Union Ink: A Small Family Company with Global Reach
By Kerry Pianoforte
Union Ink Company, Inc. has focused on manufacturing innovative screen printing inks since its founding in 1931. For more than 70 years, Union Ink has continued to develop new inks for the screen printer. Union Ink Company was founded in 1931 by Benjamin Labov, “who started in 1922 as an ink chemist with Fuchs and Lang –which became a division of GPI and later Sun Chemical,” said his son Richard Labov, chairman of Union Ink, “and then in 1931 decided to start his own ink company.”
Union Ink initially had three employees and the company made letterpress, offset, gravure and screen printing inks. The original site was in Carlstadt, NJ and then moved to East Rutherford, NJ. The current Ridgefield plant was built in 1945.
Mr. Labov got his start in the ink business by working at his father’s company in the summer of 1935. One of his basic tasks, which an old ink maker would recognize, was testing incoming pigments with 200 circular rubs using the old glass muller.
Mr. Labov officially started working at Union Ink in 1947 in sales after serving in the Navy and later receiving a degree in chemistry.
The company soon began to focus more narrowly on screen printing inks and less on the others, and then in the early 1950s the company concentrated even more narrowly on the emerging market for T-shirt screen printing inks.
From there it expanded to today, where 95 percent of the business is focused in that area. Union Ink now has 50 U.S. distributors, with another 50 throughout the world.
The company has grown to 55 employees. “We’re still a small company,” noted Mr. Labov. The company still remains family owned and operated with Daniel, Richard’s son, as president and Richard Labov chairman of the board.
One important advancement Union Ink made was in the early 1970s. “The major T-shirt transfer companies were suffering because the public no longer liked therubbery, clammy hand that resulted after the conventional transfer was applied to the T-shirt,” said Mr. Labov. “Union developed the Hot-Split transfer which left an image on the T-shirt that could not be distinguished from the traditional direct screen print. Union Ink has been a leader in many other innovative special effect inks such as puff inks, glitter inks and screen inks that change color with body-temperature or sun light, etc., that are so vital to the ‘something new’ look that is so important to the textile screenprinter.”
Union Ink serves the global decorative apparel industry. “We range from a division in the UK to distributors in Turkey, Moscow, the Ukraine, Bombay, Thailand and Singapore and licensees in South Africa and Argentina,” said Mr. Labov.
Union Ink has ambitious plans for growth in the future. According to Mr. Labov, the company plans “to keep on growing and trying to stay ahead of the horrendous raw material price increases without losing market share. Our primary thrust is in expanding into new markets in Brazil, China, Bangladesh and India, far beyond our present footholds.”