The Metallic Market
The metallic ink market is getting more and more competitive, driven by price, technology and innovation.
By Kerry Pianoforte
The metallic pigment market experienced moderate growth in 2007. Primarily fueled by high-end
Photo courtesy of Ciba Specialty Chemicals.
“In general, there was modest growth in the metallic pigment market over the past 12 months, although Silberline experienced excellent growth in the pigments supplied into the ink industry,” said Dr. Andrew Edwards, director of global marketing for inks at Silberline. “Our growth in Europe has been especially successful.”
“Metallic and other effect pigments usage for inks has certainly seen strong growth in 2007,” said Ana Paula Perroni Laloe, marketing manager, effect pigments, BL imaging and inks, Ciba. “Although key growth was in high-end applications such as the cosmetics industry and electro-electronics, increased use was also seen in non-alcoholic beverages and beer/ wine labels.”
Schlenk-Both Metallic Pigments also reported considerable growth in its business for metallic inks and pigments in 2007, according to Thomas Schaller, vice president sales and marketing, Schlenk-Both Metallic Pigments.
Metallic inks and pigments add value to a package by giving it a rich, eye-catching look.
“This trend for special effects is here to stay,” said Ms. Laloe. “Used as a tool to differentiate brands and raise the end product appeal to consumers, from small surfaces to full coverage, metallic inks have become a must have in packaging designs. Adapting cold metallic looks for every seasonal trend by combining metallic inks with other effects and transparent colors, while exploiting functional features, is a strong differentiation tool. Creativity and the need to stand out will allow higher end effects to expand its application platform, while economy of scale may make them more broadly used.”
“The metallic market is mostly influenced by fashion trends,” said Mr. Schaller. “Silver still is the mostpopular color in North America, as well as globally for cars, which is a trendsetter for many other industries. We still expect silver to be very popular for several more years. The gold colors that are achieved with copper and brass pigments always add nice value to any packaging or printed material. We see a lot of interest in our new thinner silver dollar type pigments that give outstanding brightness and very smooth metal-like appearance.”
Although metallics are consistently a popular styling tool, the market is not without its challenges. The metallic pigment and ink market has become increasing competitive due to consolidation.
“The metallic ink market is getting more and more competitive, and is driven by price, technology and innovation,” said Dr. Edwards. “The recent acquisition of Eckart and Wolstenholme by Altana has made a very powerful company within the effect pigment and ink market, and this may shake up the the special effects industry over the next year or so.”
Another obstacle for the metallic market is raw material prices.
“We are constantly trying to optimize our processes; however, the fact that the cost of copper, the main raw material for our bronze pigments, has more than quadrupled over the last few years is a big challenge for us and our customers,” said Mr. Schaller. “Also, the cost of copper is varying in value a lot more than it used to. This, combined with other rising costs, is definitely a challenge for us as a supplier.”
“Raising costs are always a big challenge, especially for the ink industry, but we are well positioned in this market with a focused, backward-integrated, specialty range based on high-end vacuum metallized pigments (VMP) – Ciba Xymara Metasheen,” said Ms. Laloe.
According to Dr. Edwards, Silberline is continuously working on improvements and efficiencies to reduce the impact on rising prices. “However, it is not always possible to absorb them completely and inevitably some costs have to be passed on,” he added. “We have always worked closely with our customers and this allows us to work together to benefit both parties in these challenging times.”
Some technical challenges 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,” Steve Clark, technical manager for Schlenk-Both Metallic Pigments, said. “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 materials,” Mr. Clark continued. “This can lead to color change and loss of metallic brilliance, and in some cases even complete solidification of the ink. 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.”
In the vacuum metallized pigment area, a key challenge for ink makers is to dedicate their resources to produce a niche high performance ink.
“Getting a high mirror-like effect ink, which is pin-hole free and allows high coverage and mileage, are prime targets,” said Ms. Laloe. “In order to support ink makers in achieving this, Ciba has recently complemented its VMP offering by launching the first ready to use VMP ink in a series – Ciba Xymara Quicksilver SF-02, which is a high mirror quality flatbed SB screen ink.”
Printers are always looking for ways to improve efficiency by printing faster and reducing downtime. “This brings technical challenges not only to the equipment manufacturers, but also the performance of the effect pigment needs to be addressed,” said Dr. Edwards. “Faster printing speeds and smaller anilox means that smaller particle size pigments that maintain excellent aesthetics are required in order to get the same high quality print. Silberline’s Silvet AD range of pigments perform very well under these conditions.”
Metallic pigments and inks are enjoying growth in a number of key areas including printing applications such as labels, cosmetic packaging, electronics and in-mold decoration.
“Dramatic, eye-catching effects on packaging are still a very powerful way of differentiating a product in the market,” said Dr. Edwards. “A splash of special effect adds a perceived value to a product, and draws the consumer to purchase a particular brand amongst the many on our supermarket shelves. I’m certain that will continue into the future. There is still a lot of excitement around printed electronics, although the growth hasn’t been as exponential as predicted. Water-based and UV applications are also becoming more popular as the technology and pigments improve and the world becomes more environmentally conscious.”
Metallic pigment suppliers have added a number of new pigments and inks to their offerings.
Silberline has new additions to the Silvet AD range of products for liquid inks, and improvements have been made to the Aquavex range of aluminum granules for water-based inks. Both families offer a granular product suitable for a wide range of applications. Some of the new developments from Silberline in vacuum metallized pigment will bring some exciting opportunities. Recently the StarBrite 5000 and 6000 series were launched, giving increasingly improved foil effects, and new developments will be seen in this area in 2008.
Schlenk-Both has a variety of new thinner silver dollar aluminum products that offer a combination of brilliance as well as smooth metal effects combined with good coverage.
“These products are available in paste and pellet form as well as passivated for use in waterborne systems,” said Mr. Clark. “Our Metaprint range of finished metallic inks is constantly expanding, especially in the UV area as well as inks based on vacuum metallized inks.”
To make metallic effects easier to achieve, Ciba launched a new metallic ink, XYMARA Quicksilver SF-02, which can be printed to produce a perfect silver mirror effect. For luxury consumer goods such as perfumes, fashion wear and spirits and other high quality displays, the new ink will add decorative effects for a wide variety of plastic substrates, as it can be combined with other Ciba pigment preparations or solvent soluble dyes to produce a whole spectrum of bright, colored metallic colors, including golds, bronzes and coppers.
Xymara Quicksilver Inks are available for both solvent gravure and screen inks. XYMARA Quicksilver SF-02 is based on XYMARA Metasheen vacuum metallized aluminum pigments, and has been developed for use in solvent-based flatbed screen presses.
Ciba also launched a new range of printable, electrically conductive inks – the XYMARA Electra range – which can be used to print electronic circuits. RFID tags can be printed directly onto the packaging along with the rest of the design. XYMARA Electra inks can be applied at high speeds and have superior line definition and resolution. The first generation of inks has been designed for rotary screen and flatbed screen printing; inks for other printing methods are in preparation.