When it comes to package printing, it’s UV all the way. Depending on the curing technology, you can even create prototypes on shrink films or other heat-sensitive materials that would be used during the production process. “The end result is a prototype that closely matches the final product,” says Hiroshi Ono, senior product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.
The big race in the high-volume packaging is for UV inks used on packaging that comes in direct contact with food. Today, when a UV ink is cured, it freezes the ink monomers at the surface of the substrate, but those beneath are still active and can migrate through the substrate and into your food, explains Willis Reese, global director of business development, INX Digital International Co. Not exactly appetizing.
In response, some ink makers are attempting to formulate UV inks that can ultimately be certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe to come in contact with food. “The opportunity is huge,” adds Reese, but the challenges are steep, particularly for products sold internationally, which have to meet U.S. and more stringent European standards.
“It’s not in our roadmap to go direct-to-food,” shares Kristof Dekeukelaere, :Dotrix sales manager, Agfa Graphics, “but our target is to go to the indirect food market with a low migration ink for the :Dotrix press.” Such ink, he says, keeps 99.9 percent of the monomers from crossing through the substrate and into the food after the ink is cured.
This food-safe ink won’t work its way onto short-run platforms like UV flatbeds anytime soon, predicts Mike Wozny, strategic product manager, EFI. “UV ink technology is changing so fast and the certification process takes so long that by the time an ink is certified, the technology would have already advanced a generation or two.” Those waiting would miss out on the new capabilities of the latest formulations.
Besides, says Chris Howard, VP of sales and marketing, Durst Image Technology US LLC, such FDA standards wouldn’t be relevant for a short-run play. “Most printing devices in this category aren’t set up to do real package printing, so for secondary packaging the lack of FDA certification isn’t an issue.”
Time-to-market and product intentions are two of the biggest influencers on whether certain digital ink sets will become FDA-approved for food contact. As digital forces a bigger presence in the package world, this debate will surely heat up. You can read more about digital package and prototyping in the October issue of Digital Output.
Click here to read Part 1 of this exclusive online series, Digital in Packaging.