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State of Ink 2014

By Melissa Donovan

Annually, we review the state of ink in the graphic arts. Trends in ink usage are a current topic of conversation. Specific ink types—UV, solvent, eco-solvent, aqueous, or dye-sublimation (dye-sub)—are selected based on geography, application type, and price concerns. Where in the world a print service provider (PSP) is doing business, what it prints, and customer demand all influence favored ink type.

How these consumables are purchased—whether through a third party or original equipment manufacturer (OEM)—is another focus area that attracts attention. PSPs at different stages may rely on one sales channel over the other, depending on cost and geography.

 

The state of wide format digital inkjet ink in 2014 and beyond is not stagnant. It constantly evolves as applications are introduced, new markets appear, and business practices change.

Usage Trends
According to a recent study by analyst firm InfoTrends, when 247 respondents asked if they planned to purchase or lease a new wide format printer in the next 12 months, 31 percent planned for a UV-curable device. 16 percent eco-solvent, 13 percent latex, 11 percent aqueous, and 6 percent solvent, followed in response.

 

Amir Ajanee, CEO, Prism Ink, Inc., shares that more of the company’s customers are moving to eco-solvent inks. While the company’s overall business increased 114 percent, eco-solvent inks increased 158 percent. Conversely, its solvent business decreased 30 percent.

Migration from one ink type to another is apparent across the graphic arts. “Customers gravitate toward one platform or the other depending on a number of factors, including the size of the shop, core applications, customer base, and budget,” explains Lily Hunter, product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.

Ink type usage ebbs and flows based on geographical influences, application and hardware trends, and pricing changes.

Geographical Influences
Worldwide ink usage varies. A common trend is the continued use of solvent and eco-solvent inks in areas like Latin America and Eastern Europe. Conversely, UV-based inks are making great strides in North America and Western Europe.

“Environmentally, the wide format market is subdued to the strict legislation concerning use of harsh solvents in Western European countries and North America, which led to a growing demand for friendlier solutions. Financially, hard solvents are still being widely used in parts of Asia, South America, Africa, and other price driven markets,” explains Erez Shoshani, U.S. office manager, Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd.

Stephen Emery, VP, ink business and Jetrion industrial inkjet, EFI, argues that while the developing markets maintain a higher level of solvent ink usage, we are beginning to see more UV and LED inks adopted in these regions as sustainability continues to grow in importance throughout the world.

“A key advantage of UV ink is the very low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, and when compared to solvent inks, UV inks are the environmentally friendly choice that many printers are choosing,” agrees John Kaiser, product marketing manager, Fujifilm North America, Graphic Systems Division.

North America in particular is divided, according to James Schall, president/founder, Budget-Inks. “From our experience both the East and West Coasts have and are making this move faster due to laws restricting VOC emissions. As for the middle of country, they have been much slower to switch if their equipment is still functioning properly.”

Application and Hardware
John D. Peterman, EVP sales and marketing, Big Systems, LLC, notes that as more specialty applications are introduced, ink type usage changes. These applications include—but are not limited to—electronic circuits, bio-printing and sampling, semi-conductor applications, custom decals and decorations, textiles, food applications, texturing surfaces, and three-dimensional printing and prototyping.

New markets are reached partly because of the advanced ink formulations of latex and UV, which offer material versatility. “We see latex printers being very successful in reprographics due to their simplicity of operation,” says Pedro J. Martinez, CEO, Afford Industrial S.A.

“UV ink technology enables printers to print on virtually any media type and therefore opens opportunities for PSPs to generate impressive point of purchase and point of sale jobs for indoor and retail environments that could not previously be done with solvent inks,” adds Eyal Duzy, marketing segment manager, Scitex industrial solutions, Hewlett-Packard (HP).

Ink drying time and print speed influences expand media compatibility. Paul Fedorys, business development, digital, Van Son Ink Corporation, shares that despite the higher cost of UV over solvent, the drying time is minimal and print speed is much faster. “Additionally, vehicle wrap printers find latex printers are about the same price as solvent printers but the drying time is faster and the print speed is about the same as solvent and eco-solvent printers,” he continues.

