The Metallic Market
Despite escalating raw material prices, there is still a growing demand for metallic inks and pigments.
By Kerry Pianoforte
Despite escalating raw material prices, the demand for metallic inks and pigments has not subsided.
Photo courtesy of Schlenk Both Metallics.
“Historically, metallic and effect pigments and inks rarely seem to be negatively impacted by the economy,” said Rick Kistler, industry manager, packaging and specialty inks, NAFTA, Ciba Specialty Chemicals. “Brand owners continually seek to use specialty colors and effects as a way of attracting the consumer’s eye. Shelf appeal and the unique branding of product logos will always remain an important part of packaging labels. Yet even as cost is driven out of the value chain, we can still find applications where effect pigments play a role in helping converters to provide their customers with the look they desire within the cost constraints of the market.”
“Demand for metallic inks and effects has been very brisk in 2006,” agreed Elise Balsamo, marketing manager for Wolstenholme International. “Designers and printers in North America are continuing to seek out the newest and best metallic effects possible to make themselves stand out from the competition.”
“The economy has given an even heightened rise to competition and brand owners are increasingly required to differentiate their packaging,” said Joseph P. Perdue, product manager – graphic arts, Eckart America. “One way to do this is to add shelf appeal through the application of metallic and specialty inks. We continue to see increased usage in these types of products because of this trend and it also raises the urgency internally at Eckart to continue to provide new innovations on a regular basis.”
“Metallic inks and pigments are more influenced by fashion trends than the economy,” said Steve Clark, ink and graphic arts, Schlenk Both Metallics. “There could be two possible effects from economic downturns. Either the brand owner will want to reduce costs and remove the metallic or they will want to increase the visual impact of their product to overcome higher competition for fewer consumer dollars. This would increase the demand for metallic and other specialty effects.”
Raw Material Prices
Although the demand for metallic inks is quite robust, rising oil and feedstock prices continue to affect the market in a myriad of ways.
“General economic conditions have not had an adverse effect on the demand for our products,” said Peter Stone, market manager inks, Silberline. “However, the high oil prices in place earlier this year have affected the typed of aluminum pigments being used. While overall demand for metallic pigments remains strong, we are seeing some movement away from the use of expensive ‘high-end’ pigments to more moderately priced pigments with less aesthetic value.”
Metal costs have risen dramatically over the last two years. “Copper alone has risen 350 percent in that time,” said Mr. Clark. “This combined with increases in all other raw materials used and higher freight costs have led to a very difficult situation.”
“We are experiencing continuing pressure to reduce prices to help our customers offset the impact high oil prices have had on the ink market,” said Mr. Stone. “At the same time our costs are adversely impacted by the effect the same high oil prices are having on our customers. The production of our primary raw material, aluminum, is very energy intensive. As the price of oil, and therefore energy,, increases, so do the prices of energy intensive materials. The solvents used in our processes, like the solvents used by the ink manufacturers, are also directly affected by increasing oil prices, Even though oil prices have eased their effects linger.”
“Raw material price increases have affected us in numerous ways,” said Mr. Kistler. “Where possible we have to pass these cost increases along without sacrificing any of our core business goals or objectives.”
“Due to the inexorable rise in metal costs and the volatility of the commodity metal market – copper is a prime example – Eckart has been forced to raise prices and also implement surcharges throughout the year in an attempt to cover these rising costs,” said Mr. Purdue.
“The prices of copper and zinc, the primary raw material for gold ink and pigments, have risen dramatically in the last 12 months, resulting in the need for several price increases in 2006,” said Ms. Balsamo. “Aluminum prices have risen as well, but not nearly to the same critical levels. While price increases are never easy to pass along, there has been no choice, as the raw material prices show. There has still been strong demand for metallic effects despite the price increases, so we continue to provide the best products possible to keep up with what the market demands.”
Rising raw material prices are not the only challenges facing metallic pigment suppliers. Some technical challenges formulators encounter when using metallic pigments are particle size and stability in the ink system. “Larger metallic flakes give very good brilliance but unfortunately have poor flow and do not transfer well through most ink delivery systems,” said Mr. Clark. “To get the best possible compromise of printing performance and metallic effect, the distribution of particle sizes is now very tightly controlled.”
Metallic pigments can be quite reactive with other ink raw materials. “This can lead to color change and loss of metallic brilliance, and in some cases even complete solidification of the ink,” said Mr. Clark. “Schlenk Both now has many pigment grades with special surface treatments to greatly improve the final ink stability. We also have developed stable concentrates in UV- and water-based systems to assist ink formulators.”
“The biggest technical challenge is sometimes based on the desire of the designer’s eye,” said Mr. Kistler. “While attempting to achieve that ‘wow factor’ a designer may in fact put a printer in a tenuous position of trying to print something beyond his capabilities based purely on particle size or print process. Certain large particle size glitter effects might only be obtainable through screen inks or even coatings, and even then care must be taken to choose the correct mesh size or coating thickness in order to achieve a desired effect. When given the opportunity, we as suppliers must take the time to educate the downstream market on what is technically within the grasp of certain printing processes. Giving a project a realistic set of parameters only increases the chance of success for all involved.”
