The occasion of the Fourth Annual WFI Ink Report finds the wide- and grand-format ink industry enjoying greater vigor than ever before. Not only are new entities entering the ink manufacturing sphere, but long-standing ink producers are investing heavily in research and development to pioneer new printing and ink technology breakthroughs.
While many trends are impacting inks used in wide- and grand-format printing, the most notable is the movement from the solvent inks of yesteryear to more world- and workplace-friendly UV-curable and latex inks. These inks are increasingly well accepted due to the huge strides they’ve made in performance.
Along with advancements in adherence and media compatibility have come more viable specialty products, such as metallic inks.
A Healthy Market
Major companies serving the wide- and grand-format ink market are unanimous in pronouncing the health of the market is good to great.
“The health of the wide- and grand-format ink market is alive and well,” says Chad Klostermann, inks and warranties business development manager with 3M Commercial Graphics.
“We continue to see rising demand for 3M inks, 3M co-branded inks, [and] 3M media, as well as large numbers of customers inquiring about the 3M MCS Warranty and our Certificate of 3M MCS Warranty program. These positive signs point to a market that is growing and becoming more educated on the value robust inks, media, and printers bring to the table.”
Gerard Winn, worldwide product manager for HP Latex Printing Technology, says on the latex side, HP has seen an overall increase in use of the technology and inks. “This is a technology introduced at drupa in 2008,” he says. “The European economy is having tough times, and because of that we see less growth there. But overall, we see more and more print service providers adopting the latex technology.”
At Epson America Inc., group manager, product strategy, Mark Radogna reports that within the wide-format printing space, he and his colleagues have witnessed consistent growth. “It hasn’t been explosive, but we’re seeing the technology advance to a point where print providers are able to offer more to customers at competitive prices,” he says.
“The core customers of wide-format printing have typically been print shops. But one area that has been very interesting to watch has been the increase in wide-format printing from design agencies. This segment is very aware of the visual impact wide-format printing brings to their campaigns. We expect the trend to continue as the economy improves.”
Calling the ink market “extremely healthy,” Michael Andreottola, president and CEO of American Ink Jet Corporation, asserts the market has actually never been more robust. “You can tell that by going to many of the trade shows,” he says. “There are more new products introduced each year.”
Another indicator of health is that last year, EFI sold one million liters of UV-curable inks. “That was a new record for them,” Andreottola says.
Van Son Holland Ink Corp. reports that its market share has accelerated beyond the PRIMIR projected growth path of 34 percent in annual consumption increases through 2015. “We view the wide-format ink industry as an enormous opportunity to further our company’s presence in the ink business for many years to come,” says John Sammis, vice president of sales and marketing. “In fact, a large portion of our R&D budget is focused on solving for the complexities surrounding this new and ever-changing technology.”
Swift Pace of Change
When it comes to recent evolution of the wide- and grand-format ink market, 3M’s Klostermann reports there’s been an emphasis and “horsepower” shift from solvent ink to UV ink, as well as to UV-curable inks. “This shift has created a demand for UV ink formulations that can be printed and cured in an efficient and effective manner,” Klostermann says. “Addressing issues such as curing at a much lower wavelength of light at increased speeds, as well as with little or no heat, are just a few variables that come to mind.