The Inkjet Ink Report
As inkjet printing continues its rapid growth, ink manufacturers are continually creating new technologies that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Will the commercial sheetfed market be the next major frontier for inkjet?
By David Savastano
The digital printing industry is a huge force, with growth continuing at double-digits. It is an area thathas drawn the interest of some of the biggest names in business, including Hewlett Packard, DuPont, Kodak, Xerox and Fujifilm.
Inkjet inks are a major market as well. For a while, the business was divided between OEM suppliers
With its combination of speed, quality and affordability, Fujifilm Sericol U.S.A.’s Spyder 320 is enjoying success in the UV flatbed press market.
As one might expect, the market is sorting itself out through acquisitions as major traditional ink manufacturers are getting into the digital action. Flint Group formed Jetrion, a fast-growing ink and systems specialist, and Markem formed its own rapidly expanding subsidiary, Aellora Digital.
This February, two of the entrepreneurial companies were acquired by major ink manufacturers. First, Triangle Digital LLC was acquired by Sakata Inx and merged into INX International Ink Co., the third-largest U.S. ink manufacturer. Triangle Digital INX specializes in outdoor durable pigment-based superwide and wide format digital inks and protective clear coatings, and in conjunction with INX, will be expanding into new applications, particularly sheetfed.
“Triangle continued to grow at a double-digit rate,” said Brad Kisner, president of Triangle Digital INX. “The inkjet ink market is growing at a rate that keeps all of us inkjet ink manufacturers very busy.”
Nazdar then made a pair of major moves in the inkjet ink industry by acquiring Lyson in February 2006 and bringing in Stewart Partridge, a well-respected inkjet industry consultant and founder of Web Consulting, as its business unit director – digital inks at Nazdar.
“In 2006, Nazdar began to show the market some early tangible consequences of the digital strategy that the company has been building over the last two years,” said Mr. Partridge. “Everyone now knows that Nazdar intends to be a serious player in the global inkjet inks market. We are currently integrating the Lyson team into the Nazdar organization, and are delighted with the high caliber of the people in our enlarged digital business unit.”
Meanwhile, Sun Chemical’s SunJet division achieved growth in inkjet ink sales well above the industry growth rates, according to Peter Saunders, SunJet sales and marketing manager. In addition, SunJet recently opened a new U.S. production facility in Amelia, OH.
Jetrion continues to develop innovative solutions, emphasizing its ability to work with end-users to develop customized systems such as its successful work with Crown Holdings to create a system to jet ink on cans.
“Jetrion experienced solid growth across all its markets – mailing, wide format, packaging, labels – with exceptional growth in the latter two areas,” said Sean Skelly, director of product management for Jetrion, LLC, A Flint Group Company.
By leveraging Markem’s two decades of inkjet development, Aellora Digital has developed a strong presence in the marketplace.
Aellora Digital’s SureFire 65 Digital Print Engines are ideal for jetting high performance hybrid UV-curable white and color jetting for signs, promotional products or industrial applications.
“Our sales in 2005 were very strong and were driven primarily by the continued success of the Inca Digital equipment,” said Terry Amerine, wide format marketing manager for Fujifilm Sericol U.S.A. Inc. “The introduction of the Spyder 320, a versatile press offering exceptional speed, quality and affordability has increased our market share in the UV flatbed press market segment. We have also experienced increased interest in our Color+ range of solvent digital inks.”
Kodak has become a major force throughout the digital printing market. The company continued to grow its business in 2005, which was a record year for Kodak Ink Jet, posting the highest sales ever for Kodak wide format inkjet media according to Kevin Shimamoto, worldwide marketing manager, wide format inkjet. “Kodak will continue to focus on inkjet technologies related to wide format in printers, ink and media developments,” Mr. Shimamoto said.
“Collins continues to grow at a rapid rate in all the major markets we operate in,” said Lawrence Gamblin, president of Collins Ink. “For the last 10 years we have never grown by less than 20 percent. That trend continues even though as we get larger it gets harder to do.
“Kodak appears to be opening up new markets with its 9-inch technology,” Mr. Gamblin said. “If Kodak continues to be successful that would be the most exciting development for the Kodak Versamark business in the last 25 years. Of course, Kodak inks sell for a fraction of what other inkjet inks sell for even though they cost about the same to manufacture. It is a much different business model than most other inkjet markets where the consumable stream represents the lion share of both revenue and profit. In the case of Kodak the opposite is true.
