Each April, Digital Output (DO) provides an article on the state of ink. Vendors and print service providers (PSPs) offer insight on the coming trends and passing fads. Digital is a growing market, continued innovation and efficiency propels this growth. Ink technology is a leading factor driving this change.
2011 brings with it some familiar technologies and new additions; including UV LED, white, and metallic ink. Included below is an abbreviated version of April’s article. You can read it in its entirety—with additional commentary on sustainable inks and third party manufacturers—at the end of March on www.digitaloutput.net or pick up a copy at ISA in April.
UV LED Advancements
The power behind UV LED curing lamps provides a faster drying time and better adhesion to more substrates. Since this ink came on the scene, many PSPs have flocked to the space. In 2010 speed advancements opened up the possibility for usage in other fields of printing.
With compressed turnaround times, many PSPs look for efficiency when shopping for a printer and its corresponding ink set. This is one of the reasons UV LED is so attractive. For example, Mimaki USA, Inc.’s newest UV LED printers—the JFX plus series—utilize an auxiliary post curing module that reduces drying time by 80 percent. Ink receives a secondary curing after UV light dries the print, creating a print speed of 254 square feet per hour (sf/h). The original JFX series only offered a print speed of 140 sf/h.
Other benefits include adhesion to more substrates, because the curing method allows for drying thin media without curling. Versatility plays a large part in PSPs’ purchasing decisions. Owning a $100,000 printer means being able to constantly produce a variety of applications. The media options UV LED presents drive its popularity.
Despite the benefits, there are disadvantages besides a high price tag. UV LED devices emit less infrared waves during the curing process, ideal for heat-sensitive substrates, which explains the no curling, but infrared has its drawbacks. “New ink formulations are required to tune the photo-initiators to the UV wavelength of the LED. The wavelength can be narrower and/or weaker than mercury,” explains Randy Paar, marketing manager, display graphics systems, Océ North America. The absorption spectrum of an ink—or varnish—must conform to the limited wavelength, which is challenging.
White and metallic inks have long been available for screenprinting. The cost versus digital is minimal, as both are in an early adoption phase in the digital realm. White is a more mature technology and has created a solid stronghold in the graphic arts. Paar admits that Océ’s customers have steadily increased their white ink usage, to a point where white ink outsells black and cyan.
Sandy Gramley, HP Scitex supplies, product manager, Americas region, Hewlett-Packard (HP), foresees white ink accelerating quickly in larger sign shops, with usage increasing as pages transition from analog to digital devices.
The price of white ink is currently holding many PSPs back from adoption. It isn’t so much the cost of the ink itself, but the time spent making up for the lack of efficiency. White ink requires several passes in most cases, slowing down production.
As we discussed in our February article on metallic ink sets, it’s following the same adoption path as white. Once 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. As more products develop, cost will come down, just as with white ink.
The fact that there is real demand from digital print customers makes metallic a reality. Many traditional printers—used to printing with metallic—who have made that switch to digital, want to work with metallic on a digital level. “As printers are beginning to realize the benefits of digital technology, allowing them to create attractive print designs with metallic ink while also having the ability to produce customized printing, it will not be long before the others follow suit,” says Tim Phillips, marketing director, Xennia Technology Ltd.
Both white and metallic ink sets are important products for the non-impact industry, according to Ken Kisner, president, INX Digital International Co. They allow inkjet to gain market share in traditional markets. “The actual requirements for these products remain small, yet the ability to drive into a market allows inkjet to continue its growth.”
2010 brought a lot of noise in the ink space. All of the advancements continue to fuel the transition from analog to digital. As digital speeds, color gamut, and media versatility begin to match traditional printing capabilities, this evolution will quickly become a reality. This is largely dependent on ink, and the state of ink is certainly on the correct path.
In the final part of this queue series, read about two PSPs and their experiences with solvent, UV, and latex ink.
Click here to read Part 1 of this exclusive online series, Ink for the PSP.