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.
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.