“Ink jet applications have mushroomed over the last five years, reflecting the ability of existing and new players to advance the technology capabilities of ink jet systems,” said Mike Nicholds, strategy and business development director, Avecia Ink Jet Printing Materials. “The combination of faster and higher resolution printheads and new chemistry has seen an explosion in both development and commercialized products.”
Wide format ink imaging is one of the fastest growing ink jet segments, estimated to grow between 10 to 20 percent. According to Andrew Barton, a research analyst with Frost and Sullivan, new areas where ink jet inks are being used are primarily in wide format graphic arts.
“The emerging markets for ink jet inks are in packaging and decorative printing,” said Dr. Barton. “The benefits of flatbed technology and printing with UV curing ink jet ink are already being seen in the graphic arts industry. The ability to print directly onto a wide variety of substrate types, including rigid media, has alerted ink jet developers to new market opportunities. Packaging is an obvious evolutionary step forward from flatbed printers using UV inks. Industrial wide format graphics applications, such as POP displays, were the most appropriate place to start.”
As expected, affected by the slow economy, growth in North America and parts of Europe was flat, but this was offset by growth in Asia.
“Globally, in 2002 the wide format sector (all technologies, analog and digital) was approximately static, as the recession in the advertising industry in the U.S., Japan and parts of Europe was offset by productivity growth in Asia, particularly China,” said Stewart Partridge, managing director, Web Consulting Inc. “This year, there are some signs that growth has returned in Europe and the Americas.
“Against this disappointing overall background, ink jet printing has been doing relatively well overall, with approximately 11 percent value growth in 2002 and 15 percent projected for 2003,” said Mr. Partridge. “In most developed countries, ink jet printing now accounts for approximately 14 to 17 percent of the wide format market by volume, and a higher figure by value. The main competitive technologies are screen printing, wide format offset printing, and CAS (computer aided signmaking, mainly using vinyl cutters). Digital photo imaging, electrostatic and thermal transfer technologies have much lower market shares.”
Wide Format’s Potential
Among the three broad segments within the ink jet ink category–industrial, office and wide format–wide format is expected to experience the most growth. “The office area is dominated by OEMs, with Canon, HP, Lexmark and Epson being the major players,” said John Law, general manager, SunJet, a subsidiary of Sun Chemical. “There is also an aftermarket that accounts for approximately 14 percent of this market. This is very fragmented, with many companies supplying either recycled cartridges, refill kits or compatible ink tanks.
“The second is industrial marking systems, which covers coding and marking systems and also applications in publishing with wider arrays for high speed variable data printing,” said Mr. Law. “This segment is also dominated by OEMs in terms of ink supply, maintenance and support. The main ink jet technology used here is continuous ink jet (CIJ).”
“The third area, commercial printing, is the most interesting in terms of market development,” noted Mr. Law. “It is dominated by piezo ink jet technology. The largest segment of the commercial print area is wide format. Other segments include packaging, commercial printing and decorative. Outside of the commercial area you have textiles.”
According to Mr. Law, the fastest growing area is commercial printing, but it is currently the smallest segment. He estimates growth for industrial at 2.5 to 3 percent GDP, office at 5 to 10 percent and wide format growing at approximately 15 to 20 percent.
Consumables are where the opportunities are for printing ink companies.
“The mainstay of the ink jet industry’s growth is still the sales of hardware and consumables into the desktop market,” said Dr. Nicholds. “This is an industry with an estimated total value (hardware and consumables) of $25 billion worldwide and is forecast to grow at 6 to 7 percent over the next five years. But ink jet is now rapidly migrating from heartland desktop technology in the office (printers, copiers, fax machines and their hybrids) into new industrial applications.”
Wide format printing is currently the second largest outlet for ink jet technology. “This segment encompasses a range of print outputs including proofing, POS display, posters and CAD,” said Dr. Nicholds. “It demonstrates the potential of ink jet technology to successfully penetrate an existing printing segment, displace an existing technology and also to create new growth areas.”
