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Processing Metallic 

Turning a Niche into a Necessity

By Melissa Donovan

Every so often, the graphic arts is introduced to niche products and applications that solve problems, open new markets, and ease production. Eventually, truly innovative products become staples in a print service provider’s (PSP’s) environment. Metallic ink is one of these products.

 

Currently, the cost of metallic ink is much higher than basic CMYK. However, Tim Greene, wide format printing analyst, InfoTrends, believes price will decline as other vendors create similar products. This action, according to Greene, will be very similar to the life cycle of white ink.

 

“There is a good chance that metallic ink will be just like when white ink was first introduced. Over the next few years all eco-solvent, aqueous, and UV-curable inkjet printers will come with silver/metallic inkjet ink printing capabilities. Once the early users build a usage case and those examples become well known in the market, other vendors will add the capability into their equipment offerings,” he predicts.

 

Niche to Necessity

Demand is an important part to shifting metallic ink from a niche to a necessity. High volumes drive down costs. Manufacturers initially invest in research and development to differentiate themselves from competition.

 

Steve Urmano, director of marketing, Mimaki USA, Inc., admits that metallic ink is used as a differentiator, but sees interest in labels and point of purchase (POP). Mimaki’s Silver ES3 eco-solvent ink is compatible with its JV33 Series and CJV 30 printer/cutters.

 

There is a real demand from digital print customers, as this currently is a key feature missing from most digital print offerings,” explains Tim Phillips, marketing manager, Xennia Technology Ltd. The company manufactures XenInx Onyx. 100 percent metallic silver, it is overprinted with CMYK to create a colored metallic effect. It is a solvent product.

 

Some believe demand goes back ten or 20 years. “We’ve had a history for metallic silver ink to earlier versions of our printer/cutters, which were based on thermal technology,” adds Robert Ozankan, senior product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.

 

Roland manufactures all of its ECO-SOL MAX inks, and Metallic Silver eco-solvent is compatible with the company’s SOLJET PRO III XC-540MT printer/cutter and VersaCAMM VS series of printer/cutters. It is 100 percent metallic.

 

There is a latent demand in specific market segments, such as the cosmetics industry. Once again, Greene compares metallic to white ink, “in the sense that once you get it in the hands of the users, they will create applications for the technology that manufacturers never thought of.”

 

Metallic inks are acceptable for a range of applications found in the large format marketplace. Specialty products, especially in short runs, show the largest potential. “Wine bottles are a good example. This demand is a result of companies looking to further differentiate themselves from competitors,” explains Willis Reese, global director of business development, INX Digital International Co.

 

INX Digital partners with Eckart to develop its Silver Metallic Ink. It is 100 percent metallic, but can be blended with CMYK to create many metallic colors and effects. Currently, Mimaki’s solvent printers and the Roland SOLJET series are compatible with this solvent metallic ink set.

 

Holding Back the Sparkle

Before demand hits its peak, there are challenges to address. Production limitations, cost factors, and learning curves are factors that slow initial requests.

 

Speed is one example. Pigments in metallic inks are heavier, requiring more drying time, which explains the slow print speed. Urmano cites that speeds for running silver are at best 30 square feet per hour or one fourth the normal print speed.

 

Adhesion to substrates is another challenge. “Metallic Silver ECO-SOL MAX ink adheres better to coated substrates. However, we’ve experienced good performance on uncoated vinyl, banner media, white and clear PET film, canvas, and photographic papers,” explains Ozankan.

 

High price is another issue. Metallic ink costs about $220 for a 220 milliliter cartridge. This runs anywhere from two to four times the price of non-metallic inks.

 

With the Roland VersaCAMM VS series, typical metallic images are produced for approximately $.75 per square foot, and 100 percent Metallic Silver ECO-SOL MAX fills are produced for approximately $1.48 per square foot. The lower price metallic ink is based on 50 percent usage.

 

The Learning Curve

Based on a general consensus, most PSPs venture cautiously into working with metallic ink, particularly when designing the print files.

 

“To achieve a look on a two dimensional printed image and get the desired result is not simple to master. Traditional print houses use special software to help provide the file adjustments necessary with a silver station. Digital needs this help from a plug-in,” says Karla Witte, VP of product development, INX Digital.

 

Phillips echoes this sentiment. “To a certain extent some new thinking is required to make the best use of metallic—it does not fit within a standard CMYK color gamut and needs to be treated as a separate spot color. This is normal to printers who work with traditional printing methods, but is new to most digital workflows.”

 

Two separate files can be used, a metallic plane and a basic CMYK color image. Or, users can combine CMYK with spot color data found in a PSD, EPS, or PDF file.

 

RIPs bundled with printers from both Mimaki and Roland provide color libraries that now include metallic colors, to help designers create pre-defined metallic hues in design programs. Mimaki’s Raster Link Pro5 provides a library full of metallic colors, both 100 percent metallic and mixed with CMYK. For designers creating their own palettes, Urmano says about 40 percent metallic provides a good range of CMYK metallic color tints.

 

The Roland Metallic Color System library, found in Roland VersaWorks, features 512 metallic colors. Standard metallic colors feature 100 percent metallic plus CMYK and light metallic features 50 percent silver plus CMYK. Color swatch libraries are provided for both Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw so users can produce files with the pre-defined Roland metallic colors.

 

Epic Sign Studio

Epic Sign Studio is a newly formed company based in Miami, FL. In March of 2010 they purchased a Roland VersaCAMM VS-640 for a number of reasons, ranging from the cutting tool to the metallic ink option. “It was unique and we saw its potential. The metallic ink sold us almost immediately. The VS-640’s cutting tool allows us to save time and office space—as we only operate in 1,300 square feet,” explains Jason Morris, creative director, Epic.

 

Morris admits that despite the number of new features, the learning curve wasn’t challenging. “Difficultly arose when we were adjusting to the layered mode with metallic ink, and preflighting our artwork so that the metallic was printed correctly,” he says.

 

High cost and diminished speeds factor into metallic ink usage, but the team realized this prior to purchasing. As Morris explains, both are expected when you use high-quality modes and special ink. The cost of the ink is about four times that of basic CMYK, but Epic tries to include less silver when combining with CMYK for a lower cost per square foot.

 

Educating customers about the cost of the ink wasn’t hard, most expect to pay more. However, Morris says that the cost doesn’t hike the overall price of an application up so high that clients waver or back out on a job or quote.

 

Epic creates vehicle wraps, fashion posters, art reproductions, die-cut stickers, and decals using the metallic ink. A recent project involved a restyled 2009 Audi TT, which was a custom car wrap created with a silver metallic pattern and a matte finish.

 

Metallic Wonder

New products go through years of research and development before hitting the market. Once there, they experience another trying time of acceptance, which gauges their popularity and practical use. Although there are many dissuading factors affecting the rise of metallic ink, such as learning curves, cost, and production limitations, none of it is a surprise. Working the kinks out with the help of willing PSPs will speed this niche into a necessity.

Feb2011, Digital Output

 

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