The UV Inkjet Market
Digital technologies continue to make gains in printing, and UV inkjet is particularly well positioned to increase its share of this growing market.
By David Savastano
The UV inkjet ink market continues to flourish as new applications emerge. The benefits of UV – most
Fujifilm Sericol collaborated with Inca to develop the Inca Onset.
Ultimately, UV inkjet is poised to become a dominant technology.
“UV inks are the future,” said Brad Kisner, president, Triangle Digital INX Co. (TDI). “Industry-wide, they’re growing at a rapid rate. UV technology is allowing faster print speeds, which is what it takes to be competitive in more traditional print areas. As high-speed, fixed array machines come on the market, UV will be the inks of choice for numerous applications driven by niche market products and customized promotions.”
“Along with speed and environmental advantages vs. solvent inks, the other key to UV growth is its ability to adhere to so many different substrates,” said Ken Kisner, senior vice president, CTO, Triangle Digital INX Co. (TDI).
“We continue to see solid growth in the UV inkjet market,” said Terry Mitchell, director of marketing for Fujifilm Sericol USA, Inc. “UV ink technology offers benefits not found in solvent digital inks. The growth is being driven by the increasing number of printers available to end users in terms of pricing, productivity and primary application or use. Examples include the emergence of UV roll equipment in addition to an increased number of flatbed and combination printers.”
“There are a variety of growth opportunities in the UV inkjet market,” said Jeff Wettersten, director, Digital Print Solutions, Americas, Sun Chemical. “In fact, many of the latest inkjet printers being launched into the graphics and industrial markets utilize UV ink technology. We continue to see double-digit volume increases coming from two areas: continued growth in demand from the existing base of installations and new installations.”
Willis Reese, global director UV curable business, Hexion Specialty Chemicals, noted that although graphic arts market sectors have shown considerable growth, the industrial market sector is where the future growth is expected to happen.
“It is difficult to put an exact number as it will really dependent on the way different segments of this industry, meaning the end users, ink manufacturers as well as equipment suppliers, interact to make this technology a success story,” Mr. Reese said. “UV inkjet continues to dominate the growth sectors of both the graphic arts and industrial print markets and we think that 2008 is going to be even more exciting than anything we’ve seen in the past.”
“Growth is continuing in the large format area of UV printers with increasing speeds and lower cost units coming from the Asia Pacific region,” said Phil McGugan, vice president global sales and marketing for Nazdar. “Existing printers are finding ways to bring more jobs from conventional printing – screen, offset, flexo – into the digital arena, expanding their usage of UV digital inks.”
EFI VUTEk’s QS3200r received the DPI Grand Format UV Award during the SGIA 2007 show.
“We see the UV inkjet market as a healthy and very attractive business, driven by new applications and technology,” said Mr. Dourlet. “In the superwide formats, we are closing in on the crossover point where UV inkjet will become larger than solvent-based products. In superwide, ultimately UV will be the replacement for analog technology. The breakeven point in terms of job size continues to increase, while the expanded application range, encompassing glass, acrylic and plywood, among other substrates, is also a big advantage for POP displays.”
Mr. Dourlet noted that demand for UV inkjet is particularly strong in Europe.
Our customers in Europe are moving to UV from solvents due to extended application range as well as the environmental advantages,” Mr. Dourlet said.
Sean Skelly, director of marketing and service for EFI Jetrion Industrial Inkjet Solutions, noted that UV inkjet has made key inroads into label and packaging, adding that EFI Jetrion is continuing its to develop new projects such as its ground-breaking work with metal cans along with Crown Holdings.
“Digital printing is coming into its own in label printing,” Mr. Skelly said. “It is at a very nascent stage, and the upside is very large. HP is toner-based, while we are inkjet. In terms of packaging, you can’t do metal cans with toner-based solutions. That’s a huge market space. The challenge is that these are projects, not products. With Crown Holdings, we developed custom solutions with UV inkjet as its basis.”
