemistry specifically designed for curing under exposure to UV light from LED sources. We also announced a new ink chemistry designed to support and deliver conductive films using nano-particles of silver. Additionally, we introduced UV-cured inks for printing on thermo-formable media designed specifically for use with Durst Image Technologies, LLC’s digital presses."

This advancement in UV-curing strengthens the eco-friendly ink market. "LED lamp technology is important because it reduces the complexity of integrating UV-curing lamps, minimizes the environmental and health and safety concerns in some applications, and also allows use of UV-curing technology on heat-sensitive substrates," continues Saunders.

"Our ink chemists were able to accelerate cure speed significantly and apply the speed increases to other SunJet ink families," Saunders notes. "Increased line speed on this scale really widens the scope of LED curing as a method of drying inkjet films. We see application in coding and marking, digital label production, wide format graphics, and in variable data printing on plastic smart cards." SunJet inks are sold through OEM channels.

Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies (L&P) cited its commitment to protecting the environment as the impetus behind the development of BioHueV UV inks, which produce virtually no VOCs.

"The use of UV inks is a breakthrough that provides environmentally conscious companies with the ability to match eco-friendly inks with green fabrics and other graphics substrates," L&P noted at the time it introduced BioHueV inks to the market.

"UV-curable, pigmented inks are not only green, but create finished graphics applications with superior light fastness, abrasion resistance, and durability."

Nazdar announced this fall that it became a Xaar approved ink partner. The company also achieved Xaar approved status for its Nazdar Lyson 7150F and 7340F UV-curable inks for use with Xaar 500/40 printheads found on select print engines from Dilli Precision Industries, Co. Ltd., DuPont, Gandinnovations, Inca Digital Printers, and Raster Printers, Inc.

In addition to its Color+ brand of solvent-based inks for piezoelectric printing, Fujifilm Sericol U.S.A., Inc. rolled out Uvijet Inks—which the company says is the first UV-curable inkjet ink developed for use with a wide range of uncoated media and print engines from Inca Digital, Zünd, and for its own Acuity HD 2504.

Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. developed a brand of inks—GerberCAT cationic inks—for the Solara ion. The manufacturer says that GerberCAT—a four-color set—differs from traditional free radical UV inks because of a unique chemistry causing the inks to dry slightly slower than traditional UV inks. The manufacturer suggests that the time differential is minimal and well worth it, because the extra time for curing enables GerberCAT inks to form a more durable and elastic bond with the material.

Solving the Print Equation with Solvents
Despite a clear industry focus on the environment, there still is a demand for solvent-based ink products simply because they excel at certain applications.

"I still see a high-demand for solvent-based print engines," notes Chuck Payne, business development manager, ElevenTen Color. "There is no feasible alternative today for outdoor durability and flexibility of solvent ink. The popularity of UV-curable engines is growing, but due to the price points of the hardware and the characteristics of the ink, I still believe it will be quite some time before UV-curable technology replaces solvent technology in outdoor, flexible substrate applications."

"It will also be interesting to see what impact latex-based print engines will have on traditional solvent markets," Payne adds. "I definitely believe there is a demand for alternative solutions to solvent-based ink, but until price points come down and environmental regulations are established in the U.S., there is going to be a strong demand for traditional solvent engines and ink solutions with an overall lower cost per print."

ElevenTen offers a range of solvent inks for printers from Mimaki, Mutoh, and Roland. At SGIA 2008, the company unveiled a new, six-color series of inks for Seiko I Infotech Inc.’s ColorPainter printer series.

"Our inks are backed by a performance warranty. This warranty provides users with added protection against premature color fade due to UV exposure. Many of the OEM hardware manufacturers provide a fade statement that says the OEM inks will last up to ‘x’ years outdoors. This is not exactly a longevity statement. ‘Up to’ could mean two months or two years," explains Payne.

"ElevenTen provides a more specific warranty that states inks will last a minimum of two years outdoors, unlaminated," Payne adds. "Our inks are developed to be chemically miscible with OEM inks. This allows the users to switch from the OEM to ElevenTen Color inks simply by swapping ink cartridges. ElevenTen Color inks’ color gamut is equivalent to OEM inks. This allows users to continue to utilize existing media profiles."

Graphic Resource Systems recommended that Devin Fahie of Sebago Sign Works in Raymond, ME, try ElevenTen Color inks.

Sebago Sign Works produces traditional signage as well as moving graphics—truck lettering and vehicle wraps. Fahie estimates that in 2008 the company applied graphics to nearly 2,000 trucks. The company owns a Summa Durachrome and a Mimaki JV3.

"There are a few different options," Fahie confides. "The OEM inks, which we never have an issue with. There are also inks from companies like Triangle Digital INX Co. and ElevenTen Color."

Fahie says, first and foremost, the quality of the output dictates the brand of inks he chooses.

"I don’t want to imply that cost doesn’t matter, because price is always important," he explains. "But even if my inks drop in cost, the impact is negligible. My gross margin may go up by a percent, literally. It doesn’t represent a big bounce to your bottom dollar," Fahie adds. Rather, the greater impact occurs when Sebago Sign Works is able to print a graphic once, and have the customer walk away pleased with the color.

Other ink manufacturers continue to invest in solvent-based solutions—like Clearstar LP’s JetStar line of inks for superwide printers.

"JetStar inks deliver the printability, throughput, and color of an OEM, while reducing the end user’s cost by as much as 30 percent," suggests Patrick Forney, product manager, Clearstar LP. "JetStar inks provide longer print runs without head cleaning, excellent print performance in high-speed modes, wide color gamut, and prolonged image durability."

"All JetStar inks are compatible with ClearShield liquid laminates," Forney adds. "Our system provides outstanding UV longevity, along with outstanding chemical resistance."

Hilord Chemical Corporation turned to solvents to develop a new breed of dye-sublimation inks that claim to resolve some of the problems associated with water- or oil-based alternatives. Currently, Hilord offers solvent-based dye-sublimation inks for use with the Mimaki JV3 and the Roland SOLJET.

BullDog Products, Inc. offers both solvent and aqueous formulas of its BullDog Durafos inks, available for use with select digital print models from HP, Epson, Mimaki, Mutoh, and Roland.

Which Will You Choose?
There’s no shortage of suppliers offering ink sets as a less-expensive alternative to competitive products. As some have learned, the greatest way to achieve considerable cost savings is to think about ink as more than a mere consumable; think about it in terms of a means to an end. Ask yourself: "How can I ensure that I’m choosing the right ink for my equipment, all the while making certain that the inks chosen provide a final output that satisfies my customer’s needs?" If you can answer that question, you’ll be able to choose the printer—and ink—that is right for you.

Dec2008, Digital Output

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