When pressroom production efficiency is an issue—and it almost always is—one of the best places to start adding value is deciding what type of ink is most appropriate for the job and process. What type of ink will help a pressroom run smoother and boost productivity without sacrificing image color and quality? While ink makes up only a small percentage of a print job’s material, it accounts for a major percentage of the success or failure of the finished product. After all, there’s no hiding it: The one thing you and your customers will surely see on any printed item is the quality of the ink.
The fact that today’s press technology makes it possible to print on an ever-expanding range of substrates, from paper to plastics to fabrics of differing weights, densities, absorptive properties, and finishes, only adds to the complexity. Today’s jobs often combine different types of printing processes and require one of a variety of available coatings and laminates as well as postpress folding, stitching, gluing, etc. Because print providers are being challenged with producing a wider range of work on shorter schedules, the ink makes a big difference in the quality of the finished product.
Consider the Job
As a first step in considering what ink should be used, consider the job. Most general commercial printing businesses offer both offset and digital printing (see ‘Hybrid’ article on page 8), and very often they are used together. For example, consider direct mail postcards printed in high volume on offset presses and then laser printed with variable data names and addresses. The offset ink used must work well on the press to make the job profitable and reproduce images and color that faithfully and consistently match the proof, but it must also stand up to the heat generated by laser printers.
Press operators are painfully aware that different presses produce different results, even when using the same inks and substrates. While a well maintained 10 or 15 year old offset press likely is still capable of producing high-quality work, it also probably runs at slower speeds and with less mathematic precision than a brand new offset equipped with the latest in automation.
Additionally, factors such as environmental issues are driving printers to adopt the use of low to no VOC fountain solutions and inks, and also influence the grade and types of substrates that customers specify. Economic reality in many cases compels customers to choose a lesser grade or lower quality substrate to fit their budget constraints. The exact composition of the paper, its absorptive properties, and even the chemical composition of its surface all interact with the ink and can impact the printed result.