The Ink Progression
Healthier work environments force manufacturers to adapt technologies, acting as a catalyst for the sustainable movement. Industry members continue to push for advancement.
Steve Igoe, sales manager, Bordeaux, explains that following traditional hard solvent inks, mild-solvent inks were introduced. These are cyclohexanone solvent-free, which is banned from use due to its harsh effect on the environment. With the advent of UV inks, manufacturers began studying the possibility of an eco-friendly solvent.
“Many inks are now produced with more plant-based raw materials, as opposed to those derived from chemicals. These characteristics drove the change from solvent to UV and the trend is expected to continue,” shares Larry Hettinger, product marketing manager, Graphic Systems division, Fujifilm.
Historically, UV inks were considered less flexible than solvent inks, which led to research on how to improve this sector and compete against the emerging eco-solvent product. Today’s technology offers advanced UV ink formulations with more flexibility.
UV light emitting diodes (LED) is the newest innovation. LED technology minimizes power usage compared to conventional UV lamps and provides a longer lifespan. UV LED devices emit less infrared waves, which make them applicable for heat-sensitive substrates.
Advancements in UV continue to fuel the industry. Not only is it eco-friendly, it also uses less ink, which means less waste. Deborah Hutcheson, director of marketing, Agfa, provides an example. “Eight to ten milliliters of UV ink is required per square meter on a particular substrate, where for the substrate and size, 12 to 24 milliliters of solvent ink is required. UV inks may be higher in cost, but ink consumption is significantly lower and results in less waste and better quality.” View the graph on page 32 for more price comparisons.
There are still kinks—despite the tremendous advancements that unfolded over the last decade. Heat seems to play a large part in this. Many products require extra heat to properly affix the ink to a substrate, which means more energy is used, decreasing productivity.
“These technologies use more of a binder technology and thus can limit some of the material used,” comments Stephen Emery, director, ink sales & marketing, EFI.
Steve Benedict, East coast manager, GO, points out SEPIAX ink also requires a longer heating period for optimum results.
Along the way, manufacturers realized if they were going to revamp ink sets for one purpose, why not see if there were added benefits? Other characteristics such as faster drying times and substrate variety have also blossomed.
New technology enables UV to dry significantly quicker than solvent-based products. “UV-curable inks are based on monomers that cure instantly with exposure to UV light projected from lamps installed next to the printheads. In the drying process of solvent-based inks, solvents evaporate and release VOCs into the air,” shares Igoe.
Due to the nature of UV changing to a solid once cured, adhesion and abrasion resistance is excellent on a variety of materials, notes Emery.
“HP Latex Inks are appropriate for printing on an even broader range of media. In particular, they offer good compatibility with uncoated textile media not typically suited for use with solvent inks. The new HP Scitex LX800 is the first HP Latex printer specifically designed to facilitate textile printing,” adds Dr. Nils Miller, senior ink and media scientist, imaging & printing group, HP.
Textiles make for entirely green process—providing a biodegradable alternative from substrate to ink. “Soft signage is one of the only ways to have a truly environmentally friendly sign,” shares Reed Hecht, product manager, Epson. The company recently partnered with Neschen Americas to offer compatibility with Neschen’s entire line of textile media.
“The appetite for fabrics and soft signage in the print market is ever increasing. Advances in machine technologies coupled with fabric manufacturing and finishing techniques mean that greater scope and potential is possible. Soft signage printers want green solutions. Greater demand is placed upon printing companies to give their customers the solutions they seek to fulfill their requirements,” adds Hutcheson.
New Business Opportunities
The economic downturn affected interest in eco-friendly products. Price points skyrocketed and weary PSPs turned a blind eye. In today’s rejuvenated market these shop owners must realize the necessity of sustainable ink, not only for eco-reasons, but for the new business opportunities available to them.
“As we emerge from the recession, many PSPs look to invest in technologies that address new applications and business opportunities. In some parts of the world they are also coming under renewed pressure to demonstrate environmental credentials to customers,” explains Stephen Goddard, environmental leadership program manager, graphic solutions business, HP.