“Of all wide and grand format output, greater than 15 percent by volume is digital produced and ink jet commands the majority of this, creating an industry valued at $4 billion,” said Dr. Nicholds. “For wide format alone, the growth over the next five years is estimated to be 5 to 7 percent CAGR.”
“We expect to see strong growth in the 20 to 25 percent annual rate range,” said Terry Amerine, business development manager, Sericol, while Steve Emery, vice president, sales and marketing of American Ink Jet Corporation, projects 5 to 10 percent growth in the wide format printer sales for current graphics applications.
|The graphic was printed directly onto the board with a flatbed press and the ink is pigmented with automotive-grade pigments so that it offers outstanding fade resistance and durability. Due to the chemical resistance of the UV ink it can easily be cleaned of graffiti, according to Mr. Amerine of Sericol.|
Ink jet printing, in particular wide format ink jet printing, is being used in a variety of new applications, and the growth of ink jet in the wide format market can be duplicated in other segments. “The story of wide format printing could be repeated in a number of existing printing segments, as a combination of traditional printing industry players and a myriad of new start-ups develop ink jet systems for such applications as photokiosks, ceramic tile printing, short run textiles, labels, decorative coatings and electronic device fabrication,” said Dr. Nicholds. “These emerging markets are inherently difficult to forecast. However, it is likely that they will enable growth rates of greater than 20 percent over the next five years.”
According to Dr. Nicholds, the emerging markets are sectors where basic ink jet technology–printheads and ink–has been leveraged and developed toward long-term competition with embedded technology. “While the capability of the ‘installed base’ is significant, the potential of these ‘new segments’ as drivers for further growth in ink jet printing is dramatic. This is due in part to the combination of customer pressure for shortened lead-times with very rapid advances in both printhead technology and inks and fluids,” he said.
While ink jet has just begun to penetrate the corrugated market, growth is expected in the upcoming years. “Ink jet in the corrugated markets is in its infancy in 2003,” said Dave Callif, president of BCM Inks. “We anticipate exponential growth each year for the next 10 years. Each new digital printer will increase ink consumption. Ink jet will become a major segment of a corrugated plant’s business just like litho, flexo, etc.
“Opportunities abound for short run, small order, high quality and regional or personalized promotion corrugated production,” said Mr. Callif. “Ink jet enables accounts to respond rapidly and cost effectively to these market opportunities.”
Billboards and signage are other growth areas.
“Wide format has become a major force in the billboard industry,” said Kenneth Stack, president, Jetrion, LLC, a subsidiary of Flint Ink. “Now you are seeing ink jet being used in building wraps, bus wraps, floor graphics and also textiles.”
“Ink jet has grown into exhibition graphics, event graphics, outdoor advertising (billboards, posters, street furniture), transport graphics (fleet, truck curtains, vans, aircraft, buses, metro systems), some point-of-purchase, corporate photo imaging and signage over the last 10 years,” said Mr. Partridge. “Electrostatic printing systems also retain a notable presence in transport graphics.”
“New markets which ink jet has helped to create include building wraps, digital fine art, floor graphics, variable POP and soft signage (textile or textile-reinforced media),” he added. “In the biggest sectors–POP and outdoor advertising–analog technologies remain very dominant by volume.”
“It is used in multiple new applications ranging from traditional POP retail graphics to very specialized applications such as wood and glass,” said Mr. Amerine. “The advent of UV-curable digital ink has created a great deal of new opportunities.”
According to Mr. Emery, areas of growth include packaging, security and industrial applications for variable data.
According to Dr. Nicholds, recently launched ink jet printing systems include fast single pass printers for labels, flatbed printers for rigid substrates, ceramic tile printers and printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication.
“An interesting trend is the development of so-called hybrid systems that combine traditional offset or flexo printing systems with the variable data printing capabilities of ink jet,” said Dr. Nicholds. “The system developed by Mark Andy and incorporating dotrix’s SPICE technology gives the flexibility of combing flexo and ink jet systems, giving fully variable printing onto a wide range of label stock.”
One of the most recent new industrial applications Dr. Nicholds cited is within production technology for PCBs, where ink jet has made dramatic advances within the last year. “In electronics, ink jet is one of the key enabling technologies in the production of polymer-based OLED materials for flat panel data displays and in the development of all-plastic transistors,” he said.
