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.