By Digital Output Staff
Evolving ink sets are a constant reminder of how fluid our industry is—pardon the pun. Whether it’s the ever-present solvent/eco-solvent, the new age resin/latex/aqueous delegation, or the conventional UV-curable and newer UV LED pairing; each of these inks represent the versatility afforded to all print service providers (PSPs) in the graphic arts.
Above: Canon’s UVgel ink is used for applications like wallpaper.
Reviewing Usage Trends
Each year, Digital Output examines the state of the ink market, this includes ink sets from solvent to latex, UV, aqueous, and textile-type chemistries as well. All of these inks are being used simply because so many of the applications produced today require each of their specific characteristics.
“Customers expand into the types of ink necessary for their application. That is to say there is not one ink type being used more than another. The application and what the customer is trying to print is the driving force behind the ink type—and printer—selection,” explains Reed Hecht, group product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America.
Ink designed for UV and UV LED curing technology, whether flatbed or roll-to-roll printers, is prevalent. Conventional UV is still used, “due to the history of reliability, performance, minimal wastage, as well as more businesses moving away from traditional printing methods by adopting digital solutions,” admits Matthew Whiting, product manager, FUJIFILM Corporation, WFIJ System Business Headquarters, Fujifilm Graphics Systems.
At NUtec Digital Ink, UV is the fastest growing segment within its business across all sectors and regions. “We have seen significant growth within the UV-curable market with a year-on-year growth in the region of 20 to 30 percent,” adds Darren Claassens, head of sales and marketing, NUtec.
However, there is “significant growth in UV LED with many major players in the market transitioning to UV LED because of its environmental and application benefits,” explains Phil Jackman, global product manager, digital, Sun Chemical.
“UV LED currently leads the market in terms of consumption. For some time, and particularly over the last five years, UV LED has been adopted by a majority of print platforms that utilize a large volume of ink by design,” notes Glenn Shull, senior technology portfolio manager, Ricoh USA, Inc.
Patrick Donigain, marketing manager, Canon Solutions America, admits UV seems to be growing the fastest but, solvent and latex ink still hold the greater market share. “Solvent has some upside, but the ventilation requirements and need to wait to laminate can be difficult to overcome. While latex has led market share growth over the last decade, cold curing flexible UV inks have seen significant success due to their durability and ability to adhere to a lot of substrates.”
“UV and latex are rapidly growing due to the sustainability characteristics versus solvent inks,” agrees Tom Wittenberg, HP large format industry relations and events manager, NA, HP Inc.
While solvent has its challenges, eco-solvent overcomes them and multiple vendors see it as one of the more prevalent ink sets being used in the graphic arts. “Eco-solvent is definitely the most popular due to the range of products that can be printed on and produced with it,” shares Ken Parsley, product manager, Mutoh America, Inc.
“Eco-solvent serves the most common applications—jobs ranging from signs, banners, and point of purchase displays to vehicle wraps, decals/labels, and heat transfer apparel. This wide usage applies to just about every geographic region where digital printing is prevalent,” says Daniel Valade, product manager of digital print, Roland DGA Corporation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every geographical region when it comes to ink usage, and supply chain issues and raw material challenges are prevalent. “Supply chains all over the world have been deeply affected and keeping the deliveries on time has really been a goal. This has also had an effect in the costs which—to a great extent—has not yet been transferred to the ink prices. Many raw materials have gone up even 300 percent and that has a real impact on the costs,” comments Pedro J. Martínez, CEO, AFFORD INKS.
While most prices for ink haven’t risen yet, most believe it to be unavoidable. “Global logistics and supply chain issues continue to cause disruptions that are directly involved with the ongoing cost increases of raw materials globally. This certainly has and will affect ink prices in the year ahead,” explains Jackman.
“Given the current global climate there are still significant logistics and pricing challenges with regards to the raw material supply chain, which is putting all ink manufacturers under significant pressure and making price adjustments inevitable in the foreseeable future,” agrees Claassens.
He adds that the “sporadic port and factory closures have also impacted delivery schedules with distributors having to either place larger orders to ensure uninterrupted local supply of ink or customers are having to provide more frequent, detailed usage forecasts.”
What to Look For
PSPs want the best and brightest when it comes to their ink sets, and this isn’t for any specific type of ink—it pertains to all.
