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Ink Stories

State of Ink 2011

By Melissa Donovan

Digital is a growing market, continued innovation and efficiency propels this growth. Ink technology is a leading factor driving this change. Each year Digital Output (DO) presents a state of ink article that provides a benchmark for the year to come. Vendors and print service providers (PSPs) offer insight on coming trends and passing fads.

 

2011 brings with it some familiar faces and new additions. UV light emitting diodes (LED) ink is still a popular topic. Not only does it offer flexibility, allowing for bending without cracking, it is also an eco-friendly solution thanks to reduced energy costs. DO polled readers regarding their ink usage and asked what type of ink they plan to eventually switch to. 33 percent responded UV LED. Some of the reasons for this change include color gamut, adhesion, and UV resistance.

 

UV, eco-solvent, and aqueous-based latex inks are making a buzz in the “green” space. Despite the economic downturn, PSPs still request these ink sets—as long as quality isn’t compromised. Cost is a factor in maintaining interest.

 

With similar potential, but not the largest amount of interest—yet, are niche products such as white and metallic ink. More flatbed and roll printers are introduced to the market with separate channels for white, however creating a perfect white—no banding in one pass—is rare.

 

Efficiency, both in laying down the ink and in the clean up phase, is still low compared to basic CMYK. Metallic inks are experiencing a similar problem. They are truly a specialty product, not yet available on high-end industrial devices. Currently, their best usage is for one-offs and short runs.

 

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 more speed advancements opened up the possibility for usage in other fields of printing.

 

“Energy outputs have quadrupled in past years. With an increase in power many advances are now being made with a more rapidly curing ink formulation that allows this technology to be a viable use for industrial coatings,” explains Rich Nickols, UV digital product manager, Nazdar.

 

With speed a contributing factor in today’s compressed turnaround times, many PSPs look for efficiency when shopping for a large format printer and its corresponding ink set. This is one of the primary reasons UV LED is so attractive. Mimaki USA, Inc.’s newest UV LED printers—the JFX plus series—utilize an auxiliary post curing module that shortens dry 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.

 

Other benefits include adhesion to more substrates, as the curing method allows for drying thin media without curling. UV LED’s media options drive its popularity. As Stephen Emery, director, EFI Ink Business, predicts, this reason—along with speedy drying times—will increase the adoption of LED technology so that the price of these presses continues to decrease.

 

UV LED devices emit less infrared waves during curing. Ideal for heat-sensitive substrates, which explains the no curling, infrared does have 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.

 

Growing Interest

PSPs are interested in sustainable ink sets, with pressure from customers. According to Jennifer Greenquist, inks and warranties business manager, 3M Commercial Graphics, “every industry is being forced to examine how to create a more sustainable, cleaner, friendlier, and healthier environment.” The graphic arts does this with inks that emit less volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

 

PSPs do not wish to compromise on performance or durability. The standing concern and roadblock for many is cost. “Customers constantly ask for eco-friendly solutions. The trick is to provide a solution at an economical price point,” admits Amir Ajanee, president, Prism Inks Inc.

 

Despite this and possibly to challenge it, vendors continue to develop products. As mentioned, UV LED is considered eco-friendly due to its fast curing abilities. Other green inks include aqueous-based—such as latex, eco-solvent, and basic UV.

 

Randy Anderson, product marketing manager, Mutoh America, Inc., credits the continued popularity of aqueous-based inks to the growing textile market. After many years of success in other parts of the world, the U.S. is finally becoming part of a trend that introduces a new group of applications and media opportunities.

 

Growing demand for sublimation techniques used in the creation of textile-based applications is also expected. “Fabric graphics are easy to handle, cost effective to ship, and environmentally friendly. They are well suited for signage and displays of any size. New direct-to-fabric printing technologies are maturing, making it easier to produce high-quality fabric graphics,” explains Robert Ozankan, senior product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.

 

Hewlett-Packard (HP) Latex Ink attracts increasing interest, primarily because of its versatility. End users print on uncoated papers, soft signage, and custom wallpaper, in addition to traditional vinyl and banner materials. An odorless solution, latex is an excellent eco-friendly alternative for indoor applications.

 

Despite the challenging economy, options for eco-friendly inks are growing. “This is largely due to breakthroughs in the ink technologies such as Epson’s UltraChrome GS eco-solvent inks. These eco-friendly solvents are not only priced affordably, but they’re free of VOCs and don’t contain nickel,” notes Mark Radogna, group product manager, Epson.

 

Terry Amerine, segment manager, wide format graphics, Fujifilm North America Corporation, argues that eco-solvent inks are increasingly impacted by limitations in terms of adhesion and end use performance. “The most effective and consequently fastest growing green ink is UV.”

