There hasn’t been much in the way of good news over the past several months and unfortunately, the inkjet ink market has not been immune to the global economic climate. Like many other industries, the market has seen a slowdown over the last year.
Ink manufacturers have seen an impact on their business, but some have already started to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
According to Terry Amerine, market manager, wide-format graphics, Fujifilm Sericol USA, Inc., while the overall economic conditions have slowed growth, there is still a growing market overall. “The substitution of traditional analog printing in favor of inkjet continues and the economic environment may be increasing this due to lower overall run lengths and even tighter turn times,” said Amerine.
Scott Schinlever, vice president/general manager, EFI Ink Business, concurs. “EFI’s ink business fell off in Q4 of 2008, and started to recover in early 2009, and has been steadily increasing. While the economic challenges are resulting in reduced print volumes for all technologies, the underlying digital transition is offsetting much of this in the wide-/grand-format space.”
But according to Hewlett Packard’s senior technical specialist, Printing Technology Platforms, Dr. Ross Allen, shop owners are looking products that will help them maintain their bottom line. “In the last 12 months, the wide-format inkjet ink market has seen a growing demand for ink technologies that provide high levels of image quality, productivity and durability while allowing customers to reduce the impact of their printing on the environment.”
Cost, of course, is also a huge factor, especially now. “Digital inkjet inks are our core business and we have experienced a good amount of business for the first five months of 2009. In tough economic times, people are forced to look hard at their costs and evaluate ways to reduce their expenditures to keep them performing well. Since INX Digital has a number of aftermarket brands, people are more open to considering a quality replacement product that will save them 30 to 50 percent compared to their current consumables. This kind of savings is proving to be very crucial to many businesses,” said Brad Kisner, president, INX Digital International.
Richard Bowles, vice president and general manager, Nazdar concurs. “Digital printers are increasingly concerned about reducing production costs.”
While the global economy has probably had the most direct-and all encompassing-impact on the market as a whole, there are other trends that have also made their mark.
One of the biggest drivers has been the push for more environmentally-friendly options, when it comes to ink choices. “We believe the interest level and new regulations coming into effect for environmentally conscious solutions as being a key driver,” said Mark Sawchak, textile product manager, Converd.
“As the world strives to become more ‘green’, the assumption is that businesses will face increasingly demanding environmental regulations, which PSPs should consider as they construct their operations,” said Allen.
“The increase in resolution quality and speed are two of the biggest factors with the introduction of new technologies in the wide format market. UV curable has become a standard option available for good quality wide format printers. With the many advantages UV curable inks have to offer, smaller shops are able to compete when job requirements call for a ‘green’ solution. UV doesn’t require a laminate or coating to maintain outdoor durability compared to a water-based process,” said Kisner.
Additionally, the adoption of UV technology has helped to grow the UV side of the business.
“UV ink continues to grow. Faster curing, more flexible and durable inks are being asked for,” said Jennifer Greenquist, business development manager for inks, 3M.
“The continued adoption of mid-range to high-end UV digital inkjet flatbed printers, as well as the growth of UV roll-to-roll printers have made an impact on the market. Both trends are driving appreciably more volume, and have significant potential for continued growth into the future,” said Schinlever.
Technological Developments Help to Fuel Growth
But what technological developments will help continue the growth experts have alluded to? There are varied answers covering everything from the advances in inkjet equipment to printhead developments and ink delivery systems. But unfortunately, right now much of the growth will be curtailed due to the current economic conditions and the credit crunch.
“Higher speed UV printers (both flatbed and roll-to-roll) are driving higher print volumes, especially as digital is used for more mid-to-long run lengths vs. just short-run as in the past,”said Schinlever. “In addition, higher print quality in the grand-format space allows print providers to address more high-quality application spaces—many of which were reserved for low-speed wide-format printing or photo technology in the past. Both of these developments drive higher ink usage.”
INX Digital’s Kisner agrees. “The higher speed devices are grabbing people’s attention. That’s normal and was bound to happen. The same is true for products that are environmentally friendly. There was an initial push and I expect more companies will make it a greater priority in the next year. Our consumables sales have done very well and I see continued market share growth in this area for INX Digital.”
Sawchak continues, addressing the environmental-aspect. “The development of ink systems such as our Nano inks from Yuhan-Kimberly and eco-friendly paper-based substrates are helping to address the need in the market for solutions that enable printers to provide customers with advertising medium that address their requirements for having a low impact on the environment.”
Steve Urmano, marketing director, Mimaki USA, also credits LEDs as the potential source of growth. “Certainly low energy curing using LEDs have shown a lot of promise while unit sales are just ramping up.”
Opinions are mixed about the future growth. A lot depends upon the predicted economic turnaround and when that does begin to occur.
“Given the world economic situation and the crisis that hit the financial world, the wide-format market remains vulnerable to the availability of good finance options, especially to smaller print operations. Many of these printers have had a difficult time getting loans to purchase equipment that is typically in the $30,000 to $120,000 range. Printers must keep costs low in times like this but run the risk of sacrificing quality,” said Kisner.
“We see single digit growth in 2009 and early 2010. We expect to see a return to double-digit growth in the latter part of 2010 and 2011—if the experts are right about the recovery of the economy,” said Amerine.
EFI’s Schinlever’s foresees strong growth, “especially starting in the 2nd half as key new technology introductions start shipping in volume.”
“We see the greatest growth opportunity for wide-format inks in products that have the ability to increase productivity while reducing the impact of printing on the environment. UV-curable inks are an example of a technology that will continue to see growth, since they produce dry, ready-to-use prints, print on a wide variety of substrates, and emit low levels of VOCs. UV-curable inks accelerate overall efficiency and productivity and allow PSPs to deliver high-quality applications with the quick turnaround time their customers demand,” said Allen.
Randy Anderson, program manager for software, media and color, Mutoh points to specific applications, such as vehicle wraps and textile printing, as growth areas moving forward.
Hiro Futsukaichi, director of marketing, Mutoh, continues along the same thought. “Sign graphics will still grow once the economy comes back. Eco-solvent ink will replace water base inks as people began to recognize the advantage of outdoor durability and low running cost. Meanwhile, ink for textile market would have greatest growth opportunity in terms of growth rate,” said Futsukaichi.
But the economy as a whole will be the biggest factor facing the market going forward-that and the availability of credit. “The toughest issue facing everyone is the depressed demand for printed products due to the current economic downturn. We are seeing signs that the next year could represent an upturn in demand,” said Nazdar’s Bowles.
“The biggest issues facing the wide-/grand-format digital inkjet ink market will be the general economy and condition of credit markets, especially in terms of financing being available for print providers to invest in new digital technology,” said Schinlever.
“The greatest issue facing the market is the ability to deliver the versatility that PSPs need to meet their customers’ demands. PSPs are looking for ink technologies that address a broad range of applications, and manufacturers such as HP strive to meet current demands and to be leaders in developing markets through their R&D investments. With inkjet, there is no one-size-fits-all technology. Each ink offers its own value propositions to meet the needs of different customers, production environments, and applications,” said Allen.?