Wide-Format's Newest Trend

Metallic inks are the new black, or at least that’s how it seems. As more and more print service providers offer the ability to print these eye-catching colors, they’re finding they can use this capacity to win more business.

The markets are being impacted by metallic inks in two ways, observes Eric Zimmerman, product manager with Roland DGA Corp. of Irvine, CA. The first is that use of metallic inks is expanding exponentially, because metallic inks make anything they’re printed upon stand out from the crowd. Second, a huge market has opened up for metallic printers in proofing and prototyping. With a digital wide-format inkjet printer, proofs or prototypes that accurately represent colors in final production pieces can be created cost-effectively on demand.

“Metallic is hot,” Zimmerman notes. “In fact, the opportunity is even bigger than we ever thought it was.”

One major consideration print service providers need to keep in mind is how to sell the metallics. Because metallic ink is new, most of their clients and customers aren’t going to ask about it. But when providers show their clients a high-quality print sample with metallic and an equally good one without metallic, the client “will choose metallic every time,” Zimmerman relates. “The great news is that shops are able to charge 30 to 40 percent more for the same graphic when metallic is added.”

Another is that print service providers need tools to use metallics effectively, he adds. Color management tools and spot color libraries are essential to their success, and are now available in the marketplace, he says.

Training and education are additional important areas for providers. “In order to help people understand how to produce and sell metallic, we’ve launched a series of webinars on the topic for our customers,” he adds.

Use of metallics involves changes in both prepress and production. In prepress, files need to be built in such a way that the printer recognizes the metallic elements. “Because metallic is new, customers aren’t typically bringing in metallic files that are ready to print,” he explains. “Instead, they are asking you to add metallic effects to their files, so you need tools in-house to do this. Roland has created an extensive metallic color library, VersaWorks, our RIP software, with hundreds of metallic colors that are really easy to use.”

There are a couple different ways to use metallic inks, Zimmerman adds. It can be used as a background or its full effect to create a stop-and-stare image.

To create a metallic background with Roland printers, the company offers a blended print mode that fires metallic and CMYK inks at the same time. To get more pop from metallic, Roland printers allow for layered printing, which lays down metallic ink in a separate layer for a finished print that’s more reflective and more dramatic. “This is all done within a single pass,” Zimmerman says.

Another important consideration for providers is that their machines will need to circulate metallic inks. Metallic ink particles need to stay in suspension to print properly, but they are naturally heavier than particles of other colors, Zimmerman points out. Therefore, they will settle in the ink lines if not circulated.

To address this, Roland developed an ink circulation system designed for metallic inks, reducing waste and maintenance, he adds.

“Like other inks, metallic ink adheres better to coated substrates,” he notes. “But we’ve seen very good performance for our own Metallic Silver Eco-SOL MAX on uncoated vinyl, banner media, white and clear PET film, canvas, and photographic papers. The scratch and abrasion resistance of metallic ink is generally lower than that of CMYK inks. This is improved when metallic silver is combined with CMYK to create colors other than silver. As you would expect, lamination will always make your image last longer. Make sure you test your media so you’re comfortable with the results, and know what you’re selling.”

Cost-effectiveness should be among key considerations for providers. The total amount of metallic ink required to make an eye-popping print is minimal, Zimmerman reports. “Sometimes, just a small accent is all that’s needed,” he points out. “For example, making just the model’s eye shadow silver can make all the difference in causing people to stop and look. Sometimes less is more, and this is as true with metallic ink as it is with anything else.”

Another key for print service providers is to use their equipment wisely. Because versatility is the name of the game, they should keep an open mind as to how metallic is to be used. The more unique applications they are able to sell, the more they will sell. “Make sure you have a full sample portfolio so your customers know you have the expertise to create metallic output,” he adds.

For greatest productivity, Roland has found the most efficient print service providers use their Rolands all day and overnight, unattended, Zimmerman relates. “Our TU-2 take-up system is a great addition, allowing them to collect prints automatically for long and even overnight runs,” he explains. “In the end, having a reliable device that works unattended is the key.”


The New White

At least one expert disagrees with our opening assertion. “I wouldn’t call it the new black, I’d call it the new white,” says Fran Gardino, Boston-based business development manager with Suwanee, GA-based Mimaki USA.

“Not everyone is going to use it. It’s more for boutique-type exhibits, window films, decals, and materials requiring special emphasis. It’s not going to be an ink everyone uses, but if you don‘t have it, people will want to know why.”

Gardino says the new metallic inks can be used in conjunction with CMYK colors. They are going to be most useful when in the hands of designers who already use some silver and metallic inks. There is a learning curve involved in using metallic inks, and a technique that requires significant experience, he says.