Advancements in ink compatibility with fabrics affect the growth of digitally printed textile applications, from traditional soft signage to new revenue generators such as apparel and décor. “Fabric printing offers a variety of applications as well as customization and creativity. In the graphic and signage markets sublimation printing offers use of lighter, more flexible materials,” adds Marty Silveria, VP sales, DigiFab Systems, Inc.

“A recent innovation within digital textile transfer printing is the possibility of indirect sublimation printing onto uncoated papers. With the ability to print onto lower grade, uncoated paper, users can achieve high productivity at a lower cost without compromising quality—all of which is possible with next generation water-based sublimation inks,” explains Marco Girola, marketing specialist digital, Kiian SpA.

Pricing Considerations
Realistically, cost is a determining factor for every savvy shop owner. Solvent prices continue to decrease and this number is alluring to many. “Default inks are still solvent or eco-solvent inks for most standard signage applications. The lower cost of the equipment and ink makes this type still the most often requested,” adheres Marilu Sandoval, marketing assistant, Paradigm Imaging Group.

Edmond Fung, director, Digitex Printing Technologies Co., Ltd., points to eco-solvent inks remaining in the spotlight due to cost. “The option of printing with eco-solvent inks can significantly reduce production cost. Machines have been modified and redesigned to suit the application of eco-solvent inks. Printers for eco-solvent inks are easily accessible in the market,” he continues.

Dictating Customer Types
Third party and OEM inks attract a certain type of customer. Generally, a print provider looking for service contracts on equipment, and the comfort of warranties regarding ink and hardware working together, utilize OEM inks.

“Based on our experience, it would seem that when a customer has a new or relatively new printer, they tend to use OEM inks but at the later stage of a printer’s lifecycle people tend to move towards alternative ink suppliers,” shares Nitin Goswamy, president, A.T. Inks.

Peterman agrees, citing those users of new equipment and more specifically a new formulation of ink, will stick with OEM supplies. “In many cases, that specific ink offers a capability or performance that they would sacrifice by opting for an alternative ink solution.”

“OEM inks are typically used during install and through the warranty period by most customers,” recommends Larry Salomon, VP, wide format North America, Agfa Graphics.

Print for pays gravitate towards third party inks. “With the high cost of doing business in many parts of the country, those spending over $5,000 a month on ink costs are finding they can cut that cost by 50 percent or more by running a third party ink,” adds Martin Rizzo, VP, LiqueColor Inkjet Group.

Schall explains that customers with multiple machines are third party candidates. “Their volume usage dictates a high monthly expense in ink costs, so finding a quality third party ink can be a huge money saver. Any dollar saved goes directly to the bottom line, allowing them to competitively place themselves against their competitor or to reinvest into their shop and purchase additional equipment.”

Shoshani is quick to point out that every customer has the potential to acquire ink both ways. “When first purchasing the printer, the customer is obliged to use only OEM inks. However, once the warranty is over, the customer is free to choose which ink to purchase.”

 

Third Party or OEM
Similar to ink type usage trends, whether to use third party or OEM ink is influenced by geography and pricing. The saturated market presents buyers with options, but determining which one is best comes down to the desires of the individual shop.

 

“In terms of geographic condition, developing countries such as India and China where the share of compatible players is much higher, third party inks are more prevalent. On the contrary, customers in developed countries such as Europe and the U.S. tend to use OEM inks due to the warranty of the printheads as well as the confidence in the inks,” shares Fung.

“People tend to gravitate towards third party inks in developing markets at a faster rate than they would in the more mature markets and this may be a function of the price they can get for the printed material. The lower the selling price for a finished banner or sign, the more likely the customer is to look for the more competitive, alternate sources of supply for all their consumables,” adds Goswamy.

Alternatively, though some relate cost to the price paid in exchange for goods, other PSPs consider what could happen if the third party inks don’t work—causing costly errors. “Shops that cannot provide their own profiles for ink and media seem to stay with the ink recommended by the printer manufacturer. The alternate cost of printhead replacement or downtime because of the ink formula changes scare many shop owners away from third party inks,” says Sandoval.

