As companies strive to leave a greener footprint, solvent ink technology—despite its high quality and low cost—is a high subject of debate. Will solvent technologies have a future in the industry? Some companies say solvent ink technology will become phased out in the future; others say it's a stable technology.
(To view a PDF list of the solvent printers currently on the market, please click here.)
Experts Offer Mixed Perspectives
As with any technology, there have been various innovations in order for solvent technology to become greener, causing both advantages and disadvantages for solvent technology. Patrick Ryan, general manager, Seiko Instruments USA Inc., stated three ways solvent printing is becoming greener: ink technology, ink cartridges, and improvement in air cleaning systems. "We continue to explore and improve the types of solvents used in our inks so that they are safer for the human health and the environment," said Ryan. "While there is some tradeoff with performance such as glossiness, lightfastness, and color gamut – improvements are being made by each generation of inks. Plastic cartridges are now becoming obsolete, as more companies like Seiko move to ink bag systems. This prevents a tremendous amount of plastic cartridges flowing into landfills, or into incinerators."
Terry Mitchell, director of marketing for Fujifilm North America, also noted innovations toward becoming more greener. "The use of higher percent renewable raw materials and lower VOC's have been the focus of solvent ink development resulting in a lower environmental impact from these new solvent ink formulations," said Mitchell.
Although Ryan and Mitchell observe innovations with solvent ink technology, some experts feel other ink technologies are a better way to go green. Larry Salomon, vice president of Agfa Graphics, stated: "I believe UV curable and Latex ink is the green solution for solvent ink."
Joan Perez Pericot, worldwide marketing director for HP, also felt other ink technologies are a better solution for going green. "We have seen a much higher level of innovation and advancement, particularly when it comes to environmental factors, with UV-curable and Latex ink technologies than solvent ink technologies over the past 12 months," said Pericot.
"As the market continues to recover from the recession, we are seeing renewed interest from customers in reducing their impact on the environment and improving working conditions in their print shop. Also, enterprises and ad agencies are becoming more sensitive to the environmental footprint of their printed advertising activities and are adjusting their purchasing habits accordingly," Pericot continued. "UV-curable and Latex ink technologies offer the best solutions to address these demands while meeting the durability and quality needs of the industry and addressing a broad range of applications."
"Development efforts for traditional signage have been focused around UV technology, which is a greener solution," said RJ Sullivan, product manager for EFI.
Reed Hecht, product manager for Epson, spoke about UltraChrome GS ink technology and its greener advantages: "This technology eliminates the need for external dryers and air purification systems and reduces the amount of harmful VOCs commonly used in other solvents." Hecht continued, "Epson has also managed to remove the element Nickel [Ni] from these inks."
Randy Anderson, product marketing manager for Mutoh, also had the notion that a different ink technology was a better choice for a greener product: "Mutoh recently announced MP-21 ink, a bio solvent, for our Mutoh VJ1608HS Hybrid. This ink has wider color gamut and has better adhesion on a wider range of substrates."