“Customers commonly request the highest level of brilliance as well as high coverage,” said Mr. Purdue. “There is a trend forming in the industry toward utilizing fine line aniloxes in flexo to improve the quality of the graphics, including the graphic quality of metallic inks. To overcome this, we are constantly working to upgrade our manufacturing process in order to create finer pigments that are also smoother and flatter which will reduce light scattering and optimize light reflectance.”
Another issue cited by Mr. Purdue is rub resistance and the ability to trap other colors on top of metallic inks. “We have made a number of improvements in the area of 'non-leafing' pigments, which when formulated under the right conditions improve the functionality of the ink,” he said.
In order to keep up with their customers’ demand, metallic pigment suppliers are investing in the development of innovative technologies.
“We are continually being asked for aluminum pigments with lower and lower particle size but still able to deliver brilliant metallic effects with good hiding and adhesion,” said Mr. Stone. “This has always been a technical challenge. To overcome this and other technical challenges we are focusing on improving our processes.”
Silberline is developing new products to meet the requirements from its customers for aluminum pigments that deliver better value. “We have several new products in the pipeline designed to do just that,” said Mr. Stone. “Their appeal will be the ability to deliver high quality metallic effects at reasonable prices and to deliver improved value through ease of use.”
“Silberline will continue to serve the ink market as a quality supplier of aluminum and special effect pigments,” Mr. Stone added. “As we move into the future we will focus on innovation and process development designed to improve the value of our products as well as broaden the range of products we supply to the ink market.”
Ciba Specialty Chemicals recently added the Xymara pearlescent pigment and Metasheen vacuum metallized pigments to its portfolio of classical and high performance pigments. Wolstenholme introduced new non-leafing inks that are ideal for overprinting.
Schlenk Both Metallics have established a full manufacturing and service center in Ashland, MA, for the North American printing ink market for both metallic pigments and press ready printing inks, and is committed to continue making heavy investment in R&D and providing the highly reactive service standards required by customers in the graphic arts markets.
“Our mission in graphic arts is to promote the use of metallic effects to enhance the quality and appeal of the printed product,” Mr. Purdue concluded. “This is accomplished by the promotion and support of design tools and by providing superior metallic products. We will continue to fulfill this mission and meet the demands of the market through innovation.”
Metallic ink makers have brought a number of new products to market.
Schlenk Both Metallics have introduced a full new range of metallic printing inks in North America under the Metaprint trade name, including oil-based, water-based, UV curing and vacuum metallized pigment inks, These inks have been used across the rest of the world for many years in all of the main printing processes. Previous distribution agreements have prevented these inks from being sole here but now they are available.
Unipak SuperECO is the latest sheetfed metallic ink development from
Wolstenholme International. “It represents a huge step forward for sheetfed metallic ink technology,” said Ms. Balsamo. “SuperECO is the first metallic ink on the market to be formulated using vegetable ester technology, rather than traditional mineral oil solvents. It is comparable in performance in performance and pigment technology to our well-known SuperLitho metallic ink. In addition, Unipak SuperCure UV offset and UV flexo metallic inks are manufactured using new varnish technology resulting in improved water balance and printing performance. They also incorporate a new grade of pigment with lower particle size distribution to reduce piling while maintaining high levels of metallic brilliance.”
Printing an aqueous coating or other coating over a metallic ink can slightly diminish the metallic effect. “To combat this, Wolstenholme has introduced Unipak Offset NL and Mirasheen NL metallic inks, both available in gold and silver,” said Ms. Balsamo. “Both inks utilize the latest developments in non-leafing metallic pigment technology to give excellent over-printability while maintaining metallic brilliance.”
“We have recently introduced Xymara marker luminescent pigments,” said Mr.
Kistler of Ciba Specialty Chemicals. “This range of inorganic UV fluorescent pigments can be readily incorporated into various types of inks and coatings for mid-range security requirements, product identification, labeling and even process control. Security and branding applications are growing in importance and we have taken the step to establish our technical director, Neil Forsythe, as the champion for all the products we have and will launch in this area.”
Eckart offers special effects in various forms. “Recent innovations include the company’s Metalstar Heatset Complete line. “Formulated with a number of enhanced features including the highest quality offset metallic pigment and prices for almost any job, the Metalstar Heatset Complete series now allows the user to achieve the premium and top-quality results associated with Metalstar brand in a cost effective manner,” said Mr. Perdue, product manager - graphic arts, Eckart America Corporation.
Also new is Eckart’s latest innovation in non-leafing (NL) silver dollar pigments. The new Metalstar 06 7000 non-leafing silver now allows users the ability to produce clean metallic colors, optimize trapping conditions and achieve functional cohesion with UV over lacquers.
“The most eye catching new product we offer today is Prismastar,” said Mr. Purdue. “The Prismastar Series is a range of metallic inks based on a new vacuum metallized pigment technology that offers a spectral color shift normally associated with holographic foils and substrates. Due to the fact that the unique ‘rainbow effect’ created by Prismastar is printable in-line, utilizing this technology now makes it possible to avoid the presence of ‘shim lines,’ a common disadvantage when using holographic foils or substrates. Prismastar technology is available for solvent-based flexo and gravure applications ideally suited for creating special effects for decorating labels, flexible packaging and folding cartons.”