The ability to print on a variety of mediums opens up countless avenues not yet explored. Digitally printed designs on mirrors or digitally printed clothing, this is all now possible.
“At the end of the day, customers must realize and understand the benefits of green technology and be willing to pay for it. Until now, a key focus was to replace solvent ink with greener ink. For these specific applications, many customers are more hesitant to pay extra for the benefits of green,” shares Emery.
The old mentality of purchasing a greener ink just for eco-conscious reasons has gone the wayside. In truth, the positions are reversed. The eco-friendliness of an eco-solvent, latex, aqueous, or bio ink is a bonus. PSPs should look for the opportunity to capitalize on these additional benefits.
As Hettinger points out, shop owners should study the whole equation. “While there are high-profile brands that require printers to use green inks as part of their own environmental sustainability efforts, some argue that the ink makes up such a small percentage of the total graphic that it isn’t the prime concern. Substrates, whether recyclable or more biodegradable, will drive more green initiatives particularly as the economy recovers.”
Eventually media will influence customers’ concerns regarding eco-friendly practices. Ink’s sustainability could be an afterthought for many.
Project Ink’s Versatility
Rancho Cucamonga, CA-based Project Ink was one of the first companies in North America to house an HP Designjet L25500 latex printer in 2009. At the time, the four year old graphics agency had only one other printer in house, a Mimaki JV5. The company recently relocated to a new building and is currently using approximately 5,000 square feet of space.
Kyle Morrison, owner, Project Ink, became familiar with HP’s Latex technology when the Designjet L65500 was introduced, but felt a smaller version would better complement the company. When the 60-inch L25500 debuted, they found a fit. Becoming a beta site, they realized the out-of-the-box potential of this printer, and sustainability was only half the reason.
“For one client, we can outfit an entire retail location from window graphics to displays, fabric, wallpaper, and basic signage. Complete graphic solutions are available to customers based on the versatility of the HP printer,” explains Morrison.
The Project Ink staff finds the device easy to use. No calibration issues have arose and due to the printer’s self cleaning and self alignment modes, they’ve never had to custom clean or align the printheads. HP also provides excellent media profiles. The company uses a variety of HP media including the environmentally friendly product line.
Sustainability is a consideration. “We use the printer’s sustainability as an added benefit. A lot of shops use it as a way to upcharge. If I talk to a client about the eco-friendly factor—from the inks to the materials—people are interested and what to hear more,” confesses Morrison.
He admits, however, that sustainability needs to be more effectively marketed as a whole. It’s unpopular because clients assume it is cost prohibitive. In some cases, cost may be higher—but if end users can see past these issues and experience the additional benefits, this may change.
The eco-friendliness of latex ink, in conjunction with HP’s PVC-free Wallpaper product attracted Gymboree Play & Music to Project Ink. “Gymboree Play & Music was excited about the latex ink because children play in their buildings,” explains Morrison.
There are over 550 locations in over 300 countries of this offshoot of the popular children’s clothing store. Developmental classes and parties are held at these independently owned franchises for children up to five years in age.
In conjunction with a local Gymboree Play & Music, Project Ink created perforated vinyl storefront window displays, PVC-free wallpaper, and mounted interior signage.
“I would like to see the industry as a whole make a serious effort in the sustainable direction. It benefits all parties, from the owners/managers making sure employees are safe and work in a eco-conscious environment, all the way to the end users and consumers walking by digitally printed applications on a daily basis,” he says.
Sustainable ink carries the burden of high cost. If we educate end users about the other benefits, which may in fact be held in greater value to many, green ink will succeed.
This isn’t to say that we as a people aren’t environmentally conscious. We just need a little extra push. In an infantile movement such as this, it isn’t a bad thing. Every reason helps advance the technology, which may eventually attract users solely for sustainability reasons as costs go down.