“The vast majority of our sales are UV inkjet,” Mr. Skelly added. “Our printing is done on a stationary printhead with single pass printing, and UV offers reliability and substrate flexibility. There is a great advantage for UV in durability, chemical resistance and lightfastness, and UV inks also offer very low VOC levels.”
Advantages of UV Inkjet
The advantages of UV inkjet are numerous, ranging from environmental impact to performance and adhesion.
“The smaller equipment footprint, environmental benefits and customization suited to meet customer-specific needs are by far more advantageous factors driving the growth of this industry,” Mr. Reese noted. “UV curable fluids are riding the wave of interest the public is showing, whether by choice or by mandate in some instances, in greener technologies. This benefit, coupled with the many inherently superior properties held by UV inkjet inks, such as harder and more durable films that can adhere to a wide variety of media types, make it very attractive. We see the industrial market, with its varied print surface and cured film requirements, as the perfect fit for this type of chemistry. This is especially true as more traditional printing processes are being supplemented and even replaced by digital printing.”
“Although UV ink technology is still evolving for digital printing, the use of UV for rigid and durable goods is on the increase with improved performance on substrates such as coroplast, styrene, even ceramic and glass,” Mr. McGugan said.
“UV’s speed – its curability vs. other inks – further heightens the basic, overall advantages of digital printing over traditional,” Brad Kisner said. “It’s ideal for shorter run, fast turnaround and all kinds of custom jobs.”
“Perhaps UV’s biggest advantage as we go forward is its ability to adhere to a huge variety of substrates – far beyond vinyl and paper: styrene, glass, linoleum, wood, textiles, polyethylene and other plastics, metals – you name it,” Ken Kisner said. “This opens the way to a tremendous array of packaging, interior display and other uses. Corrugated containers, labels, credit cards, folding carton and other non-food packaging are among the more prevalent, so far. UV’s superior chemical and abrasion resistance also bodes well for numerous carton as well as flexible packaging applications.”
Mr. Skelly noted that UV images are particularly crisp. “The image quality is really good,” Mr. Skelly said. “You can also control drop spread very precisely, and as a result, the image has a raised look and sharp nice edges.”
“UV inkjet inks are well suited for a number of print applications, particularly rigid and flexible signage, and point-of-purchase graphics,” said Terry Amerine, Fujifilm Sericol USA’s marketing manager, wide format graphics. “UV inkjet inks require much less head maintenance during normal operations. They do not tend to dry into the heads during idle periods and therefore result in significantly increased uptime. Another advantage is that UV inkjet inks require a few profiles versus a profile for every different material like solvent and aqueous inks.”
Considering the potential of the market, it is understandable that ink manufacturers are focusing on new technologies for this growing market.
EFI VUTEk and EFI Jetrion have pooled their resources together to develop a wide variety of solutions for the UV market. “EFI has been ahead of the curve,” Mr. Skelly said. “Being part of EFI, we can offer full solutions.
Mr. Dourlet pointed to the company’s white inks, which allow customers to be very creative with backlit displays. Meanwhile, EFI VUTEk’s QS3200r superwide format printed received the DPI Grant Format UV Award during the SGIA show in October.
“Our QS2000 and QS3200 products have exceeded all of our expectations,” Mr. Dourlet said. “We’ve now added a dedicated roll-to-roll QS3200r to the QS family, and we are pleased with the interest and with receiving the SGIA Award.”
Mr. Skelly noted that the Jetrion 4000 is now offered in 6-color format, adding orange and green, and added that Jetrion is developing new ink sets and preparing for higher production speeds.
Fujifilm Sericol also has been active. “We are constantly researching new UV ink technologies for various end-use applications,” Mr. Amerine said. “Inkjet head design, higher speed digital printing capabilities, and equipment platforms specific for rigid and flexible substrates are just some examples of new technologies that will require new UV digital inks. The printing speed of the new Inca Onset is a specific example of an equipment platform requiring a new UV digital ink that prints and cures at ultra high speed.”