“PSPs want similar features regardless of the ink technology. Good color gamut, outdoor durability longer than two years, and cost effectiveness. Flexibility and adhesion to a variety of media are also important,” says Parsley.`
Josh Lutz, UV digital inks – marketing segment manager, Nazdar Ink Technologies, finds that in some regions price point is the number one focus, whereas PSPs in other areas find performance the most important, and then in another location odor may be the main concern. Inks are designed or tailored to meet these needs.
“Inks with great adhesion, longer UV stability, and better pricing,” are also top of mind, according to Syd Northup, VP digital – U.S., Marabu North America.
In general, Jackman says performance is the most requested attribute and admits it is at the forefront of all of Sun Chemical’s developments. “Our customers expect fully optimized inks for the various printheads and offer superb start-up properties, reliable jetting, and with minimal maintenance to provide maximum productivity and therefore value. The on-substrate performance is also a vital set of attributes and having a wide adhesion profile suitable for printing on an array of media types is important for PSPs.”
Application versatility is key. “Service providers want inks that are masters of all applications, and vendors respond by changing ink chemistry or including pretreatment options,” explains Donigain.
Many of Fujifilm’s customers prefer using an ink that covers many applications. “Printers like versatility of one range rather than having multiple platforms with different ink products,” adds Whiting.
“PSPs are application-driven; therefore, they’re always looking for better adhesion to a wide variety of substrates,” agrees Shull. Specifically in regards to UV, he says “users are looking for increased adhesion to diverse substrates while maintaining or increasing color gamut.”
According to Claassens, “there is a shift from being heavily focused on graphic arts applications into new and exciting industrial applications such as automotive parts printing, which requires unique formulations and ink performance capabilities.”
“Customers are looking for ink that meets the desired end application. If that means outdoor signage, it is prints that are durable, flexible for wraps, and vibrant to match brand colors. In all inks, customers tell us they are looking for affordability, ease of maintenance, high quality, sustainability, and durability—based on the application,” explains Hecht.
With the rapid growth of applications like digitally printed wallcoverings, PSPs demand ink sets that meet certain standards from fire resistance and durability to volatile organic compounds emissions. Donigain points to certifications like Type II and GREENGUARD Gold.
“PSPs and end users have become more conscious of ink formulations for employees and the customers. There is also a desire to deliver odor-free products to the customer without hazardous air pollutants, which weights heavily in favor of HP Latex Inks—they are better for the PSP, the end customer, and the environment,” says Wittenberg.
Considerations also revolve around availability. “I believe they basically look for a product that fulfills their quality needs and then look for a trouble-free operation. However, in most of the cases, the PSP buys a system in which ink is one of the components. They are not opened to source the different elements of the system—ink, technical service, spare parts—from different sources, so they are forced to assume the limitations imposed by the OEMs,” adds Martínez.
It’s All in the Bag… or Pouch
Ink containers are changing—cartridges versus pouches, volume of ink in each container. A demand for more sustainable containers as well as bulk ink to enable longer, more productive runs influences this.
Wittenberg says ink containers are evolving in two main ways. “First, the containers are getting larger, especially for the larger, production-oriented large format printers. This helps increase productivity while decreasing costs of production.”
The second change is environmentally based. With the move to larger containers, less waste is generated. This results in “a tremendous environmental benefit. The more ink you put in a container, the less landfill space you take up. The evolution is moving in the right direction,” admits Shull.
“There is an increasing demand for more environmentally sound ink containers. HP is developing these and moving to a fully recyclable ink container. As for the future, the environmental impact will be a major driver towards more sustainable ink containers and recyclability of the same,” shares Wittenberg.
Jackman also notices a trend to use less plastic. “We see a gradual change from rigid plastic containers to thinner membranes such as pouches, sometimes within recyclable cardboard containers—bag in box. This trend makes it more affordable to ship due to the lighter weight of the packaging used and potentially means that trucks shipping the product use fewer carbon emissions, but more importantly, much less plastic is utilized.”
“There is a significant reduction in the quantity of plastic used in flexible packaging when compared to the equivalent volume rigid packaging container. Packaging ‘efficiency’ is also of interest to ink manufacturers where there is an ongoing balance between minimizing plastic usage, packaging robustness, and cost,” notes Whiting.
Searching for Best in Class
PSPs demand versatile, performance-driven ink. Vendors, manufactures, and suppliers—every member of the industry—are all in when in comes to providing best-in-class solutions. For a helpful overview of ink vendors, both distributors and manufacturers, visit digitaloutput.net and check out our Target Chart section for a comprehensive chart.
Apr2022, Digital Output