“The applications in the office and industrial are well established. They are reasonably mature,” said Mr. Law. “The commercial print area offers the most growth opportunities. Piezo printheads offer the ability to use a wide variety of print inks, new applications would include UV flatbed printers, labels and miscellaneous applications such as credit cards, CDs, etc. The commercial print area will be a growth area for ink jet going forward.”
A Growing Market
The ink jet market is still relatively new and has tremendous potential. “This market is still a growing market,” said Dr Barton. “There are still plenty of opportunities. It is still in the growth stage of the life cycle.”
“The greatest volume gains in the near term will remain within the traditional POP retail graphics,” said Mr. Amerine. “Longer-term, the greatest growth will be in the customization of products such as home finishing products such as flooring, ceramic tiles and such. Ink jet will eventually enable the producer of these materials to proved the end consumer the ability to customize the look of their home at economical prices.”
Shorter lead times and run lengths are key drivers for ink jet.
“Analysis of the trends in the printing industry indicates that lead times and run lengths have been decreasing year on year,” said Dr. Nicholds. “This creates the opportunity for fully digital technology and both ink jet and EP-based technologies have capitalized on these trends. By looking at those printing segments where these pressures are greatest and at the current technology capabilities of printheads and chemistry, it is possible to identify emerging opportunities.
“The recent emergence of the ink jet flatbed market is a good example of how these forces of market pull and technology leverage can combine to generate rapid penetration into an existing print market,” Dr. Nicholds added. “In this example, there is a demand for short run printing coming from the POS displays market, new printheads with high resolution became available, and new UV cure inks were developed for the substrates typically used in this market. Companies combined all of this with ink jet system integration capabilities developed in the wide format and grand format segments and launched at the traditional trade shows.”
According to Dr. Nicholds, similar opportunities are predicted to emerge in all areas of printing from books and newspapers to CtP and printed circuit boards. “Forecasts abound, but the emerging consensus is that digital printing will account for 20 percent of all printing by 2010 from its current 8 percent, and that ink jet will take the majority share.”
Mr. Partridge has identified a number of areas of growth for ink jet printing, including flatbed ink jet printing. “Almost one-third of all wide format production finishes up on a rigid support, and there are economic, technical and production advantages to be able to apply images directly onto the final support, and in short- or medium-run lengths,” he said. In many cases, high volumes will continue to be produced more cost effectively by screen printing.
“UV-curable inks today account for much less than 1 percent by volume of the wide format ink jet ink market,” said Mr. Partridge. “They will probably account for nearly 10 percent by 2010 because of their environmental pluses and ability to print onto a wide variety of uncoated or economic media and substrates. By combining UV-curable inks with the latest generation flatbed printers (Zund, Durst, Inca, Vutek and others), many purchasers are starting to use flatbed ink jets for non-graphic applications such as home décor products. Flatbed UV ink jet may emerge as a competitor to the screen printer’s handbench or semi-automatic machine for both existing and new applications. As with screen printing, the likely penetration will go far beyond the graphics industry.”
According to Mr. Partridge, solvent-based ink jet printers are selling very fast into the graphics sector, particularly among signmaking companies and those who regularly use self-adhesive vinyls. Leading providers include Oce, Roland, Mutoh, Mimaki and DGI. “Textile printing may also become a sizeable market now that manufacturers are finally starting to listen to market needs before designing and building machines,” he said.
“Ink jet will emerge to become a sizeable contributor to a huge range of printing, imaging, decorating and deposition processes,” added Mr. Partridge. “These sectors offer lower ink consumption, but often at much higher margins. However, much development remains to be done.”
Advantages of Using Ink Jet
Among the advantages of using ink jet printing are its lower cost for shorter runs and variable data applications. In addition, because ink jet printing is a non-contact process, it can be used on a huge variety of substrates, opening up a number of new markets.
“There is a whole variety of advantages,” said Dr. Stack. “You get a wide choice of ink types, such as UV, solvent, etc. Ink jet in general is non-contact, which means you print a wide variety of substrates.”