“Our HP ink market is also growing fast as HP expands into new industrial print markets,” Mr. Gamblin added. “The biggest growth in that market comes in the packaging industry. The main advantage of the HP approach is the ease of use of the technology. The printheads are literally throwaway items. Customers don’t need to have extensive experience or work themselves down a long learning curve in order to be able to take advantage of the technology. Collins continues to expand the capabilities of those printers by creating novel inks to meet the increasingly complex customer needs.”
Solvent, Water and UV
Chemistries in Ink Jet
Inkjet inks are by no means homogenous in terms of chemistry. Water-, solvent- and UV-based chemistries have found their own niches, as have pigmented and dye-based inks. Each of these chemistries is also finding new applications and reaching into other segments to spur growth.
When it comes to selecting between solvent-, water- and UV-based inkjet, each of these technologies has its advantages. Solvent-based inkjet ink is the largest sector, due to favorable pricing and a large number of inkjet printers in the field. UV is growing, and water-based inkjet has a lower equipment cost.
“The solvent market continues to grow at an unbelievable clip, and has a huge installed base,” Mr. Kisner said. “The UV market is emerging, and will grow because of its use on rigid substrates. Water-based inkjet has to be used on treated substrates, which costs more, but it has a lower entry cost for hardware.”
When it comes to home and office printers, aqueous inkjet inks are dominant, led by key manufacturers such as DuPont Inkjet, Sensient and Avecia. Typically, these ink manufacturers supply the OEMs, which then fill and sell the cartridges, a market that is being eroded slightly by non-OEM companies selling refillable inks and cartridges. Water-based inkjet is also utilized in digital textile printing, and is making some strides in wide format, and Mr. Saunders noted that the use of water-based inks is growing for indoor graphics.
“Within aqueous, or water-based, we continue to see growth within the service bureau, POS and exhibit segments, but see the most growth and opportunity within the commercial printing and in-plant areas,” Mr. Shimamoto said.
“As for aqueous inkjet, it will continue to dominate high-end color printing in the home, office, photo, proofing and CAD/GIS markets, although color laser printers could easily become a preferred tool for color document printing,” Mr. Partridge noted. “Most textile inks will also remain water-based. However, we do not expect to see substantial growth in aqueous technology in the wide format graphics sector. Within new industrial inkjet areas, novel aqueous technology could carve out a bright future, and Nazdar will pursue new opportunities here.”
“Water has had big success in mailing, solvent in bindery, wide format and product identification,” Mr. Skelly said.
Solvent-based inkjet inks are the dominant technology in grand format and wide format applications, primarily due to its print quality, image durability and reduced substrate costs. The key drawback is environmental issues. Solvent growth has been limited in the U.S. and Europe due to environmental concerns, Mr. Saunders said, adding there has been considerable growth in inks that utilize mild or eco solvents. On the other hand, the solvent market in Asia is booming, particularly in China.
“Solvent inkjet has seen massive growth in the areas of wide and grand format graphics, and on a global basis,” Mr. Partridge noted. “Some of the more recent growth has been at the expense of the more productive use of aqueous printers, and this may have been a driver for companies such as HP to enter the solvent inkjet market. At Nazdar, we believe that solvent ink consumption will continue to grow, but in due course, the effects of increasing environmental concern for atmospheric emissions of solvents, and the high performance and productivity achievable with UV-curable inks, will together erode the strong position that solvent inkjet holds today.”
UV is the fastest growth area in inkjet due to its productivity advantages and resistance properties,
Jetrion’s 3025 UV inkjet printhead is ideal for the narrow web and packaging markets.
“The biggest growth area was and continues to be in the world of UV inks, which are ideal for printing on the broad variety of substrates in tag, ticket, labels, forms, cards and packaging,” Mr. Skelly said.
“We have concentrated on developing UV-curable inks,” Dr. Stoudt noted. “We believe that the expansion of ink jet into many traditional printing applications is dependent on ink development and print engines that will meet those application needs. Our hybrid UV-curable inks offer excellent properties on many types of porous and non-porous materials. Their unique properties of not having to cure immediately opens up system configurations for other applications, as well. Inks development for difficult substrates like untreated glass, ceramics and metals, such as our hybrid UV-curable GCM inks, will soon be commercialized. All of these advances will help ink jet expand into the traditional technologies of the past.”
Ultimately, there are opportunities for each technology to expand in the coming years.
