By Digital Output Staff
Ink usage is more varied than ever before as new applications form and industries adopt digital printing. Print service providers (PSPs) are tasked with serving customers in the best way they know, pairing emerging technology with their expertise. Leveraging ink certifications as well as taking advantage of the newest ink advancements keeps them ahead of the game.
Above: Example of educational braille print by Graffiti Art, Poland, using a swissQprint device and ink.
Trends in usage are spread out, based on input from vendors interviewed for this article. It’s unanimous that UV ink is steadily sought after, however demand for water-based ink and latex continues to grow.
UV’s versatility contributes to constant ink utilization. It is used in a number of hardware configurations. “UV inks are definitely catching up to the level of usage of solvent and latex. Over half of the flatbeds in the market are UV and that number continues to grow. There are many grand format machines that have exclusively gone to UV inks. These machines typically use a greater volume of ink so naturally the usage will continue to rise for UV inks,” explains Chris Padilla, product manager, Mutoh America, Inc.
Mike Kyritsi, president, swissQprint USA, believes, “water-based inks are likely to gradually replace conventional UV inks as they have advantages in terms of migration and cost.”
“Water-based inks are rising in popularity due to concerns regarding sustainability and human health,” agrees Shawn Liu, director of digital technologies, FIREBIRD Digital Inks.
Speaking to latex ink, Terry Amerine, VP, sales and marketing, Polymeric USA, sees consistent growth. “It is probably one of the fastest growing ink technologies in terms of digital ink, except for direct to garment (DTG) water-based ink.”
“We have seen a large increase in textile ink, especially digital textile. Much of this is attributed to the rise in online shopping and the ease of adopting DTG printing into existing workflows. Businesses see adding digital garment printers as a way to increase offerings to existing customers,” agrees Taylor Landesman, VP, Lawson Screen & Digital Products, Inc.
“With apparel everything is moving towards water based, lower cure temperatures, faster fixation times, and more eco-friendly needs,” notes Luke Ryerkerk, CEO, Polyprint USA.
When it comes to solvent-based ink sets, some say usage is decreasing. “The use of solvent ink is slowly declining, but printers have found a niche with it—primarily driven by their pricing to end customers,” explains Amerine.
“Solvent continues reducing its use in the occidental countries. However, the consumption in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East is still significant and continues being the cheapest option,” shares Pedro J. Martinez, CEO, AFFORD INKS.
Kyritsi believes “solvent inks are bound to disappear due to the worldwide movement for environmentally friendly solutions.”
On the other hand, Michael Maxwell, senior manager – corporate strategic development, Mimaki USA, Inc., says solvent continues to be dominant for most of its customers. “We continue to experience growth here. We have also experienced an increase year-over-year in UV LED curable inks. Research data shows that while solvent adoption is stable, UV LED has increased, and others have stalled or declined.”
Passing the Test
Depending on a PSP’s clientele base, certifications many be necessary to ensure a sustainable product is placed in the final application setting, usually for environmental stewardship reasons and/or for human health.
Examples of certifications include OEKO-TEX, CPSIA, and Prop 65, all of which are required by Kodak Kodacolor water-based pigment ink customers, according to Grant French, director of digital ink sales, Eastman Kodak.
“Ink certifications are important as the ethicality of products are being scrutinized more as the industry grows. The OEKO-TEX Eco Passport certification is a key chemical safety certification that follows many top companies’ Manufacturing Restricted Substance Lists,” explains Liu.
Certifications are especially important for graphics used indoors. “However, with the loosening of the restrictive standards for some indoor certifications, customers have put greater emphasis on things such as odorless prints, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous air pollutants, and a lack of reactive monomer chemistry with ground level ozone,” says Tom Wittenberg, industry relations and events, HP Inc.
“There is a strong demand for ‘green’ technology. Hence, certification is increasingly important. swissQprint supplies inks that are VOC-free and Greenguard Gold certified. This means that it is safe to apply such UV prints in sensitive areas such as hospitals and schools,” adds Kyritsi.
Padilla believes that offering products with certain standards can help make sign shops more competitive in an aggressive market. “Not having certain certifications can make the difference between getting the job or losing it for some customers. For a sign shop that is looking to get a print job for either a hospital or daycare center where Greenguard Certification is critical it is a must have.”
While not a certification, Syd Northup, VP sales, digital U.S., Marabu North America, has experienced increased requests for Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and Technical Data Sheets (TDS). “For those printing companies who survived and pivoted during the pandemic, a need for technical and safety documentation helped open markets to hospital, government, and educational institutions. An SDS sheet shows compliance to the federal government for safety in the workplace. The TDS shows methods of use, operating requirements, common applications, warnings, and product composition.”
“I believe it’s important to have certifications and things like SDS sheets on hand for any user of decorative ink. As more focus over the past couple of years has been on the chemical makeup of inks, we’ve seen more interest here and I would say that shops are looking more into these certificates than previously,” agrees Ryerkerk.
Changes in ink formulations and additions to traditional CMYK like spot colors all drive the industry forward. They open up new segments for digital printing and help PSPs differentiate themselves from the competition.
AFFORD INKS continues to make developments in water-based inks. In addition, it recently released an eco-solvent ink, which “is a real green technology,” says Martinez.
Canon Solutions America launched its UVgel 460 ink with the Colorado 1650 roll printer.
Eastman Kodak offers its Kodacolor ERTR Series for direct-to-fabric printing on cotton, cotton blend, and polyester fabrics. It is a water-based ink set.
Epson announced UltraChrome RS Ink Technology in October 2020. Designed for SureColor R-Series signage printers, Epson UltraChrome RS Ink delivers astounding image quality. This six-color water-based resin ink set offers reliable color consistency on a diverse range of applications.