“We need to look at the advantages from a marketing and production perspective,” said Mr. Callif. “The marketing advantages include speed to market, short runs/prototypes at reasonable cost, customized print for each customer/region. The production advantages are the elimination of film and plates and a simplified production process.”
“Essentially, ink jet is a non-contact process and therefore can be potentially used for a limitless number of applications,” said Mr. Law. “The achievable print quality is very acceptable for many markets and today’s ink systems perform well across a range of substrates. The potential benefits of ink jet printing include speed to market, no set-up times, reduced inventory levels, variable and customized printing enabling the economical production of short print runs. You can print instantly onto whatever the substrate may be. You also have the ability to print directly on a packaging line rather than holding inventory of pre-printed stock. There are many advantages and they will vary from market to market. The challenge is for ink makers to produce inks that perform reliably in the printer while satisfying the wide range of print application requirements.”
According to Dr. Nicholds, there are four main advantages of ink jet printing systems. “Firstly, digital printing technology minimizes start up time and cost, with no need for screens or plates,” he said. “Secondly, it has the major bonus of flexibility – in being able to print continuous variable data meaning each impression can be different. Thirdly, as a non-impact printing technology, ink jet can print onto a wide range of substrates – including paper, card, glass, metal and vinyl – and can also be used as a deposition device. Finally, the inherent potential in the technology mens that ink jet has the capability to have the lowest cost base for industrial applications.”
“Printhead and ink technologies are both continuing to develop at a rapid pace. It is estimated that more than $1 billion is spent globally on developing ink jet technology,” said Dr. Nicholds. “This investment will underpin the momentum of ink jet’s advance into an ever-expanding number of ‘development’ applications.”
|‘Forecasts abound, but the emerging consensus is that digital printing will account for 20 percent of all printing by 2010 from its current 8 percent, and that ink jet will take the majority share.’
– Mike Nicholds, strategy and business development director, Avecia Ink Jet Printing Materials.
New Developments In UV Inks
There are a number of new technologies being developed that are spurring growth in the ink jet printing market, including corrugated.
“One new technology is a low-cost printer (under $20,000) introduced to the market by Kodak’s Encad Division,” said Mr. Callif. “The printer is called the Novajet 880. Another technology is the Scitex Corrjet wide format digital printer. It has been in operation at Menasha and Lewisburg Container for the past year. This printer has shown the market that digital corrugated print is a viable market. The final technology to spur growth is the introduction of UV digital inks that can print on all substrates without pre-treatment of the paper.”
According to Mr. Law, ink jet inks makers are working to make one ink that will adhere to all point of purchase display materials while exhibiting excellent durability and flexibility.
“Aligned with that is the development of spot colors, mixing systems and development of white products,” Mr. Law said. “The development of hybrid ink systems, water-based UV systems and also UV hot melt systems also provides benefits for specific market applications. In the later example, you are taking the benefits of hot melt inks and combining them with those of UV curing technology to provide high quality images, with high resistant film across a wide range of substrates.”
Another new development Mr. Law noted is the development of grayscale print technology. “Sun Chemical is involved in a European-funded research project called Image-In,” said Mr. Law. “The members include AGFA, Dotrix, Teich, Ardeje, the University of Joseph Fourier and the University of Oxford. That project is focused on the fundamental science of image quality and the interaction between the ink jet drop and the substrate.”
“The developers of UV cure ink have started to rise to the challenge of the new applications,” said Dr. Nicholds. “However, this challenge is not as simple as adapting existing flexo ink formulations to ink jet. The requirement for low viscosities and small particle size means that new materials and techniques need to be developed. Higher speed, lower drop sizes and single pass printing means that UV inks need to cure faster and fire reproducibly, and a number of companies are focusing on these development areas.
“New applications means a new range of substrates, for example metal and flexible plastics, and here again development is required to achieve ink jet inks with the adhesion and film thickness that match the industry standards,” Dr. Nicholds continued.
According to Mr. Amerine, new developments in UV ink jet inks include the creation of ink formulations that provide better adhesion on a wider variety of substrates. “We are literally just starting to scratch the surface of the development of UV-curable digital inks,” Mr. Amerine added.
