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To Each His Own

Annual State of Ink Report

By Melissa Donovan

The evolution of digital ink is like any other product. It grows, adapts, and succeeds, until another component spurs the process to begin again. Ink manufacturers create products for large format digital printing ranging from solvent to eco-solvent, aqueous—both pigment and dye included, latex, UV, and UV LED.

 

Extensions of these products continue to evolve and while this means more choices for the print service provider (PSP), it does not eliminate old ink types.

 

Through speaking with various vendors, we’ve learned there is a place for each and every ink set available on the market today. Depending on the print provider, its shop’s needs, and service offerings, many legacy ink products contain to remain viable in today’s marketplace.

 

Cause and Effect

Latex ink continues to stimulate change in the graphic arts, for the better. Its introduction led to the evolution of other types of water-based ink products, including those from Graphics One, LLC (GO) and Novus Imaging, Inc. A worthwhile product is one that inspires and promotes new competition.

 

Latex ink offers quality and eco-friendly attributes. “The unrivaled quality and versatility of latex has enabled customers to do more, expand into new profitable applications, and shorten delivery times, while eliminating the hassles of eco-solvent,” explains Joan Perez Pericot, large format marketing director, Hewlett-Packard (HP). Latex certainly provides application versatility. With one latex printer, a print shop can output vehicle wraps to wallcoverings.

 

However, it isn’t a fit for all PSPs. “Latex is interesting for businesses with certain needs,” attests Reed Hecht, product manager, professional imaging, Epson.

 

As with any ink set, there is room for improvement. While quality is ideal—the heating process is more complicated than many would like it to be.

 

“With regards to latex it is recognized that extensive heat is needed to cure the ink. Not only does this impact the type of media used, but the amount of electricity needed to generate the heat is substantial,” shares Dan Barefoot, president, GO.

 

“Latex or polymer and waterborne inkjet inks have made a strong impact on the graphic arts. I think the biggest hurdle for waterborne products is removing the water from the image,” adds Ken Kisner, president, INX Digital International Co.

 

The Influenced and Influential

UV LED originated from UV and many question whether the technology has reached its limit. “EFI believes it is a game changer. We are just at the beginning of this new, exciting technology that is here now and ready for print providers serving the superwide format market,” says Stephen J. Emery, senior director, ink business, EFI.

 

Steve Igoe, sales manager, Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd., agrees, citing that UV LED requires less than 25 percent of the energy needed to cure than standard mercury lamps.

 

Conversely, “I think there is a possibility that new products will emerge in the UV LED space, but I don’t think it will be the next wave in technology,” cites Kevin M. Sykes, president/CEO, Novus Imaging.

 

Novus Imaging applies its UV ink in very thin micro-layers over multiple passes, which requires significantly less energy to cure and only one UV lamp—because of this, in terms of energy consumption, Sykes believes it is every bit as eco-friendly as UV LED.

 

UV LED has held its importance in the graphics arts due to its success on printing to rigid board. However, devices utilizing this technology are costly. A price decrease is what many hope will occur in this segment of the market.

 

For price to come down, certain elements of the UV LED process must be streamlined, one of which is the curing lamps. “The high watt output of lamps launched in 2011 are now being seen in commercial machines, but there remains more progress to be made in this area,” says Kisner.

 

Pericot believes cost and performance will take years to change, but despite this, UV LED is still attractive to many buyers.

 

“When it comes to what UV LED technology can do, we are at the tip of the iceberg. Not only will this technology continue to advance, but innovative PSPs continue to find new materials to print on and new applications never previously considered,” adds Julie Gederos, product manager, e-commerce, supplies and accessories, Roland DGA Corporation.

 

Gederos’ comments on how new applications were introduced to the graphic arts in the past year, all made possible with the help of UV LED. PSPs are adapting digital packaging printing and prototyping. This is because of the media versatility found on UV LED devices and ability for fast drying, quick turnaround times to present mockups to customers.