Nonetheless, the inks do open up new markets for print service providers. One such area is in the production of package prototypes for products like snack chips and beverages that use softer or shrink-wrap packages, Gardino says.

They can also be used in head-turning window displays for products that benefit from metallics, such as high-end cosmetics and jewelry. Due to the fact that the inks can be used to produce creative effects like silvery window decals, providers can charge more for materials on which they’re used.

“It’s possible that print service providers could double what they get per square foot,” he adds. “If they do the fancy designs and master techniques their competitors can’t achieve, it’s conceivable they could get even more for it.”

However, they must acknowledge the limitations of the ink, Gardino says. Metallic inks work best indoors on such materials as displays, exhibits, and decals, he says. Those who use faux foil to achieve metallic appearances recognize the foils can last up to five years, while this new generation of metallic inks is limited to about six months outdoors, if laminated.

“It doesn’t have a long durability outdoors,” Gardino reports. “On certain materials, it will scuff, so it needs to be laminated. While it allows more creativity than foil, it’s not as durable as foil.”


Newbies to Metallics

If you haven’t worked with metallic inks before, ColorLogic may be able to help get you up to speed. ColorLogic is a technology company that develops software used by designers who typically don’t have a great deal of knowledge about metallic inks. The software educates them in how to design with metallics, providing them with tool sets to quickly create metallic effects with little trial and error. “It can help those without much knowledge, and expedite the process for those who do have some knowledge of metallics,” says Mark Geeves, director of sales and marketing for the Cincinnati-based company. “Because they’ve never been trained on them, some who are using metallics on the job today are taking hours or days to create effects they should be able to create with a few clicks.”

ColorLogic has developed a color communication system and design tools for metallics that designers can use to create dramatic effects using metallic inks within their current designs. Geeves’s partner, Richard Ainge, has 14 years of prepress experience, and nine years of experience in metallic inks. Geeves’s experience is in bringing technology to market in color management, he says.

“We take the analytical of instrumentation, and Richard’s knowledge of prepress and design, and develop the color communication system and design tools,” Geeves reports. “We try to take the mystery out of metallic inks.”

Geeves says he believes many print service providers think metallic is just another color, not fully understanding what it can do for them. The technology is so new that they aren’t fully aware of the entire range of possibilities.

“What they’re doing is looking at it and saying, ‘I can make this silver,’” he says. “What they don’t understand is you can make hundreds of metallic colors using that silver. What most providers do today is use that silver and print silver, solid or through a tonal range. What Roland and Mimaki allow them to do is create up to 500 colors, using their RIP technology.”

Geeves says his company’s technology can create 250 metallic colors, all with luster, and also create effects merging, say, a metallic green into a metallic red. “We can do metallic gradations between colors with those mouse clicks inside Illustrator,” he says. “Roland and Mimaki give you 500-some colors, but don’t do the merging. They’re vector, while we’re vector, mixing, and images.”

If there is a downside, it’s that using metallic inks has an impact on printer speeds and productivity. That’s because most print heads are designed to run down the silver, let it dry, and then apply the CMYK, Geeves reports.

“That does reduce the speed,” he says.

Like Gardino, Geeves sees inviting opportunities opening up through the use of metallic inks on machines that can produce prototypes, mock-ups and short production runs. Consumer product companies, he says, are interested in doing short-run production of packages, putting the packages on the shelf and seeing how they look. “The kind of printers I mentioned are nice, because in the concept stage you can do some type of preliminary run, rather than a full production run, and determine what reaction these metallic colors get,” he says.

The technology is also excellent for producing car wraps that feature unique designs and really stand out, Geeves says. The same goes for wraps of MP3 players, iPhones and iPads and, indeed, anything that needs a differentiating appearance. ColorLogic has even wrapped its laptop computers, garnering amazed and curious reactions from customers. “At trade shows, we’ve made designs that can go around iPhones and iPads,” he says. “That’s what the world is about. It‘s about individualism and standing out, which is what people want.”

Geeves echoes Gardino’s assessment that the technology particularly lends itself to producing mockups of packaging and labels for products like perfume and cosmetics that heavily utilize metallic imagery. “What’s really neat is when you see the prints coming off,” he says. “We get really excited...It’s a great door opener with prospective clients, letting them visualize the possibilities.”


Final Thought

Why have metallic inks surged in the last year? Gardino answers that question with his own: “Why did white come out?” The answer to that question is that the print industry asked for the technology, challenged the developers to respond, and the developers came through, he says.

“It was the exact thing with metallic inks. End users are very creative people. You give them a tool like this, and they can figure out how to use it. It might take them a while to figure out the killer apps, but some of them could make a living on it. It’s a little more tricky. But it’s the kind of thing where the key is the creativity of the end user.”