According to Mr. Emery, the new more compact size, lighter weight, higher intensity UV lamps are the key growth areas.
What Customers Want
Customers are challenging ink jet ink makers to develop faster-curing inks that can print a wide variety of substrates.
“On the solvent side, certainly environmentally compatibility is a big issue,” said Dr. Stack. “Customers are looking for solvent inks that are more environmentally friendly; things like gloss and color have long been issues on the UV side.”
“The trends in the market include increased cure speed of UV inks in order to achieve greater line speeds and application/market specific products,” said Mr. Law. “These are products that may have low odor, certain resistance properties or enhanced jetting reliability. The optimization of jetting reliability is also an issue being addressed by printhead manufacturers, Spectra for example, and systems integrators in order to optimize jetting performance to deliver and integrate inks into a printing system.”
“They want to be able to print on a very wide range of materials and be ale to perform all post-print processing steps such as cutting without any issues,” said Mr. Amerine. “They are seeking more flexible inks as well.”
Mr. Emery noted that customers want faster print speeds, no solvents and universal UV-curable ink jet ink for non-coated media and substrates.
“Beyond the well-established desktop printing sector, the evolving ink jet sectors are made complex by the variety of substrates, ink types and market technology requirements appropriate for or reflected by customers,” said Dr. Nicholds. “In the industrial sectors, printheads, presses, system integration and inks may each be the province of different players, requiring a highly collaborative approach to each customer situation. However, in terms of mainstream requirements, surveys have shown four key expectations in digital printing. These are productivity–via speed and reliability of the printhead, calling in turn for ink optimization; resolution quality– usually governed by printhead, ink on media and media transport considerations; available range of inks and colorants–particular color gamut; and substrate compatibility and cost in use, or ‘cost per impression’ versus current technology employed.”
A variety of new developments in printhead technology in ink jet printing is expected to improve speed, resolution and compatibility with a wider range of inks.
“We are going to see greater proliferation of flatbed devices,” said Dr. Stack. The amount of different types of substrates we will be able to print on will present huge opportunities. We will have to develop new inks to meet these needs. You will see lower cost UV inks. Many of us, including Jetrion are working on low cost UV inks.”
According to Mr. Amerine, users of ink jet technology can expect a continued proliferation of the use of ink jet technology in the market and the development of the requisite ink technology required to successfully penetrate new markets. “There will always be a drive to make the inks print faster, stick to more materials, provide better colors and do this at a lower price, too,” he said.
“Print technology is developing apace, with key focus on speed, resolution and compatibility with a wider range of fluids,” said Dr. Nicholds of Avecia. “The launch of the grayscale heads by Toshiba TEC and Xaar has enabled ink jet to achieve resolutions that give images acceptable to mainstream print buyers, a significant development meaning ink jet images achieve flexo and litho grade quality.”
“The perceptions of print buyers are being rapidly changed,” Dr. Nicholds continued. “As they handle print samples produced using ink jet systems, they can see that the quality can match traditional technology–but with added value of lead time enabling more rapid response to their market trends, reduced inventories and new service offerings to their customers.”
New developments in water-based inks are also opening up new markets for ink jet printing.
“The development of aqueous ink compatible drop on demand printheads opens up a whole new area of industrial ink jet printing onto absorbent and semi-absorbent substrates,” said Dr. Nicholds. “Combined with the inherent environmental advantages of aqueous chemistry, this could herald the adoption of ink jet technology into other areas of packaging.”
“As printhead speeds increase and achieve linear speeds of >300 ft min with high resolution, the ‘cross over’ point of economic run length increases, moving further into the domain of traditional print technologies,” said Dr. Nicholds. “As the installed bases grows entry costs will fall further accelerate the growth towards the achievement of >10 percent if all printed output being ‘ink jetted.’”
“In electronics specifically, ink jet inks and application technologies are likely to bring further strides in production technologies for OLEDs used in the latest flat panel electronic displays–and for the deposition of conductive inks in plastic electronics,” said Dr. Nicholds.
According to Mr. Emery, ink jet technology will experience improvements in UV curable inks, IR and EB inks.
