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Inking Forward

Sustainability as a Bonus

By Melissa Donovan

Print service providers (PSPs) request sustainable products for their shops and manufacturers listen. From eco-solvents to latex ink, the industry has come a long way. Not only do these products foster a better work environment for operators and the world in general, they also aid in the advancement of the graphic arts.

 

New technologies enable printing on an expanded range of substrates, at faster speeds, using less energy. This equates to less money spent on electricity and more time to offer a variety of new applications.

 

Examining the extended benefits of sustainable ink—beyond the primary advantage of eco-friendliness—is an important selling point. Many PSPs are concerned with the high costs of eco-friendly inks. However, if vendors can position aqueous, eco-solvent, bio, UV, and latex ink as more than just a healthy alternative, PSPs may see the inherent and worthwhile possibilities.

 

A Spectrum of Choices

I.T. Strategies’ 2010 Wide Format Inkjet Graphics Forecast divides the wide format inkjet market into three segments—aqueous, solvent, and UV. All three contain some form of an eco-friendly ink. In particular, solvent and UV inks are forecast to grow between 2009 and 2014.

 

The solvent category pertains to a low-level/eco-solvent sector that now includes latex. According to the report, this sector makes up the largest amount of the solvent market with unit sales growing from 16,807 in 2009 to 22,704 in 2014, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of six percent.

 

Additionally, I.T. Strategies found that the UV category is targeted to grow from 2,801 printers in 2009 to 4,386 printers by 2014, a CAGR of nine percent. It’s interesting to note the number of UV printers in the field compared to solvent, illustrating the relatively infant stages of this technology.

 

Recognizing this numbers trend, manufacturers currently offer a wide array of solvent and UV ink sets that fall under the sustainable product category. In the past year, many added new ink lines to existing portfolios. Also, aqueous inks still maintain a presence in the creation of certain applications, despite a decline in unit sales.

 

An entire UV-curable line is available from Agfa Graphics. :Agorix LM, :Anapurna G2, :Anuvia, and :Agora ink sets are all considered sustainable. At IPEX 2010 in May, the company announced :Agorix LM UV-curable inks for the :Dotrix Modular LM. These inks are designed for primary and secondary food packaging substrates, including multi-layer aluminum, aluminum, PET, PE, PP, OPP, and more.

 

For large format, Agfa :Anapurna M series G2 inks improve flexibility. They are perfect for PSPs looking to print on substrates that stretch or shrink when exposed to temperature fluctuations. The inks are specially formulated to resist cracking when the material is bent, cut, or drilled.

 

PeNr, an eco-solvent ink from Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd., minimizes the damage to the environment when compared to regular solvents. The ink provides a wide color gamut and is compatible with a variety of coated and uncoated media. PeNr works with printers from Agfa, Mimaki USA, Inc., Mutoh America, Inc., and Roland DGA Corporation.

 

EFI’s UV-curable inks contain naturally derived monomers and oligomers. They make up to 50 percent of the ink’s chemical composition. These items come from renewable resources such as plants or biomass. In addition, EFI’s inks contain virtually no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or heavy metals; are non-toxic; and are not known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic to reproduction. Under U.S. waste regulations—such as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act—the inks are not considered hazardous. Many of the company’s superwide printers are a fit for this ink set including the VUTEk QS220 and QS3250r.

 

Epson considers its ink eco-friendly. The company’s aqueous-based products are used in the majority of its professional imaging portfolio. UltraChrome GS is a solvent ink that contains no carcinogenic nickel compounds. The ink, designed for the Epson Stylus Pro GS6000, gives off virtually no odor, which eliminates the need for external dryers and air purification systems.

 

Based on Fujifilm North America Corporation’s corporate sustainability initiative, Sericol Uvijet UV digital inks are VOC-free, contain no hazardous air pollutants, and are cured using energy efficient ultra violet light. Inca Digital Printers’ Onset, Spyder, Columbia, Turbo, and Eagle printers are compatible with the Uvijet ink set, as is Fujifilm’s own Acuity series.

