Eco-Ink Report

 The global market for environmentally friendly (EF) inks was valued at nearly €5.8 billion in 2009, according to a new study by Pira International. Experiencing good growth, the global EF inks market is projected to reach almost €7.2 billion by 2014, with a CAGR of 4.5 percent in the 2009-14 period.

Based on primary research and expert analysis, The Future of Environmentally Friendly Inks - Market Forecasts to 2014 from Pira International offers a detailed insight into the major trends affecting the environment friendly inks market, breaking it down by printing process, end-use application and geographical region, with quantitative forecasts till 2014 (volume and value). Significantly, the study also provides in-depth coverage of the key technology developments impacting the EF inks market, and seeks to identify the emerging, niche opportunities for EF ink and equipment suppliers.

The study defines EF inks as those containing the highest quantity of bio-derived, renewable raw materials available for the particular ink technology, along with the lowest possible VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) levels. As such, the term EF inks denotes the broad spectrum of inks used in most of the major printing processes, within which several categories qualify as environmentally friendly, i.e. aqueous or water based, energy curable, and paste inks based on low VOC oils or vegetable oils.

There are inks used in the inkjet process which are termed eco-solvent, mild solvent and bio-solvent inks. These contain fewer VOC emissions than the aggressive or true solvent inks but are still toxic, and hence are not considered to be environmentally friendly. For obvious reasons, water-based and UV inkjet are EF alternatives.

EF inks are not new to the printing ink industry. When governmental legislation began to tighten in the 1990s to limit toxic emissions into the air, ink manufacturers began to offer alternatives to printers to comply with such regulations. The use of recovery and afterburners added cost. Moreover, there was concern about toluene residues in gravure printed publications. Water-based inks were introduced in the liquid ink area, and paste inks based on renewable resources, particularly vegetable-based oils such as soy oil, were offered on the paste ink side. Currently, there is increasing focus on the environmental impact of printing inks, but even more there is a move towards sustainability, i.e. using renewable resources for ink formulation.

According to Pira International, significant developments have taken place in the EF and sustainable inks industry in recent times including:

  • Improved raw materials, which have enabled formulation of inks based on renewable content for sustainability, while delivering comparable price and performance;
  • Water-based inks replacing solvent;
  • Innovative inks, such as Hewlett Packard's (HP) latex inks offering alternative EF solutions to existing product formulations;
  • Thermoformable UV inks;
  • Sustainable UV inks;
  • UV-LED inks for inkjet, flexo and screen processes;
  • Radiation drying systems offering faster line speeds, more consistent moisture levels, lower drying temperature (which in turn means less energy usage) and smaller equipment;
  • Xenon pulse lamps, solid-state curing systems and UV-LED curing offering advantages over traditional mercury lamps for energy-curing technology;
  • The availability of several printing systems incorporating the UV-LED technology for inkjet, flexo and screen processes;
  • Variable sleeve offset presses (VSOP), which may help spur the growth of UV/EB (electron beam) curing for offset in flexible packaging.

Analyzing the EF ink market by printing process, Pira International asserts that inkjet will witness the highest growth in the 2009-14 period, with a CAGR of 10 percent, both in volume and value terms. Having become the dominant printing process in the signage area and causing a sharp decline in screen printing, inkjet is already being extensively used in print areas such as office forms, having already penetrated the label printing market. Using water-based inks on porous substrates, inkjet relies heavily on UV for non-absorbent substrates and is expected to show continued growth, despite increased activity in the sphere of hybrid inks. The other printing processes discussed in the study include offset, flexo (both of which together contributed around 70 percent of the EF inks global market value in 2009) gravure, and screen.


With EF inks now used in most end-use applications, Pira International states that in some areas such as narrow web flexo, corrugated board or textiles, virtually all the inks used are environmentally friendly - either water-based or UV or a combination of both. There are however two notable application exceptions: magazines, since these are mainly printed using either heatset offset or publication gravure, where the process precludes using EF inks; and vehicle wraps in inkjet, for which UV inkjet inks currently lack the needed flexibility. Additionally, a large segment of flexible packaging still uses solvent-based inks and this trend is expected to continue for some time.

In the developed regions where the printing industry is mature and is not slated for significant growth, EF inks are already being used extensively—but their growth rates are higher than conventional inks, with UV inks still growing at a rapid pace especially in North America. In some instances, there has also been a transition from the usage of water-based flexo inks to UV flexo usage.

In the emerging markets of Asia, South America and Eastern Europe, Pira predicts growth in printing and packaging, with some of this growth also forecast to be in EF inks, depending on the end-use application. In these markets UV and UV inkjet is expanding rapidly. However, with no strict environmental legislation currently in place, there is not much pressure to switch to EF and/or sustainable inks. Sources suggest that this trend could possibly change if China, the largest country in terms of printing, implements stricter laws. For the present, there are still large quantities of solvent-based inks and paste inks based on petroleum being used in the printing industry, with a perceptible shift towards the usage of a larger number of EF products.

Although today’s ink industry has a solid foundation of EF and/or sustainable inks, there is significant opportunity for the future for raw material suppliers, equipment manufacturers and ink manufacturers alike. In common with equipment suppliers in other areas of the manufacturing sector, the printing ink industry is seeking to move towards sustainability. Research and development is facilitating the continual development of new and innovative products capable of delivering both the price and performance needed, while effectively reducing VOC emission and using renewable sources. Innovative products are being introduced continuously to meet these new requirements and the need will expand as environmental regulations tighten. There is a vast area of solvent-based systems and petroleum-oil-based paste inks that have the potential to be replaced if the right products were developed.

Pira International projects that as environmental regulations tighten, the need for EF and sustainable inks will only increase over time. A potential area of opportunity, particularly for energy-cured inks, is in food packaging. With the FDA-issued food contact notification (FCN) 772, the groundwork has been laid for energy-cured technologies to move into the area of food packaging, long the domain of solvent-based inks.

Analyzing the global EF Ink market by ink type, Pira International forecasts the highest growth rates for UV inks, which is predicted to witness a CAGR of nearly seven percent in the 2009-14 period, and grow from nearly €1.28 billion value in 2009, to more than €2 billion in 2014. Other areas of opportunity for the future are shrink sleeves, thermoformable inks, innovative sheet-fed inks with low migration for food packaging, point of sale (POS) displays and decorative printing substrates like glass, and printed electronics.