Metallic capabilities aren’t necessarily new to the market, but metallic inkjet capabilities are revolutionary to the industry,” asserts Eric Zimmerman, product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.
There are naturally certain genres of print that are ripe for metallic ink applications. Labels, decals, banners, point of purchase (POP), window graphics, vehicle wraps, and fine art reproduction, just to name a few.
“What’s interesting is that users of wide format technology are expanding their use of metallic into new markets. For instance, we see wrap providers offering decals and t-shirts,” remarks Zimmerman. “This kind of diversification comes both from the availability of the new technology—in this case, metallic—and the recognition by savvy print service providers (PSPs) that they need to offer something unique.”
There’s no print segment demanding a little somethin’ special more than package printing—or in the case of the digital inkjet world, package prototyping and proofing.
“The metallic ink capability came along around the same time as white ink, which made the combined capabilities interesting to packaging and POP,” recalls Ron Edhlund, president, Proofing Technologies, Ltd.
Proofing Technologies, in conjunction with Mimaki USA, Inc., developed the Mimaki JeTComp System, comprised of select Mimaki inkjet printers and Proofing Technologies’ media and coatings designed for package prototyping and short-run production.
“Package prototyping abilities using JeTComp media make every type of package easy to prototype. This means that designers can experiment with metallic ink in their design with very little cost,” asserts Edhlund.
“Since mirror-like metallic inks are readily available for production presses, metallic inks are now just another color with no significant up charge in production,” he adds. “With Mimaki’s ability to prototype any type of packaging, brand owners use metallic colors on conventional white boxboard for far less cost than printing on metallic board. This also applies to flexible packaging where the use of spot metallic colors on snack food bags offer stunning and unique possibilities.”
“There are untapped markets for metallic inkjet printing in the areas of proofing and package prototyping,” agrees Zimmerman. “In the past, packaging prototypes could only be produced on large presses that were expensive to operate. An entire press was set up just to print out one sample of a prototype. That was an expensive exercise. With metallic inkjet technology, it’s now possible to print a proof or prototype on demand, and to get all the benefits of color matching without tying up large, expensive equipment.”
Introducing a metallic ink to the workflow does present some technical challenges.
“It is very important to understand how the ink is circulated,” advises Zimmerman. “Metallic ink particles are heavy, or at least heavier than CMYK ink particles, and need to stay in suspension in order to print properly.” Roland’s patent-pending ink circulation system handles this process automatically for users, circulating the ink at the right intervals to minimize waste and maintenance requirements.
The way metallic ink interacts with media also varies. “Metallic ink adheres to coated and uncoated substrates, including vinyl, banner media, PET film, canvas, and photographic papers. It is generally less scratch resistant than CMYK inks. To improve this, and to create specific colors, metallic ink is typically combined with CMYK. We recommend testing your media, so you can have confidence when selling to customers,” shares Zimmerman.
Designing graphics that incorporate metallic ink isn’t quite as simple, and knowing how to use metallic well—so that the images are visually optimized—is a nuanced and precise creative skill.
Fran Gardino, business development manager, Mimaki, is quick to caution against overzealous use of metallic ink. “You do encounter graphic artists who aren’t knowledgeable about how best to use it. They think, ‘If I put a layer of metallic on a face, it’s going to make the model look like she’s a silver person.’ It doesn’t work that way. People who design with metallic inks are specialists, and they know how to apply it properly.”
He also warns against using white and silver inks side by side. Aesthetically speaking, the white may dull the metallic-silver effect.
One of the barriers to leveraging metallic ink isn’t of a technical nature, but rather a matter of aesthetics and creative risk. In the CMYK and RGB color spaces, there was previously little opportunity for graphic designers to literally see how metallic accents would impact their creations. Even though their print partners had the ability to produce them—whether with screen or digital technologies—it remained a risky endeavor to introduce metallic ink at the late stage of prepress.
And, of course, there’s proofing. It’s a tough sell to ask content owners to sign off on a conceptual theory rather than a virtual or physical proof. Despite having the print capability—and, to a limited extent, a print-buyer base that knew of the capability—there was a chasm that required a leap of faith by brand owners.
“In the past, the designer was limited to what they saw on the screen, so they were reluctant to include metallic colors,” concurs Edhlund.
“So you’d have these hiccups going from design to production,” notes Mark Geeves, director of sales and marketing, Color-Logic, Inc. “You’d get to production and then the designer would look at it, and say, ‘No, that’s not quite right.’ You were plagued by the back and forth. With inkjet—even though it’s nice because it’s digital and fast—there’s still a lot of money and time beyond just the print costs to produce these graphics.”
At press time, Color-Logic planned to introduce its new FX-Viewer plug-in come January 2012, which enables content creators and graphic artists to see on screen what their metallic ink enhanced designs look like before committing to print.
“We developed a system that allows the designer to create these effects in Adobe Systems Incorporated’s Illustrator, for example,” explains Geeves. It doesn’t change the workflow for the PSP or the designer, which is why the Color-Logic technologies are developed as plug-ins.
According to Geeves, $399 procures both Color-Logic’s Design Suite and FX-Viewer. “Design Suite creates the effects with the application software from Adobe, and the FX-Viewer enables customers to visualize the special effects on their monitors. The FX-Viewer is for simulating how that effect of both metallic substrates and metallic ink will be seen, not for color accuracy,” he clarifies.
PSPs may also refer creative partners to www.jetcomps.com for a Proofing Technologies produced instructive video on how to add a metallic layer to art created in Adobe Illustrator.
There are other examples of strategic partnerships between print engine manufacturers and software developers creating tools for design and production.
“Adobe, CADlink Technology, Corel Corporation, and SA International, Inc. are just a few of the companies that created products specifically for Roland VersaWorks, which enable metallic to be used in design work. The VersaWorks color library now includes over 500 different metallic shades, and users create custom colors,” adds Zimmerman.
Getting Down to Brass Tax
From a cost-per-impression perspective, PSPs should anticipate a minor spike. Print buyers may not be interested in the price comparisons of ink—metallic to process color—but they will find the overall return on investment of metallic ink to be compelling.
“The additional cost is basically insignificant when printing on large format printers,” notes Edhlund. “The cost of metallic ink is slightly higher than regular inks, but they print the same, with no additional operator effort. If there are added costs passed on to the print buyer, they are more than offset by the increased visual effects the metallic inks offer.”
“Cost is one of the greatest misconceptions for metallic,” continues Zimmerman. “Ounce for ounce it does cost more than CMYK, but you don’t need to use a lot to make an impact with an image. Typically, it covers just a fraction of the graphic and impacts the image cost by pennies, not dollars. In addition, metallic is usually combined with CMYK to create one of hundreds of different metallic colors, so in the end, you can expect operational costs to average below $.50 cents per square foot for most applications.”
A Look of Distinction
Talk to those with experience using metallic ink—perhaps early adopters of the first metallic-friendly inkjet printers, equipment manufacturers, or graphic designers—and you quickly discover that there’s a running theme to the conversations. Designers talk of creating images that are fresh and unique. Brand owners desire to distinguish theirs above all others. PSPs seek to distinguish themselves as well, from the competition.
“Customers are investing in metallic primarily to differentiate themselves from the competition and increase their margins,” according to Zimmerman.
Whether using metallic ink in package or prototype printing, POP, banners, decals, or window graphics, it is a useful tool—when used sparingly. Although the market has yet to use metallic to a full-blown capacity, it is still ideal for niche applications that set PSPs apart. In conclusion, metallic is another service that defines a PSP as a multi-service provider.