Duzy adds these new UV-curable inks change the paradigm in the market today, where media spans are narrower at more productive throughput levels. The high flexibility of the inks, with elongation up to 300 percent, is ideal for printing on corrugated cardboard without cracking on folds or chipping on cuts.
Van Son’s Sammis says the demand is for ink that will match any color and go beyond the standard OEM color gamut, dry quickly on any substrate, achieve a high run resistance, and especially reduce the solvent smells and volatile organic compounds generally associated with solvent-based inks. “Eco Solvent and Eco Plus Solvent are some of our most popular,” he says. “Van Son also is seeing an increased demand for dye sublimation inks for printing on a variety of substrates: natural and synthetic fabrics and non-porous substrates.”
As well, Van Son is leading a relatively new textile industry application that uses film-positive dye-based inks for heat transfer applications, he says.
Joining the chorus regarding the newer and more environmentally-friendly inks is Larry Salomon, vice president, wide-format North America with Agfa Graphics. The company manufactures two series of UV-curable printers and manufactures the inks used in those printers. It also distributes HP latex inks and Epson eco-solvent inks.
“Aqueous is shrinking because the high-volume jobs are moving to latex, eco solvent, or UV-curable,” he says. “Solvents are shrinking due to health concerns, smells, and so on, and they’re being replaced with latex and UV-curable. UV-curable is the most efficient if your finished product is on a rigid material; you’re just using ink and the rigid materials, and don’t need adhesives to mount the product. You also don’t need the time and labor of laminating.
“We sell HP latex, and it’s good for certain applications like backlit and fabrics, because of the quality. UV-curable for these uses, but some shops may not have the budget for UV-curable or for a rigid flatbed.”
Andreottola reports it is noteworthy there are both new companies coming into the ink market, and existing companies introducing new printers and inks. “There is R&D effort underpinning the development of inks,” he says.
He has been impressed with the newer latex inks’ ability to print on substrates on which aqueous inks have traditionally not been able to print. Examples include non-porous media like aluminum products and different types of vinyl, he says. “In the past you would need to use solvent inks to print on these, but the latex inks print perfectly,” he adds.
While the latex introduction has been among the most important news of recent years, another development meriting attention is the use of eco-solvents. “Eco-solvents were well accepted because they have been demanded by users,” Andreottola says. “A lot of the solvent inks were very volatile, and people were breathing in fumes, or having skin contact with the inks and developing irritations. So they’ve gone to making inks with solvents that are less volatile.”
Cost has been an issue for some time in both office use and in wide-format, he adds. That has led to inroads by Chinese inks and cartridges in the wide-format and other markets. But quality woes have accompanied the low prices. “We have lost customers who went to Chinese products,” he says. “But we subsequently got them back because of quality issues.”
In the coming years, a number of advancements in ink technology are anticipated.
Radogna is among those industry experts who foresees the arrival in the market of advancements that haven’t been realized before.
He specifically cites Epson’s metallic ink technology in the new SureColor S-Series of 64-inch solvent printers. This technology, he says, “is opening the door for very distinctive designs and projects on a variety of media. At trade shows, we’ve showcased the metallic silver on one of our canvas samples, and it looks like glitter. On a different substrate, it almost has reflective properties.”
Radogna also envisions continuation of the trend focusing on innovation in ink technologies that are better for the environment and workplace, while also offering superior print quality and media compatibility.