“We have seen and expect to continue to see growth in the solvent market in the near-term,” Mr. Amerine said. “The fastest area of growth in digital will continue to be in the UV segment. The introduction of UV roll-to-roll equipment will increase that growth.”
“There is certainly opportunity for growth in UV and water-based inks over the longer term. Solvent also could continue if solutions can be developed that are more ecologically friendly,” Mr. Saunders added.
The Next Frontier for Inkjet
Ink jet continues to make major headway in the wide format market, and industry leaders foresee new opportunities for digital to take significant share in other key printing segments. For example, Mr. Partridge and Mr. Saunders both see opportunities in packaging.
“Within certain industrial market sectors – the diverse packaging market is a good example – there can be extensive opportunities for inkjet to grow,” Mr. Partridge said. “However, the inkjet industry has to develop more robust platforms and more reliable technology before it can achieve significant penetration of these new markets. It will not be easy for manufacturers and OEMs to make money through these prolonged product development campaigns. Effective alliances will be key.”
Mr. Saunders said he believes the next frontier for inkjet printing is packaging. He pointed out Sun Chemical’s introduction of its FastJet technology, developed in cooperation with Inca Digital Printers. FastJet is a digital press designed for use on secondary corrugated packaging and point-of-purchase displays. It utilizes an array of fixed print heads to dramatically speed the printing of SunJet UV inks in four-color process printing. Instead of print heads scanning back and forth across the substrate, the substrate passes under the fixed print heads. The first FastJet press has been installed in the UK, and it is producing commercial products. Further installations are expected in 2006.
Mr. Collins said that it is the ability to add variable data to packaging, with an eye toward counterfeiting, that will help drive inkjet in that segment.
“Ink jet will continue to grow in packaging as producers try to get more variable information onto smaller and smaller packages,” Mr. Gamblin said. “This is motivated by a desire to not only have better product tracking, but also to help combat the increasing threat of product counterfeiting. At the moment these markets are small, but some of the developments are pretty exciting. As a specialty supplier of inks with access to new HP cartridges, Collins finds itself in the middle of a lot of these discussions. It isn’t all the profitable at the moment, but it is a lot of fun.
“As for new markets, the area of on-demand printing, especially in corrugated and wide format, will continue to flourish,” Mr. Gamblin added. “Printers appear to be getting smarter and smarter about learning to take advantage of the capabilities of inkjet as they try to figure out ways to get their marketing message out.”
Mr. Skelly said that narrow web and packaging is a huge opportunity area for inkjet. “In anticipation of this, Jetrion will be expanding its offerings in this space beyond its market-leading Jetrion 3025 UV Inkjet Printer by announcing a full color narrow web inkjet press at LabelExpo,” Mr. Skelly said.
The Kodak 1200i wide format printing system offers a variety of features, including variable speeds for each application, intermediate ink reservoirs to maintain a constant supply of ink to the printhead, its Rapid Evaporation Drying System and Kodak’s Quantum Ink.
“For the most part, the applications remain the same, just the technology is moving to inkjet, which provides ease of use, cost effective shorter runs and faster turnaround times to customize and offer more sizes for a fuller offering,” said Mr. Shimamoto.
Aellora Digital is targeting the smaller format print applications.
“Our SureFire TKMP1000 is a 1M x1M flatbed which can print up to 250 sq. ft. hour on substrates up to 6 inches thick,” Dr. Stoudt noted. “This is targeted at small format screen and pad printing applications. When outfitted with our SureFire 65 print engine in the process color and white mode, one has a very versatile 600X600 dpi printing system for signs, promotional products or industrial applications.
“The key to expanded opportunity for ink jet lies, firstly, in the development of inks that will meet the application need; secondly, in the development of reliable print engines which can jet these inks, and thirdly, in the development of industrial printers which can achieve productivity numbers which make the technology a solid choice for implementation,” Dr. Stoudt said. “These are the principles which guide our work.”
With inkjet having made significant inroads in markets traditionally served by screen, what is the next key area for growth? It was clear at Print 05 and again at IPEX that inkjet’s improved capabilities are making it possible to be more competitive against sheetfed. Is inkjet technology beginning to make gains in business traditionally served by commercial sheetfed printing?
When inkjet started making inroads into the wide format market, only a few printers initially took advantage of the opportunities. Today, inkjet has a major share of the wide format segment. Mr. Kisner sees a similar pattern occurring in the commercial sheetfed market.
