New ink technologies have offered a plethora of opportunities for PSPs to explore more options in the wide-format industry. The introduction of aqueous inks—e.g.: latex and resin—have caused long time operators of solvent and eco-solvent printers to question the future of their businesses regarding production and profitability.
The long and the short of it is that the choice between solvents and aqueous ink printers has a great deal to do with the needs of the PSPs and their clients, including durability of the product, requirements for color, and overall cost. Each of these things should be carefully considered before making any decisions on upgrading or purchasing new equipment or investing in large amounts of inventory. Experts say that the smartest way to make this decision is to do your homework.
“Eco-solvent printers and the eco-solvent ink types are a proven technology and proven chemistry,” says David Conrad, marketing manager at Mutoh America Inc. “They have been around for a long time and they are reliable and work extremely well. Support for the new latex and resin inks is still being developed with respect to media manufacturers and printable substrates that can be used to produce quality output with consistent and reliable results. The printing capability of eco-solvents are much greater with respect to available profiles, usable media, and various substrates that have been proven to provide quality and repeatable results time and again.”
PSPs tend to be a cautious bunch when it comes to investing in equipment and tend to wait it out while bugs in new technology are worked out.
Patty Juric, PR supervisor at Roland DGA, addresses the issue from a public relations point of view. “The typical demographic within the market in general, when taking on new technology, is that they’d rather watch and wait. They’re not going to invest in something that’s not going to take them forward into the future.”
Juric adds that while people are trying new technologies, there is still a place for eco-solvent printers in the industry.
“Eco-solvent sales are not falling off. They’re still extremely popular and very viable within the market.”
“The world of ink is dynamic. As ink technology advances, eco-solvent ink may one day be obsolete. But not yet,” says Geoff Stone, national sales manager of the Paradigm Imaging Group. “Today, many eco-solvent inks have the durability of true solvents, putting true solvents near extinction. Many of today’s eco-solvents have little or no VOC’s making them much more manageable.”
Stone adds, “One developing trend in the outdoor printer market is that manufacturers are introducing a class of 126-inch eco-solvent and solvent printers that offer much higher printing speeds at much lower price points than ever before. This trend will broaden the market for eco-solvent based printers.”
While eco solvents still maintain a presence in the marketplace, PSPs have begun a shift from true solvents, which have been tried and true in the industry for decades.
Larry D’Amico, vice president of digital imaging at Agfa Graphics, North America says,
“The demand in the US is quite low—these are for full solvent, not eco-solvent. That aspect of it, environmentally, has people shying away from that. There are still applications, especially in the area of vehicle wraps. I think solvent still has a place there and has some functionality that is desirable for that type of work. But frankly the demand we have for solvent devices is mainly in areas outside the US.”
However, it should be clear that just because a product is not a true solvent, it does not mean that it is aqueous.
“The HP is really the only one you can call an aqueous ink. The rest are some form of solvent,” says D’Amico.
At the end of the day, the things PSPs are going to look at are the things that best serve their business models. The issues at hand tend to be productivity, durability and price point. According to D’Amico, every type of technology has its drawbacks.