FIREBIRD is involved in the DTG printing space and particularly participated in advancements in fully pretreated garments. The company is innovating more industrial methods of applications including washer extractor and dryer systems like the FIREBIRD Pretreatment: Washer-Extractor Processing for DTG printing.
Fluid Color introduced ThermaFlex R129 UV-curable ink in February 2021, a new ink manufactured exclusively for Fluid Color’s flatbed series. With ThermaFlex R129, the ink stretches in conjunction with the substrate after being heated, allowing the image to remain intact.
HP debuted HP Latex White Ink in 2018 when the HP Latex R Printer Series was introduced. “This is the only white ink in the industry for flatbed printers that is not UV-curable. Because of that, there are no photoinitiators in the ink, so the ink will not yellow overtime. Also, the white ink is designed for greater fluidity, less operator intervention, and less waste,” says Wittenberg.
At Marabu, new developments with UV ink in grand and wide format are on the rise. The demand comes from both dealers and customers looking for better adhesion, stronger white ink, and increased print stability, explains Northup.
Lawson Screen & Digital distributes the Epson SureColor F3070 DTG printer with Epson DTG ink. It is able to print on polyester fabrics, an exciting advancement according to Landesman. DTG has made great strides in printing to polyester.
Mimaki’s newest ink is MUH100, a metallic silver UV LED curable ink. “It’s a way for our customers to offer even more unique and high-value work. Because it is a silver base color, customers can mix the traditional CMYK colors over to create any number of color combinations,” shares Maxwell.
Mutoh updated its Eco Ultra eco-solvent ink to next generation MS41 Eco Solvent Ink when printing with the XpertJets 1641SR and 1682SR. “It has a wider color gamut, better dot gain, and is more durable. In a market where customers almost expect to have top-notch color, quality, and durability, there is always going to be a demand to improve our inks to meet our customers’ needs,” comments Padilla.
Polymeric developed a new LED curing ink. “It features a phenomenal adhesion range to both flexible and rigid substrates with amazing chemical resistance. We have soaked it in gasoline and other difficult fluids without any loss of adhesion of the ink to the substrate. This opens up exciting new segments for digital printing,” admits Amerine.
Polyprint is looking ahead into 2021 with announcements yet to be unveiled. “The demand for constant improvement has come from the ever-growing DTG user base and the higher adoption of DTG we’re seeing now more than ever,” notes Ryerkerk.
Prism Inks released self-dispersing dye-sublimation (dye-sub) inks in February 2021. This new technology is part of its SubliMate Dye Sub Ink product line for DX and TFP series printheads. The significance of self-dispersing particles is that the dye-sub particles repel one another and as a result materially increase jetting reliability, image quality, shelf life, and color consistency.
swissQprint recently added the spot color orange to its ink set. “PSPs need to differentiate themselves in the market. Launches like spot color orange are one way to do so. It may promote a PSP’s position as quality-minded and stress their expertise. Spot color orange is vibrant, it expands the color gamut and helps to reproduce corporate colors even more accurately,” says Kyritsi.
Besides industry-related influences, ink consumption was heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The decline of printed square footage led to decreased ink volumes, but this changed as the months passed by and the need for certain printed applications emerged.
“There was a decline in aqueous, dye-sub, latex, and solvent/eco-solvent due to the increase in social distancing graphics and mask printing. We did notice states that were shut down due to COVID-19 had a lower usage in 2020. Specifically, a decline in aqueous was due to less photographers printing in 2020,” notes Shauna Malgieri, global product manager, S-One Holdings Corporation.
The effects of COVID-19 differed depending on the type of industry a PSP serves. “In general, event printers dramatically reduced their output since exhibitions and events were cancelled. On the contrary, we didn’t see decreases in industrial applications or the general sign industry. And we see a meaningful increase in areas like sublimation, DTG, and prints for online customization,” states Martinez.
An increase in demand for applications like personal protection equipment as well as floor graphics played a role. “Textile inks remained somewhat steady attributed to face mask production and solvent/eco-solvent inks downward trended due to the lack of day-to-day printing nationwide. UV trended upward as companies looked for ways to support COVID-19 signage, hand dispenser signage, and floor graphics,” explains Northup.
“With the pressure for custom masks, floor graphics, and social distancing, I believe the digital market has seen an increase in demand for printers of all ink types to meet the new needs due to the virus,” adds Padilla.
Amerine believes that the greatest impact of the pandemic is its influence in greatly accelerating the movement to online retail and on demand printing. “The trend was already heading in that direction but the lockdowns due to COVID-19 brought new consumers to the online retail environment due to its convenience. The end result is that this has accelerated that transition by many years. That benefits all digital print technology and the industry as a whole.”
“The DTG and textile market experienced a change. With major brick-and-mortar retailers closing, end users were forced to purchase from online fulfillment centers. Companies focused on fast fashion with integrated order-to-delivery capabilities are thriving while old school manufacturing businesses are drying up,” continues French.
Retail isn’t the only thing to go online as a result of the pandemic. “Our showroom traffic slowed and we executed an aggressive social media and internet agenda helping customers educate themselves. With a quick shift to visual and audio communications we were able to connect with our customers and provide them guidance as they expanded, diversified, or started a new business,” shares Maxwell.
The future looks bright for many, despite the challenges 2020 presented. “Even with the year of turmoil and change in the industry, HP Latex Inks in particular saw an increase in usage. In addition, strong unit sales of printers by HP will lead to a longer term increase in HP Latex Ink usage overall,” explains Wittenberg.
Ready, Set, Ink
The state of ink is fluid. Times are changing and the graphic arts is not immune to this. As applications are added to the slate and digital printing is utilized by other industries down the road, ink usage trends continue to evolve.
Apr2021, Digital Output