“The same thing is happening in conventional,” Mr. Kisner said. “For printers, moving into digital is a way to expand business and profits. It’s a real opportunity for traditional printers who are willing to take the risk.”
Thoughts that the commercial sheetfed market will be made obsolete by digital in the near future seem far-fetched. Rather, Mr. Skelly noted that companies are creating hybrid technologies, combining sheetfed and digital to best serve their customers by adding variable date and personalization.
“As with other traditional printing technologies, inkjet technology is initially ‘cooperating’ with sheetfed printing to enable new applications, as opposed to replacing it outright,” Mr. Skelly said. “This is referred to as the hybrid model of printing, an approach to printing in which Jetrion is a global leader in implementing. A good example of this is in the bindery where sheetfed output is batched and then variable information is printed (addresses, barcodes, etc.).
“Additionally, there are certain offline, niche applications where personalization and batch printing have enabled inkjet to excel,” he continued. “Examples include personalized calendars and localized short-run advertising. While variable data printing applications in commercial sheetfed are in the process of emerging, there are also immediate opportunities to use inkjet in a targeted way such as enabling black plate replacement.”
It is the ability to personalize print that makes digital technologies so attractive to commercial printers and their customers.
“We have to remember that historically offset presses have been designed around fast printing with static information and they will continue to meet those applications well,” Dr. Stoudt said. “But as smaller runs become a higher percentage of the jobs, or when variable information, page-to-page, become a valuable asset to the printed page, inkjet can still play an important complementary role.”
“Inkjet printing is likely to make inroads against conventional commercial sheetfed printing only where variable printing is required or where personalization can add value,” Mr. Saunders added. “It is more likely inkjet will be a complementary technology in this area, at least for the near future.”
“We are starting to see some interest from this segment of the market,” Mr. Amerine said. “It is still early days but we do expect this trend to continue and grow. Due to the economics of digital printing, speed of digital presses, and demand for shorter print runs, we expect digital to make gains in this segment.”
The potential growth of digital in the commercial market was one of the key drivers for the collaboration of Triangle Digital INX. Triangle Digital has developed a strong position in inkjet, particularly wide format, and INX International Ink has a sizable commercial sheetfed customer base.
“Opportunities are arising in new areas such as the commercial market, and that’s where our association with INX is exciting,” Mr. Kisner said. “We are working very diligently to accommodate that growth. We have received several inquiries from INX’s installed base, indicating that these printers have an interest into moving into digital in the next few years. Meanwhile, some large commercial printers already have digital equipment.”
With commercial presses being able to print 18,000 sheets per hour in a cost effective manner, digital technologies can’t come close on long runs. When inkjet presses can match sheetfed’s productivity, then inkjet will indeed be a direct competitor.
“Ultimately, inkjet printing will simultaneously meet all the key requirements of commercial sheetfed printing (speed, quality, width), and at that point, inkjet will be considered a more direct technology competitor than it is today,” Mr. Skelly added. “This technology/product adoption model (first hybrid, then replacement) is a recurring theme throughout all printing markets, just at different rates (e.g., screen printing sooner than offset). So just as full color single-pass inkjet printing has become a reality in other market areas (such as in labels with the Jetrion 4000 Series), commercial sheetfed printing will also experience a transition from hybrid printing to full color inkjet.”
Mr. Kisner discussed the opportunities that the commercial market presents for inkjet. “Digital is ideal for small customized runs, where it is not cost prohibitive,” Mr. Kisner said. “As the technology becomes faster, inkjet will take bigger bites out of the market. Ten, 20, 30 years from now, everything will go digital if it can print fast enough.”
To meet the needs of printers, ink manufacturers have developed new products. On the aqueous side, Kodak is focusing on complete systems such as its 1200i wide format printer, which uses its Quantum Ink.
“Kodak continues to focus on aqueous inkjet technology with media solutions that are compatible with every major printer manufacturer in the market,” Mr. Shimamoto noted.
Nazdar’s acquisition of Lyson provides the company with additional technologies.
“Nazdar’s main development effort in inkjet has, in recent years, focused on high-performance solvent-based inkjet inks and the development of UV-curable inkjet inks with superior properties,” Mr. Partridge said. “The acquisition of Lyson has subsequently encouraged Nazdar to broaden its focus into novel aqueous and textile inks, and new market segments.”
Fujifilm Sericol has also been actively designing new ink systems.