If leaning toward third party ink, factors to consider beyond price include color gamut, runability, service contracts, ink buying clauses, and quality. “Third party ink users require support provided by the ink supplier and/or manufacturer,” shares Silveria.

Printhead compatibility is an important consideration. “Printhead warranty is usually a primary concern when printers look for a third party ink,” admits Heather Rockow, UV business development manager, Collins Inkjet Corporation. Customers must trust the third party supplier. In Collins Inkjet’s case, it works closely with its clients to address printhead requirements. Rockow explains that if a fluid causes damage to a printhead for any reason, Collins Inkjet will purchase the damaged equipment from the customer.

Those printer manufacturers who do not offer OEM ink may guide buyers toward third party options, but David Conrad, director of marketing, North and Latin America, Mutoh America, Inc., says that does not have to be the case. “Typically the manufacturer will still provide some sort of support program through the dealer channel that ensures there is a certain level of integrity when it comes to service. The partnership between the printer manufacturer and their dealer base—when both are on the same page—means quality support and service to the print shop,” he continues.

 

Ink Now
Like much of our industry, the ink segment continues to evolve. Chemical compositions, hardware configurations, sustainability, new applications, and versatility are all factors.

Rich Dunklee, global market segment manager - UV inkjet inks, Nazdar, says he has witnessed the recent trend of the need for specialized inks. “Inkjet inks must be generalized in their adhesion characteristics as it is not practical to swap inks on a grand format inkjet printer. The problem is that several substrates fall outside this generalized range.”

Craig Reid, VP – digital, INX International Ink Co., refers to jetability and the industry’s understanding of it as an important growing trend. “An ink set that is considered to have excellent jetability means it can consistently print at high volumes at high speed with the best quality, all without needing to pause, purge, clean, or otherwise maintain the printhead at optimal print conditions.” The demand for better jetability is becoming a critical attribute.

Sustainability concerns are prevalent. “Demand will continue to grow for environmentally friendly inks with excellent print quality and durability. We see the digital ink market continuing to head towards more flexible UV inks, with additional offerings in other ink technologies as well,” foresees Chad Klostermann, inks and warranties business manager, 3M Commercial Graphics.

Fung agrees. “As more countries pay attention to protecting the earth, laws and regulations are implemented to control the remit of toxic substances. As a result, manufacturers have put effort into lowering ink’s impact on the environment.”

Ink health is important for the consumer, especially as digital print expands into medical and food packaging. As such, Rockow projects low-migration inks as a trend. “Customers want to shift from flexo and screenprinting, but continue to use the same substrates. This requires inks that do not permeate the substrate and cause a health hazard,” she adds.

 

According to Shoshani, inkjet will continue to penetrate into applications that were previously dominated by traditional printing, including textiles, ceramic, and plastic. “These applications pose challenges in inkjet ink technology, capitalizing on new printheads and faster printers, which enable the surge in these very same applications.”

Hunter says Roland continues to experience demand for white and metallic ink sets, flexibility in media compatibility, and faster drying times. “In the end, the more versatile an ink formulation is, the more creative freedom you have and the more applications you can offer. Investing in durable inks that yield high image quality, dry fast, and offer broad media support will allow you to explore profitable new applications and ultimately take business to the next level.”

“More customers are asking vendors to reduce cost and add value, and inks are delivering on those requests. Inks are becoming more complete, simplifying the workflow before and after—resulting in reduced costs and improved production capacities. Instant dry reduces the need for waiting, accelerating the delivery. High-scratch resistance reduces the need for lamination and accelerates handling of materials during finishing, transport, or installation without damaging the media,” shares Tomas Martin, worldwide business manager – large format production division, HP.

Picking Favorites
Do you have a favorite ink type? What about brand? Is it third party or OEM? If every reader reading this article answered the question, there would be duplicates, but many differences as well.

The state of ink in 2014 shows how diverse the graphic arts is, allowing  a PSP to choose from a wide selection of ink types at any given time. Decisions are based on a number of factors, from geographical to cost and application. When it comes down to the final call, however, it’s in the print provider’s court. Pick your favorite.
 

 

Click here to view the Ink Search Target Chart - an all-inclusive information resource!

 

Apr2014, Digital Output

 
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