 

Tried and True

The introduction of UV LED and latex products have led many to wonder if solvent and aqueous is waning. This isn’t true. “Aqueous still provides the highest image quality and is the right choice for proofing, fine art, and photography. Solvent is still an economical and durable solution for billboards and low-cost banners,” says Larry Salomon, VP, wide format, Agfa Graphics. Interest is surely evident in the amount of hardware and ink being introduced.

 

Epson reinforces its position on solvent by debuting the new UltraChrome GS2 ink series for its SureColor S30670 printer. The new ink set offers virtually no odor, no nickel, is less harmful to the environment, and eliminates the need for air purification and venting. Differing from the original UltraChrome GS ink set, this new product offers improved yellow. Hecht explains that yellow commonly fades first and to address this the company went back into research and development with the result of a yellow print that lasts up to three years unlaminated outdoors.

 

To those who argue solvent isn’t eco-friendly, it may not be as much as other inks, but it still has its redeeming qualities. “Although solvent tends to be regarded as non-green, it is actually one of the most refined manufacturing processes available. Solvent-based print is a very cost-effective means to getting color on a substrate at a low cost. INX Digital continues to push forward with products and technologies that have a higher renewable content and use local raw materials,” says Kisner.

 

Seiko Instruments USA, Inc. – Infotech Division’s solvent products continue to improve in areas of human health and durability. IX ink, which is hazardous air pollutant (HAP) free, offers low odor printing. “This ink is an alternative to latex solvent ink. We believe HAPs-free inks will become a new segment in the market, composed of both latex solvent and traditional solvent ink,” explains Patrick Ryan, GM, Seiko.

 

The company’s other solvent product, GX 3M ink, provides unmatched outdoor durability. When printed on 3M Commercial Graphics substrates—both with and without a laminate, a full 3M warranty is offered. According to Ryan, no other product under $100,000 offers this type of outdoor durability or warranty.

Regarding aqueous, Novus Imaging is responding with its AquEpoxy ink, which will offer all the advantages of UV with the addition of greater adhesion properties and environmental sustainability. Notably, it also doesn’t require a high-intensity lamp system traditionally found in UV printers.

 

GO offers its water-based resin ink, SEPIAX. Barefoot notes that the company’s penetration into the market continues to improve each month. “It is our feeling that there will be many new types of aqueous ink introduced into the market due to its environmental uniqueness and because of overall performance,” shares Barefoot.

 

Gederos is quick to note that aqueous ink includes dye-sublimation (dye-sub), which opens up another new niche to PSPs—fabric printing. The recent surge of interest in digitally printed textiles includes direct to print sublimation, unique textile applications, and t-shirt production.

 

“In the last three to five years we have evolved by creating a digital to offset proofing solution for customers worldwide. This solution offers a very color specific match on a large format inkjet printer with PyroJET sublimation inks that match to our offset sublimation PyroSCRIPT ink sets. This is truly revolutionary for any company that suffers with color to press matching, excessive plate builds, and the amount of time it takes to create an accurate match for their customer,” adds Syd Northup, inkjet division manager, Gans Ink & Supply Company.

 

“Whether there is a requirement or not, solvent or eco-solvent and aqueous ink are industry standards with a proven track record of performance over a range of applications, and are still the strongest technology in the graphic arts industry and provide excellent high-resolution imagery. Low costs and improvements in media and ink have provided great opportunity,” reinforces Randy Anderson, product marketing manager, Mutoh America, Inc.

 

Responses and Reactions

PSPs are responding to the ink evolution by adding new printers or retrofitting old devices. This isn’t for everyone, and adding a new device doesn’t mean adding a brand new technology—some PSPs are still choosing to bring new solvent and aqueous devices continually into the mix.

 

“The industry is becoming accustomed to machines having a five year serviceable lifespan. While this requires a quick return on investment, it also allows companies to adapt quickly to changing technologies. Since inkjet print performance continues to quickly increase in speed, reliability, and output quality, service providers must continue to invest in these technologies to stay current with their offerings or they will be left behind,” advises Kisner.