 

With the rollercoaster that is the economy, interest in eco-friendly inks has gone by the wayside. Cost as well as the idea of jumping into unfamiliar territory during an unstable time stops many PSPs from investing. However, the introduction of new products into the market means innovation. It is important to stay educated on what is available and decide for yourself whether an ink type is considered sustainable or not.

 

“Eco-friendly inks are still drivers in the market,” claims Daniel Slep, PhD, director of technology, Hilord Chemical Corporation. “But the real problem is the misinformation in marketing about what is environmentally friendly.” There is a lot of confusion or “greenwashing” out there, hopefully it will die down or disappear as the market picks back up.

 

Niche Products

White and metallic inks have long been available for screenprinting at a lower cost. Both are in an early adoption phase in the digital realm. White is a more mature technology and has certainly integrated itself into the graphic arts, creating a solid stronghold. Paar admits that Océ’s customers have steadily increased their white ink usage, to a point where it outsells black and cyan.

 

Sandy Gramley, HP Scitex supplies, product manager, Americas region, HP, foresees white ink accelerating in larger sign shops, with usage increasing as pages transition from analog to digital devices.

 

Currently the price of white ink is holding back adoption. However, the cost of the ink itself isn’t the problem, it is the lack of efficiency. White ink requires several passes in most cases, slowing down production. It is for this reason that Steve Urmano, marketing director, Mimaki, does not believe white or metallic ink will be mainstream.

 

As discussed in our February 2011 article on metallic ink, this niche product is following the same 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.

 

“Metallic ink is still very early in the adoption phase. One drawback is that it cannot be hot swapped in a system that uses another ink type. Therefore, one would have to commit a particular engine to metallic inks, and depending on the number of applications such inks are being used for, that could be a major commitment,” foresees Larry Salomon, VP, wide format, North America, Agfa Graphics.

 

Some say only certain applications require metallic ink, which makes it that much more niche. It is ideal for short-run indoor applications, such as cosmetic signage.

 

Real demand from digital print customers makes metallic a reality. Many traditional printers who have made the switch to digital want to work with metallic on a digital level. “As printers begin to realize the benefits of digital technology, allowing them to create attractive print designs with metallic ink while also enabling 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 grow.”

 

Toeing the Line

Eyebrows are raised sometimes when a PSP admits to using third party inks. As Gramley argues, “many third party inks are designed for a particular printhead. The printhead is just one factor among many. Inks should be designed to work with the entire printing system.” With the cost significantly less expensive then original equipment manufacturer (OEM) products, many PSPs do utilize third party inks.

 

All third party manufacturers feel strongly that their ink sets perform just as well as OEM. “When we say that our ink works perfectly in a particular printhead, we are just doing our job. When a printhead manufacturer says that this ink works perfectly in their printheads and is willing to put their good name and their logo on the bottles of ink that we manufacture along with our name—that says a lot,” says Nitin Goswamy, president, A.T. Inks.

 

There is an increased demand from end users needing to save money. Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd. offers a high-quality, less expensive line of products compared to OEM that delivers consistent performance. “Inks are fully compatible and match the colors of the original inks. They can be introduced individually or all at once into the printer,” explains Steve Igoe, sales manager, North America, Bordeaux.

 

“In the wide format solvent market, Nazdar Lyson inks provide users with a significant cost savings compared to OEM inks. This should be the only real benefit a user should see when switching to Nazdar Lyson ink. In other words, Nazdar strongly believes a successful third party ink will perform the same—in regards to color gamut, dry time, and preventative maintenance—as an OEM ink,” shares Chuck Payne, channel development manager, Nazdar.

 

“Ink is our core business. Sawgrass Technologies, Inc. invests in research to develop innovative ink products that exceed customer expectations. We focus on the quality of the ink to ensure consistent, vibrant color and superior runability,” says Ashley Scoville, industrial division marketing coordinator, Sawgrass.

 

Potential Unseen

2010 provided much noise in the ink space. An overwhelming percentage of vendors that participated in this article foresee UV as having the biggest growth potential in the future. This isn’t surprising, as its speed and media versatility provide PSPs with the best of both worlds.

 

Advancements continue to fuel the transition from analog to digital. As speeds, color gamut, and media versatility begin to match tradition printing capabilities, this evolution becomes a reality. This is largely dependent on ink, and the state of ink is certainly on the correct path.

 

Click here to view the OEM and Third Party Supplied Ink Target Chart - an all-inclusive information resource!

Apr2011, Digital Output

 

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