“We have continued to focus on expanding the capability of both our UV and solvent inks,” Mr. Amerine said. “The focus on the UV inks has been on expanding the adhesion range, and developing faster cure rates to accommodate the increasing speed of the equipment. Our focus in solvent inks has been expansion of color gamut and improving ink densities for better color and improved ink mileage.”
Mr. Saunders said SunJet in recent years has devoted much of its research efforts to development of UV-curing chemistry for use in a variety of applications such as large-format graphics and packaging. He pointed out that SunJet has a philosophy of working with a variety of printhead manufacturers to offer customers comparable technology no matter their choice of hardware. “This helps ensure our leadership in inkjet field,” he said.
Mr. Skelly said that in 2005, Jetrion developed fast cure UV ink, its custom UV ink program, reduced VOC solvent inks in mailing and wide format markets which resulted in an environmental award for the company, full color UV ink sets for grayscale heads, substrate-specific inks including optimized printing on metal for Crown, Cork and Seal and e-beam inks.
Aellora Digital also has been developing complete systems, utilizing its expertise in combination with its parent company, Markem.
“Much of our product development has been focused on ink development and expanding the application space for inkjet,” Dr. Stoudt said. “In addition, the development of our SureFire 65 print engine which has multiple configurations will help expand the ink jet presence in a growing number of applications. Putting these two unique developments together in conjunction with a turnkey printer has positioned us well in for the future and has helped demonstrate the expanding capability of ink jet technology.”
One key advantage of inkjet is the capability to personalize virtually anything, a major plus in today’s world, where consumers are coming up with limitless possibilities.
“Inkjet printing does not represent a single printing technology – rather, it is a family of related processes,” said Mr. Partridge. “Just as the family of screen printing processes represents the most versatile of the analog printing processes, the inkjet family provides the most varied range of solutions among the digital printing technologies.
“The most interesting inkjet processes I know of today include drug dispensing, printing of molten solder onto silicon wafers for chip bonding, gene DNA sequencing, microchemistry and printing artificial wood surfaces in the furnishings industry,” Mr. Partridge added. “But as you can imagine, the list is endless.”
“Printing on toilet seat covers would qualify as the most unusual we have seen,” Mr. Amerine said. “The capability of UV systems in many cases makes the printer’s own imagination as the only limitation to digital print applications.”
“Direct decoration of optical discs such as CDs and DVDs has produced some outstanding results,” Mr. Saunders said.
Mr. Skelly said that some of the most unique applications Jetrion has seen for inkjet include hybrid applications where inkjet reinvigorates and extends the life of traditional printing by enabling new variable printing applications with existing, as well as full color inkjet for labels and tags, direct to packaging such as printing on metal cans and specialty printing such as fluorescent and metallic printing.
“Jetrion strongly believes that the aforementioned hybrid model of printing will exist for many, many years before traditional printing is fully replaced in the broad market by inkjet,” Mr. Skelly said. “In the meantime, a small number of early technology adopters will be pushing the envelope, demanding full color inkjet systems to replace or stand side-by-side with their current traditional printing approaches. In order to satisfy both the mass market and the technology leaders, Jetrion has applied its full inkjet systems knowledge to developing both innovative hybrid and true replacement inkjet solutions.”
Inkjet’s strength is customization, where a digital file can be printed on an incredible array of substrates. Mr. Kisner said he has seen all sorts of unique applications.
“UV flatbed opened the door to image almost anything,” he said. “I’ve seen some really cool car doors that have hi-res images directly jetted on, and I’ve seen full-size pictures of children jetted on bedroom doors.
“People want to customize nowadays, and inkjet feeds this,” Mr. Kisner added. “It never ceases to amaze me what people will customize, whether it’s doors, glass, tiles or anything else. When you come down to it, anything that can be painted can be jetted.”
Mr. Gamblin and Dr. Stoudt said they have learned to expect the unexpected from inkjet.
“At Collins we see a lot of very exciting new technologies and opportunities,” Mr. Gamblin said. “Unfortunately, most of the topics are off limits due to confidentiality agreements we have. I can say that all the talk about nano technology has been great for inkjet ink formulators. We are jetting things that five years ago were unthinkable. As little as three years ago I would have told you it would be impossible to reliably run silver inks or MICR inks through an HP printhead. Now it is no problem.”
“Many of the unique applications we have been asked to trial are under non-disclosure, but I have learned not to be surprised,” Dr. Stoudt concluded.