The Ink Report

By Lisa Nieves | July 8, 2005

As the industry's technology advances in presses, substrates and converter expertise, inks must also maintain the pace of new development.

As the industry's technology advances in presses, substrates and converter expertise, inks must also maintain the pace of new development. Topping the index of customer requests for improved ink systems are stronger, high quality, low maintenance inks with lower viscosity, as well as a need for finer line anilox rolls. Strides in UV curable inks are also developing in the area of lower viscosity, higher color strength and densities, and safety.

On demand
When they are asked what qualities are high on customers' lists of demands, many ink suppliers say that high quality, stronger inks with lower viscosity is foremost among them. "The industry as a whole is always pushing for stronger color," says Richard Gloeckler, president of Environmental Inks & Coatings, Morganton, N.C. "Inks have to be strong and dense enough so that solids and screens can be printed off of the same plate used in flexo."

"Converters realize a need for a true consistent, high quality ink that will result in less downtime and higher production," says Patrick Hague, VP sales, Water Ink Technologies, Lincolnton, N.C.

Stronger water based inks with improved color and pigment are needed to compensate for evaporation, according to Bill Phillips, VP customer operations for Arcar Graphics, West Chicago, Ill. Arcar specializes in water based and UV flexo inks.

John Ruppe, one of the owners of American Water Graphics, Forest City, N.C., says he has observed a significant increase in this particular request within the past year. In order to achieve stronger inks, says Ruppe, more pigment is added into the mix. The problem, he continues, is the increase in cost — another issue in itself.

"A lot of customers are looking for more economy type products," says Ruppe. In the narrow web market, he adds, there seems to be a division between high and low end printers. "Top of the line printers are demanding quality over price, while lower end printers are demanding a less expensive product."

The demand to meet finer line anilox rolls is another push from converters. "Because you are printing from a shallower anilox cell, you are printing thinner films of ink," explains Gerald McLaine, marketing manager, packaging ink, Sun Chemical Corp., Fort Lee, N.J. — and hand in hand with thinner films of ink comes the repeated request for stronger inks. Another problem with the demand for finer line anilox rolls is increased drying times. If the ink does not stay soluble, the ink might dry in the anilox cells and on the plates, says McLaine. In this area of fine line anilox rolls, Sun Chemical is marketing its Versa Print high strength ink. Combination printing presents other ink challenges. According to Andrew Dakos, VP sales, UVitec Printing Ink, Lodi, N.J., these include the ability of the different ink systems — UV flexo, rotary screen, rotary letterpress — to wet out properly over each other. UVitec manufactures UV curable inks and coatings for flexo, UV flexo, letterpress, offset and screen printing, as well as metallic, gold, silver and fluorescent specialty inks.

Four-color process printing is also experiencing growth. "We are selling more four-color process than ever before," says Ruppe. "A lot of companies are also starting to dabble in six-color process. We've had six requests in the last three months," he adds.

Improvements in screen inks are also in demand. John Costenoble, sales manager of Stork Rotaform, Charlotte, N.C., which manufactures rotary screen press equipment, says he would like to see screen ink suppliers achieve improved opacity and the same color consistency and viscosity throughout a press run. "We would also like ink manufacturers to acquire more knowledge about the mechanics of rotary screen," he says. "The more people that understand the process, the better it is for us. Many think rotary screen is a voodoo science, but it's really not." In an effort to learn more about the process, Costenoble says, some ink suppliers have begun to purchase rotary screen presses to assist in the testing of their inks.

For the water based market, many suppliers say that the search for an ink that requires less operator attention is always under development. "You have to try to develop an ink that is more user friendly, an ink where you don't have to play with additives and dry rate adjusters," says Phillips. With water based inks, he says, different solutions are added to maintain pH, viscosity and consistency as the ink runs on press. "Customers want an ink they can pour into the press and forget about," he adds. Targeting these specific requests, Arcar Graphics unveiled its new Clean Print water based ink line late last year. Clean Print features various strength levels, says Phillips.