 

Graphics One, LLC offers SEPIAX ink, a water-based resin with no traces of VOCs or other harmful chemicals. The product is also biodegradable. SEPIAX dries instantly and is flexible, scratch resistant, and clog free. It prints on any substrate heated to 55 degrees Celsius. The ink is designed for printers using Epson piezo printheads, including those from Epson, Mimaki, Mutoh, and Roland.

 

Hewlett-Packard (HP) celebrates the revolutionary invention of latex technology. The ink provides the image quality, durability, and productivity associated with low- and eco-solvent inks, but is a water-based formulation. Recent environmental approvals illustrate the sustainability of this product. HP PVC-free Wallpaper printed with HP Latex ink meets the German Committee for the Health-related Evaluation of Building Products and the U.S. GREENGUARD Children and Schools standard. The ink also meets the chemical requirements of the Nordic Ecolabel. At IPEX, HP introduced two new printers utilizing latex ink, the HP Scitex LX600 and LX800.

 

INX Digital International Co. debuted several “green” products at FESPA in June. Its new textile ink is water-based and designed for direct printing on synthetic fabrics with printers utilizing Epson printheads. Its fast dry time is one characteristic that attracts end users. This occurs on 60 percent blend polyesters with optimal ink fluidity and printability. In addition, the BIO line of sustainable ink products now includes Triangle AXM superwide format inks. This solvent-based ink offers scratch-resistance and is UV resistant for outdoor use up to three years. It is compatible with printers utilizing Spectra and Xaar printheads.

 

Mimaki currently offers UV-curable LED technology for a variety of its hardware devices—for example the JFX-1631 flatbed printer. This device utilizes LF-200 Flexible UV ink or LH-100 Hard UV ink. LF-200 offers 200 percent elasticity, which is ideal for embossing and other post-processing tasks. Conversely, LH-100 features a high scratch and chemical resistance for rigid surfaces including irregular items such as aluminum, glass, resin, metal, and plastic.

 

Manufactured by EFI for Mutoh, MUBIO ink derives from corn—ethyl lactate is the primary carrier. Recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment program, the ink is made from 80 percent plant substances and contains no harmful VOCs. Mutoh designed its ValueJet 1608 64-inch hybrid printer specifically for this ink set.

 

Roland offers aqueous ink, as well as a variety of eco-solvent products for its printer portfolio. The company introduced Metallic Silver ECO-SOL MAX ink for the 54-inch SOLJET PRO III XC-540MT printer earlier this year. It creates metallic prints and can be combined with CMYK for gold, bronze, and pearlescent colors. Roland’s ECO-SOL MAX offers fast drying time and scratch resistance. It does not require any special ventilation.

 

Sawgrass Technologies, Inc.’s M-Textile water-based modified pigment inks bind to all fabrics due to specially formulated reactive elements. This chemical combination allows for only one to three minutes of necessary heat fixation time depending on the specific ink and fabric pairing. M-Textile inks are compatible with d.gen, Inc., Mimaki, Mutoh, Roland, and Splash of Color printers. Two different versions are currently available, M-TT for printing on cotton and polyester fabrics; and MxF ink, specially formulated for ideal performance on nylon and polyester fabrics with outdoor durability. Additionally, Sawgrass’ line of sublimation inks, including SubliM and SubliM direct, are water-based and environmentally friendly. 

 

The ColorPainter V-64s printer from Seiko I Infotech utilizes EG-Outdoor LX mild-solvent inks, which offer outstanding color density and outdoor durability at an economical cost. It is ideal for outdoor signage on both coated and uncoated media. The ink set features a low odor for the work environment.


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.

 

Bonus Benefits

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.

 

Cleaning Up

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.  

 

Sep2010, Digital Output

 
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