By Cassandra Balentine
Part 1 of 2
Neon and fluorescent inks brighten up the digital wide format print space. They offer a range of possibilities, including point of sale (POS), sign posts, backlit signage, and apparel. The ink sets are found in a variety of print methods from UV to dye-sublimation (dye-sub).
Bright yellows and pinks extend the color gamut for digital wide format print providers beyond traditional CMYK, offering a market advantage with bold colors that attract attention.
“In a market where print shop owners are looking for a competitive advantage to differentiate, fluorescent ink print and design capability delivers that differentiation,” says Tim Check, senior product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America.
Interest in Neon
There is a specific, but increased interest in neon and fluorescent ink sets.
Neon inks bring “pop,” offering self expression with bold colors. Celine Tezartes Strauss, director of consumables and specialty systems, Kornit Digital, sees increased popularity particularly in athleisure apparel.
Tezartes Strauss says popular uses for these speciality inks include names, numbers, and logos for team/recreational sports.
Lily Hunter, senior product manager, Roland DGA Corporation, agrees, noting that driving the demand for these inks is the continued popularity of fluorescent colors in the apparel space, for items like team uniforms, shoes, and accessories. “Fluorescent colors are popular accent colors not only for apparel, but for youth room décor as well.”
Print service providers (PSPs) are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from competition, to widen their offering, and to win new business. “Neon colors cover all three aspects. Advertising technology must be catchy. Neon is an ideal way to create unusual effects. The colors are not just dazzling in daylight but also in the dark, as they are fluorescent under black light,” comments Mike Kyritsi, president, swissQprint USA.
Check says the expanded color gamut these inks provide are a primary driver of adoption, which help to meet the ever-changing trends in the fashion and textile industries. “Specifically, we see a lot of neon and fluorescent ink used in the production of sportswear, workwear, soft signage designed for safety, and high-visibility apparel designed for safety,” he shares.
Dave Conrad, partner business manager, HP Inc., feels as though fluorescent inks are more of a novelty, mostly used for club sports like soccer and cycling. However, there is a definite market for them. “Some shops have good business to support the investment, but, overall, it is not a very large segment with regard to the market as a whole,” he admits.
Neon inks are designed to show up fluorescent under backlit signage. This presents new opportunities.
“Soft signage, including backlit signage, can benefit from fluorescent inks by producing super-bright colors which ultimately stands out and gets attention. Content with fluorescent can be dramatically brought to life with the clever use of black light/UV lights,” suggests Check.
“Since the swissQprint neon inks are fluorescent under black light, one possibility is to use the black light as a backlit. This gives the print a special glow and makes it a real eye-catcher,” offers Kyritsi.
Neon inks draw eyes to an image and when backlit, they can create that “wow factor” that attracts even more attention. “However, using too much or too many neon colors can be overkill. These colors are best used to accent and highlight things,” warns Hunter.
There are specific considerations that PSPs should keep in mind when working with neon/fluorescent inks.
For example, neon inks contain pigments that are very light sensitive. “Therefore, neon is for indoor use only,” points out Kyritsi.
They also may be a bit more expensive compared to standard colors and could have a shorter shelf life.
Tezartes Strauss argues that there is no difference in maintenance procedures for these inks relative to other inks.
Particularly in dye-sub applications, Hunter says they will not fluoresce as much over time and usage. “If you have a lot of customers that utilize fluorescent colors, then it’s best to have a printer dedicated to printing fluorescent colors. If you can only have one printer, and you decide to add fluorescent inks as a configuration, make sure there will be enough business to keep those fluorescent inks in constant use. This will help minimize ink waste and the costs associated with that.”
Check admits that the benefits of fluorescent inks have generally come with negatives such as reduced print productivity, short ink lifespan, and increased printer maintenance. However, Epson developed the fluorescent-equipped SureColor F9470H and F10070H printers to reduce and eliminate these negative aspects so PSPs can reap the benefits of fluorescent. Instead of splitting printhead nozzles between CMYK and fluorescent inks, the company added dedicated nozzles for fluorescent printing so there is no performance slow down if printing CMYK jobs and either no or a slight slowdown when printing jobs that use fluorescent ink. The Epson UltraChrome DS inks are developed to prevent ink solids from clumping to produce long shelf life as well as minimal printer maintenance.
Conrad says that is important to note that good ink chemistry can produce amazing color. “The color gamut that can be achieved with CMYK can be strikingly close to and created to appear neon or fluorescent, so the advantages of running fluorescent ink in the printer are minimal, unless that is all you print. Also, typically, when you run fluorescent ink you sacrifice printer speed. So, unless you are in the business of producing only fluorescent pieces or you can afford to have a standalone printer running only fluorescent ink, there really is no advantage,” he comments.
On the Streets
There are specific environments and products where neon and fluorescent inks are in demand.
“Team sports is a big market, but there is untapped potential in décor, signage, and even pop art,” shares Hunter.
Kyritsi says campaign signage, sales posters, POS displays, trade fairs, as well as event and theme park signage are all popular uses for these inks.
“Epson’s fluorescent ink options bring bright, vivid colors to the production of sportswear, workwear, and fashion items, and are ideal for the roll-to-roll textile, home décor, promotional product, and soft signage markets,” adds Check.
Beyond this, there is more potential for these specialty inks.
“Fluorescent inks provide designers with additional creative tools to produce unique products. As designers become more familiar with using fluorescent colors, I expect that we’ll see new innovative apparel and décor products that will have a consumer cult-like following,” predicts Check. “For example, a shirt can be sublimated with CMYK and fluorescent inks that can be subdued in normal indoor lights, but reveal energetic colors in outdoor or concert/nightclub environments—‘the mood shirt!’”
“Think of applications where neon paint is used to decorate something,” comments Hunter. “You can potentially replace that with sublimated fabric coverings incorporating neon inks. Such opportunities include everything from indoor paintball arenas to amusement park backdrops.”
Kyritsi says neon inks are the perfect addition for PSPs wanting to widen their offering even more. “Neon is real differentiator among UV flatbed and roll-to-roll printers.”
Bring in the Bright
Neon and fluorescent inks are in demand. Whether adding them for safety, fashion, or attention, the ability to handle these speciality inks help set PSPs apart from their competition.
Jul2021, Digital Output