Peter Mulheran, VP sales and marketing, Akzo Nobel Inks, Plymouth, Minn., also observes the trend in low maintenance ink systems. "You don't want to have your operators worry about the inks," he says. "A user friendly ink will create less downtime and higher press speeds." New in this arena is Akzo Nobel's Hydrokett 3000 water based flexo ink. The new line features a blend of press, pH, and viscosity stability, while offering vibrant high strength colors with excellent scuff resistant properties. David Propst, technical marketing manager, Environmental Inks & Coatings, says he has observed major improvements in water based inks specifically for film use. The company offers its most recent development — Polyscreen ink — for film applications. Polyscreen is able to run from heavy coverage line work to process work, says Propst.

Also developed specifically for the film market is X-Cel water-based ink from Water Ink Technologies, featuring excellent adhesion and scratch characteristics, and formulated to print strong with fine anilox rolls. New developments are also under way at UVitec Printing Ink, with the testing of a hot stampable ink for the prime label market. This new line will be known as the 38 Series stampable rotary letterpress inks and the 88 Series stampable UV flexo inks, and will be of interest to the cosmetic and liquor markets. "Before, you would have to sacrifice cure speeds or scuff resistance to achieve this effect, but we are not giving anything up to reach the stamping properties," says Dakos. "And it runs similar to how a rotary letterpress or UV flexo would run."

Fluid Ink Technology, Moorpark, Calif., has also been busy with new ink creations. Most recent is the development of a foil stampable UV flexo high strength ink. "Everyone has been waiting for a product like this," says Russell Greenhouse, VP, technical director. Prior to this new development, the substrate would have to be coated about two times with a clear UV coating to prime it for foil stamping.

Strides in UV
Excellent quality, quick drying speeds, zero evaporation, color consistency and minimal VOC content have all helped UV inks move to the forefront of the ink market. Propst says UV is an excellent choice for long-run process printing, but may not be well suited for short-run work. "UV can be difficult to clean up and disposal can be more expensive," he says. But UV also has a higher level of cohesiveness and no evaporation, he adds."UV is a constantly increasing part of our business. It accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of our sales." John Vogel, VP for the narrow web tag and label market, INX International, Milwaukee, says he too has seen a rise in the number of customers requesting UV inks. "UV has grown faster in the last few years than it has in previous years," he says.

Propst says some of the major requests from customers in the UV market include lower viscosity, higher color strength and higher densities. The reason for the need for lower viscosity, he says, is because many printers are using UV inks on equipment with doctor blades designed for water based products. A lower viscosity will also produce better color, he adds.

David Frederick, general manager, Deco-Chem, Inc., Mishawaka, Ind., adds a few more advantages to this highly requested property. "A lower viscosity allows the ink to become more press friendly, not cavitate around the doctor blade, and it is more pourable so you don't have to scoop the ink," he says. Deco-Chem specializes in UV flexo and screen inks. The company recently developed Decoflex — a new line of UV flexo ink able to maintain low viscosity and high print density. The lower dyne concentrations of this new product allow the printer to carry lower volumes of ink without a dust problem. Decoflex also accepts consecutive over prints with excellent trapping.

One of the major hurdles for suppliers in this area of the market is price. "The pricing for UV is a little higher, but what many users are seeing is that they can get 15 percent more mileage," says Frederick. Safety can be another challenge due to the primary issue of skin sensitivity. "UV is a reactive material," says Propst. "It is very important to take the proper precautions." Some of the safety equipment used withUV include gloves, barrier creams and protective glasses.

Water Ink Technologies, however, may have found a way to avoid this problem. The company recently revealed that it is no longer placing hexanediol diacrylate (HDDA) and trimethylopropane triacrylate (TMPTA) into its line of UV products. Instead, it is replacing them with two new secret components. HDDA, says Kurt Hudson, general manager, UV products, has been banned in the U.K. by the printer's trade union due to its high Draize value skin irritant. Although HDDA is used for adhesion properties and TMPTA is for durability, he adds, Water Ink Technologies' new UV formulation has not lost any of these qualities as a result of its two new components.

Folding carton forges ahead
New and exciting inks have also been developed for the folding carton market. With requests for lower viscosity to assist in the transfer of ink, ink penetration often minimizes gloss. Akzo Nobel Inks has targeted this dilemma with the creation of Cartoncure UV flexo ink for printing over carton board on narrow and mid web presses.