 

Adapting a new printer means bringing new applications into the fold. The evolution of ink is coinciding with the increased amount of indoor signage printed in the sign and display industry. “UV ink technology prints on a variety of media types and therefore has opened the door to opportunities for PSPs to generate impressive point of purchase (POP) and point of sale jobs for indoor and retail environments that could not be done before with solvent inks,” says Harel Ifhar, Scitex industrial printing solutions, marketing manager, HP.

 

EFI and Epson notice that customers are adding new devices purely because they recognize the benefit of new machines. Features including faster speed, higher color gamut, lower cost per print, less odors, and more are enticing the print shop owner looking to propel their business further.

 

An alternative to purchasing a new device is retrofitting. PrinterEvolution, LLC, which also utilizes Novus Imaging technology, allows print providers to retrofit older platforms with the latest ink and printhead technology. In particular, the company takes existing EFI UltraVu 3360 or FabriVu printers and upgrades them with the aforementioned technology.

“Retrofitting allows PSPs to leverage existing equipment, yet remain competitive by implementing technology that performs as good as or better than new equipment on the market, but at a significantly lower capital expenditure,” explains Sykes.


Stay or Go

Many manufacturers’ mindsets include encouraging PSPs to upgrade their devices. Whether they are solvent or not isn’t really a question. If anything, what they have in mind is encouraging the print provider to adapt to newer, faster technology that offers a wider color gamut and more flexibility in application offerings. Are you on the fence about purchasing a new printer? Let these industry leaders try and sway your opinion.

 

“At the end of the day, PSPs must do whatever is necessary to remain competitive and profitable. I think it’s incumbent upon us as manufacturers and consultants to our customers to show them how implementing our solutions will help them accomplish goals without having to rely on older and less environmentally sustainable technology,” says Novus Imaging’s Sykes.

 

“If a company has a paid off machine and business is flat, they should upgrade, again recognizing those same benefits of a new device with new technology—speed, no odor, and color gamut. Three to seven year old products are getting replaced,” advises Epson’s Hecht.

 

“At the smaller format end of the market, there are simply too many good choices in eco-solvent and other technologies right now not to make the move. In a shop with a printer less than 100 inches wide, moving away from hard solvents eliminates health and safety concerns as well as daily and weekly maintenance requirements,” shares Roland’s Gederos.

 

“Print providers should look at their customer base, ask what prospects they would like to do business with, and see how they can grow with UV-curable printers. A print provider needs to assess if they want to grow beyond solvent printing,” explains EFI’s Emery.

 

“We encourage PSPs to upgrade equipment when it makes sense to them, whether it is to add capabilities like rigid media for POP signage or packaging prototyping, or print with higher output speeds. Other times it is to replace equipment that is approaching its lifespan, to ease maintenance and reliability concerns,” concludes Mutoh’s Anderson.

 

A Place for All

Every ink type has its place. Solvent is important for outdoor signage and its color gamut and durability are nearly unmatched. Eco-solvent offers the benefits of solvent at an environmentally friendly level. Aqueous provides clear, color friendly prints for indoor work, namely in the proofing and photography spaces. Dye-sub allows for high-quality printing onto fabrics.

 

Latex presents an eco-friendly option with the equivalent of aqueous and the durability and color gamut of a solvent. UV and UV LED offer a range of substrate options, especially rigid, with faster drying times and eliminating steps in the mounting process.

 

As long as PSPs continue to use solvent, aqueous, UV, or latex with success, there is a need for each. Development will continue as long as there is interest. Every ink found in this young industry influences the other.

 

There are only so many chemical combinations that can occur and it isn’t a coincidence that certain products and their characteristics overlap the other. It is about educating the PSP on the best fit and that is how each ink type survives. Vendors in this space continue to successfully promote all ink sets and the benefits, pinpointing the correct application for each. 

 

Click here to view the The 2012 Ink Selector Target Chart - an all-inclusive information resource!

 

Apr2012, Digital Output

 

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