Solvent printing technology has been a stable inkjet technology over the course of the last decade. From the true "aggressive" solvent printers to the newer low, mild, and eco-solvent printers, technology continues to develop and offer high-resolution and high-productivity units—primarily aimed at the outdoor durable market. But more recently, we've seen shifts within the industry to "greener" technology. Hard or aggressive solvent printers seem to be falling out of favor with some print providers and end customers. They don't like the smell. They don't like the media. They think other "greener" technologies might offer a better solution.
Will solvent printing technology still have a place within the wide- and grand-format market when everything shakes out? Experts believe so. For outdoor durable graphics from billboards to vehicle wraps, solvent—primarily the low-VOC solvent printers—seem to have found their niche. At least for the time being.
We asked a variety of industry experts to talk about how solvent printing technology has changed over the course of the last 12-18 months and what's in store for the future.
1. How has solvent technology changed over the last 12-18 months?
Terry Amerine, segment manager, wide format digital, FUJIFILM North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division – Sericol Unit: The equipment technology has not changed all that much. However, it appears that as a result of the economic conditions that many suppliers focused on lowering their costs but many times this resulted in compromising performance. I believe customers have noted this over the past year as business levels have improved. As a result of this, we have gained significant market share based upon batch consistency, better color strength and our focus on quality. Cheap is not always inexpensive
Jeff Burton, digital printing analyst, SGIA: There are still the two basic solvent ink systems: the eco-sol or low VOC content ink and the more “aggressive” solvent ink systems. The image permanence that solvent-pigmented ink provides is important in many markets outside of point of purchase advertising, such as the transit applications, packaging/labeling industries, and fine art.
Although there have been no new lines of solvent chemistry introduced into the market, white inks are creating opportunities for many digital print jobs on clear or colored substrates. More inkjet manufacturers have entered into the solvent white ink category including Epson being the latest to introduce a white ink capable printer. Roland has also introduced its Metallic Silver ECO-SOL MAX ink. The silver can be combined with other inks to produce a range of colored metallic effects. The ink is circulated periodically as is the white ink to prevent settling in the feed lines.
Reed Hecht, product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America, Inc.: The introduction of UltraChrome GS ink about 18 months ago had a dramatic impact on the solvent market landscape. Epson UltraChrome GS Ink technology with eight individual colors, including new Orange and Green, eliminates the need for external dryers and air purification systems. In addition, with UltraChrome GS, Epson completely removed the element Nickel (Ni) from the ink composition. The result is a high-performance, solvent-based ink technology with stunning color gamut and accuracy, and less impact on the environment.
The introduction of this ink has altered the way printers and sign-makers think about solvent ink technology, venting and how the technology can be integrated into their print shops.
Deborah Hutcheson, director of marketing, Agfa Graphics North America: Eco-solvent and aggressive solvent printing technology has lost ground in certain applications. It was sort of a triple threat. First the recession caused users/consumers to reduce waste and increase productivity. As a result many users moved away from conventional mounting processes as it is more time consuming and labor intensive. Secondly, tougher state and federal environmental regulations swayed many business owners into investing in eco-friendlier technologies. And third, UV technology continues to improve in terms of print quality, price point, and ability to handle a large variety of media.