Given today’s large and growing interest in green, sustainable solutions, aggressive solvent printers appear to be falling out of favor with many. That naturally invites the question whether solvent technology has a future in the industry.
In an effort to help solve the solvent dilemma, we recently talked with a variety of wide-format imaging experts about their views of the future. What, we asked them, ar e the odds of future government regulations focused on solvent printing? How will any such regulations impact smaller shops lacking the budgets to afford newer and greener equipment? And what viable options are available to replace solvent printers?
The answer to any questions regarding sustainability needs to take a broader view than just printers, says Marci Kinter, vice-president of the SGIA in Fairfax, VA.
“In talking about sustainability, I’m not just looking at one component,” she says. “I’m not looking at just the equipment, the printer, or the chemicals. It’s really a more holistic approach involving more than just whether I’m using solvent printers.”
Many printers like to examine their input chemicals alone, trying to convince themselves if they change those chemicals, they will be transformed into a green printer. Kinter and her colleagues don’t advocate that position. Instead, they suggest examining energy and materials usage, environmental regulations, employee health and safety concerns. “All that should go into the choice, not just what types of inks you’re using,” she says. “If you look at whether solvent printing has a future, I would say yes, because screen printing can still only be done with solvent inks.”
A number of other professionals agree solvent printing will continue to be used, at least in the near term. Among them is Sterling Keays, president of Fredericton, New Brunswick-based Massive Graphics, a 12-year-old Canadian company producing tradeshow exhibits, vehicle wraps and museum exhibits for clients throughout North America.
For the immediate future, solvent printing will remain a workhorse for companies like his, Keays says. His clients particularly value the warranty vinyl manufacturers provide when solvent inks are used. “When they are offering the same or better warranties with UV curable or other chemistries, we will look at switching,” he says.
Also worth considering is the number of solvent printers currently in use, says Terry Amerine, segment manager for FujiFilm Sericol in Kansas City, KS. There’s a very large installed base of such printers, and that’s not going to change overnight, he argues. He expects that as wide-format imaging professionals purchase printers, they will follow their consciences and examine greener solutions.
However, he adds, “The statement we’ve always made is people love the color of green, but business owners are more motivated by green—as in money. It has to be economically viable. Business owners are not going to sacrifice the bottom line to be greener. Many times buyers want the greener solution, but aren’t willing to pay for it.”
Another observer, San Francisco-based consultant in business development for digital graphics Steve Beard, takes a similar but blunter view.
Noting he’s been called an early adopter of “disruptive technology” who’s “now taking the more pragmatic approach of an environmental realist,” Beard says the industry has pretty much thrown its weight behind solvent printers, whether it likes it or not. “They made machines smaller, and they proliferated, and now we’re stuck with solvent printers,” he says. “Now, unfortunately, the market has spent its money on the solvent printers. There’s not enough business in this economy, and with the lack of credit, it basically can’t afford to move away from solvent. If you ask a small shop to spend more on a UV printer, they don’t have the money, credit being what it is.
“In this market, ‘green’ isn’t the driver. It’s the other green.”