Through the addition of an anti-penetration agent, Cartoncure is able is able to preserve the high gloss characteristics of the ink. This new product also features lower viscosity and optimum color density, reduced odor characteristics, a curing speed working capability in excess of 300m/min., and a built-in anti-static component to reduce dust attraction.

INX International has targeted this market with the introduction of the INXAqua-Tech 120 High-Strength and High-Strength Process Series custom-designed inks. The 120 High-Strength Process series offers premium strength with line work printability up to 1000 anilox, while the High-Strength series can tackle the 600 anilox level, with screen capability up to 800 anilox. Both feature a hard gloss finish and are supplied at a viscosity level slightly higher than press ready.

Making the connection
In the world of printing, every part of the process is interconnected — every piece of material and every machine part, and the key to this success is communication. Over the years ink suppliers have developed an even closer relationship with substrate manufacturers to avoid future printing difficulties. "It's an undeniable connection," says Bob Turner, national sales manager, specialty products, Sericol Inc., Kansas City, Kan. "We have an excellent relationship with substrate manufacturers. We work closely with them not only in the tag and label market, but other areas as well." Sericol specializes in UV curable rotary screen, flexo and rotary letterpress inks.

Ruppe of American Water Graphics says he, too, has a close relationship with substrate manufacturers, but hopes that this can grow to an even greater extent with the cooperation of the entire industry. "I would like to see the whole industry come together. But it's very difficult when everyone has their own proprietary secrets," says Ruppe.

Frederick gives his opinion on the ink/substrate manufacturer bond. "We've been doing quite well with various substrate manufacturers, but the relationship could probably be closer." Frederick says the problem many ink manufacturers face is that the ink is always blamed when something goes wrong.

In the UV market, many ink suppliers say the ink/substrate manufacturer relationship has greatly improved over the years. "Issues that once arose about a decade ago concerning UV ink/substrate compatibility is not a concern anymore," says Dakos. "Substrate manufacturers now call us and send samples to see what inks will work well with their material." Substrate suppliers, he adds, are doing a better job of supporting this long term relationship.

In addition to joining forces with substrate manufacturers, ink suppliers have also found working with press, anilox roll and plate suppliers to be another advantage. "We have a flexo press on the premises that we use for R&D purposes, as well as for UV flexo seminars," says Frederick. "We also work closely with several press manufacturers by providing them with ink for their trial runs."

For ink R&D as well as training, Mulheran says, Akzo Nobel has a Center for Technical Excellence in Plymouth, Minn., in which it has invested $1 million this year alone.

The specialty ink market
From metallics to fluorescents, the specialty ink market is also showing strides. Oliver Crowhurst, marketing director, Eckart America, Painesville, Ohio, says one of the challenges faced by the metallic market has been the water based flexo industry. "It has been very difficult to get a true metallic ink reintroduced into the narrow web industry because water based flexo had adopted an imitation gold," he says. This imitation product, he says, is a gold based on aluminum. "Ink companies offer aluminum gold because they couldn't make a true bronze metallic ink. Now more companies are using a true gold instead of imitation."

Crowhurst says that metallic ink is based on a pigment that might in the future serve as an alternative to foil stamping and metalized film. Two recent products from Eckart include Rotostar Aqua and Metalure. Brilliant, non-tarnishing Rotostar Aqua offers optimal performance for a wide variety of substrates and performance parameters, from high speed gravure to narrow web flexo. Metalure dispersions, exclusively manufactured by Avery Dennison for Eckart, contain millions of microscopically thin aluminum platelets suspended in a range of organic solvents.

American Water Graphics also participates in the specialty ink market. New from the company is Multi-Glow ammonia-free fluorescent. The problem with ammonia, says Ruppe, is that it dries too fast. Focusing on glow-in-the-dark, scratch off, photochromatic and thermochromatic inks for various promotional applications in the specialty market is Rad-Cure Corp., Fairfield, N.J. Photochromatic inks, explains VP Jim Wittig, turn color when hit by sunlight, while thermochromatic experiences color variations with a change in temperature.

A new and popular development in the specialty ink market, he adds, is the creation of UV scratch-off inks, which had been available only in solvent and water borne. Rad-Cure has also developed a UV flexo glow-in-the-dark ink, previously only available for rotary or flat screen.