A Hard Market To Break Into
It has proved to be very challenging for traditional and non-OEM ink companies to break into the ink market.
“Digital inks require a different manufacturing process than traditional inks,” said Mr. Callif. “This is why companies such as Flint Ink Corporation have established separate ink companies, such as Jetrion. This company will supply a full range of ink jet products.”
“Ink companies will have a difficult time getting into this market unless they put the resources behind the market or partner with a company familiar with wide format ink jet,” noted Mr. Callif.
“In general, there are already too many players, and the wide format graphics industry does not need more,” said Mr. Partridge. “Some major global or regional ink companies who have arrived late on the scene also want their appropriate slice of the pie. However, in industrial applications, there are plenty of opportunities to those companies with the vision to see them, although few quick return on investments. Ink companies need to make realistic assessments of their own attributes and skill sets, must not overestimate market opportunities or their ability to enter unfamiliar territory, and should not underestimate the commercial and technical power of competitors. It took Sericol more than five years to break into the ink jet market.”
“When thinking of pertinent strategies for traditional ink companies to gain market access it could be crucially important for ink companies to join in partnership with OEMs and printhead manufacturers in order to share the financial and technological burden of developing novel ink jet printing systems,” said Dr. Barton. “This would place the ink company in a strong position–early mover advantage and the distribution of ink jet inks through the OEM printer platform.”
It is clear that the wide format ink jet market is growing rapidly, with further new applications on the horizon. For printing ink manufacturers large and small, the wide format ink jet ink market offers an array of opportunities for products as diverse as billboards and other signage, to ceramic tiles and textiles, and corrugated and other packaging. Even more intriguing are the possibilities that have yet to become commercialized.
For ink manufacturers, committing the necessary resources to the ink jet market is absolutely essential in order to compete for the potentially lucrative business that will be available in the coming years.
New Ink Jet Inks
|In order to keep up with the rapidly-changing marketplace, ink companies are working hard to develop new products.
Most of SunJet’s new products are focused in the UV area. Also in the wide format area, crystal UDG inks have been specifically developed for applications in flatbed wide format printers. SunJet also has hybrid products and UV whites for spot color or blending.
Jetrion has developed a variety of new UV and solvent ink products. Improvements to the products include extremely quick-drying solvent inks and UV inks that have better color.
Sericol has recently introduced solvent-based ink jet inks for use on a wide range of the current roll-to-roll printers.
In response to its customers' demands for higher press speeds, American Ink Jet has developed a high-speed UV curable ink jet ink.
Avecia launched in conjunction with dotrix and Mark Andy a four-color UV cure ink jet ink set for The.Factory and for the SPICE bar (dotrix’s Single Pass Ink jet Color Engine which is incorporated into a Mark Andy flexo press). The inks enable printing on to a range of label substrates to give full color durable images. Also for use in the dotrix system Avecia has developed an oil-based ink jet ink set that has application in the decorative materials market.
Avecia has also launched its Jetrack ink jet printable fluids for the PCB industry. Based on UV curable ink technology, the fluids are the first for the PCB market that can be fired through an ink jet head while fully retaining appropriate masking functionality.
The direct printing of etch resist and soldermask onto copper laminate board fives simplified, faster and more flexible production of PCBs. Rapid prototyping is easier, short-run efficiency greater and throughput potentially higher. The launch was in conjunction with Avecia’s OEM partner New System SRL, of Italy, which simultaneously introduced the market’s first etch resist and soldermask ink jet printer.
Avecia has an active team of research and development scientists developing UV cure, solvent- and aqueous-based ink systems for new applications. A number of the programs involve close collaborations with equipment and print-head suppliers with applications in the electronics, packaging, decorative and high speed commercial printing segments.
Tiara US, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lyson Inc., has introduced Solvent Jet II wide format printer/cutter. Based on the Roland CJ540, the Solvent Jet II drives down the cost of entry to wide format solvent ink jet production by more than 50 percent when compared with traditional solvent ink-based wide format machines, according to the company. This gives sign makers, screen printers and service bureaus the ability to produce an outdoor product without special media and laminations.