Mr. Wettersten said that Sun Chemical is continuing its investment in digital by developing new platforms in narrow web, corrugated and new technology for CD and DVD printing. “We want to sell more than just ink; we want to offer our customers the full package of hardware, software, consumables and service,” Mr. Wettersten said.
Together with Inca Digital Printers, Sun Chemical developed FastJet, a single pass inkjet press for printing corrugated packaging. With an expected productivity of more than 3000m² printed output per hour and a print quality equal to high quality flexo printing, this press has a potential to revolutionize the corrugated market and increase the overall demand for UV inkjet inks.
With SolarJet, a web-to-web UV single pass inkjet press for printing self-adhesive labels, Sun Chemical has recently launched another digital solution. SolarJet offers printers an economically viable solution for print runs of 10,000 labels or fewer, freeing up their flexo presses for the higher-volume jobs. With a printing speed of 80 feet per minute, SolarJet is a roll to roll printing system 6.5 inches wide using 4-color process UV inks.
Sun Chemical also recently launched Project 37, a single pass UV inkjet printer designed to offer CD/DVD duplicator and replicator companies an even more affordable digital system for the decoration of optical discs.
Mr. Reese said that Hexion has been in the forefront in developing new technologies, including a highly opaque white ink which also offers excellent formable characteristics, well suited for second surface printing involving a four or a six process color system with the same level of flexible characteristics as the white ink, was introduced in the market place.
Hexion also has developed UV inkjet inks that are well suited for glass application that not only have to show excellent water resistance under a wide variety of conditions but which needs to also offer caustic resistance and resistance of solvents; inks that are suited for single pass applications for security and card printing application; and inks that provided high opacity with wider color gamut coupled with flexibility and some level of chemical resistance, typically useful for banner printing applications.
“Hexion is known for our technical approach to some of industrial printings’ toughest challenges,” Mr. Reese said. “For example, our HexiLok line of inks has excellent adhesion to a variety of media types including glass, ceramics and metals, providing excellent resistance to steam, water, solvents and caustic environments. The HexiFlex inkset was designed to allow postforming after printing, for customization of three-dimensional parts. Our Flashcure inks provide reliable printing and rapid curing in single pass systems. It's also worth mentioning that all of our platforms are compatible with multiple piezoelectric printhead technologies, which is quite rare in this market.”
Nazdar is also developing new products for the market. “Work is continuing on UV inks for new printhead technologies for variable dot printing,” Mr. McGugan said “Work on flexible UV inks and inks to adhere to glass could be on the horizon in the next year.”
Triangle Digital INX has also been active on the R&D front.
“’Green-related’ initiatives, such as ECOS recyclable media-specific UV options, represent multi-faceted advances in traditional digital areas,” Brad Kisner said. “UV inks for metal decorating applications are another example – perfect for custom-printed Holiday popcorn tins and the like. From energy drinks to aerosol products, marketers are more frequently looking for special promotional opportunities for which digital UV is ideally suited.
“We have several LED cure inks up-and-running,” Ken Kisner said. “Here, we’re dealing with slower machines delivering ultra-high end, high quality resolution. Print for auto dashboards, for example, with backlit type and color backgrounds. The advantages of LED are efficiency and very low energy consumption. But it’s also very difficult, due to its narrow wave length for curing. We’re making super-high quality UV inks that print 3-point text. Some of these applications are being developed with ISI (Innovative Solutions INX). UV inks for newer generation, variable drop print heads play a key role in our R&D. We have the building blocks to make custom UV products for a phenomenal number of applications — inks with super-chemical resistance, or that are highly scratch resistant, all the way to products that are elongated – actually stretching.”
Overall Potential for UV Inkjet
Considering these advantages, UV inkjet has excellent potential.
“The potential is quite large in terms of percentage growth and real dollar growth,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Applications in UV flatbed printing for POP will be complemented by applications in UV printing of flexible substrates utilizing roll-to-roll printers. We also expect UV inkjet applications in industrial markets. We believe that UV inkjet ink sales are just beginning to reach peak growth and we expect that trend to continue for the foreseeable future.”
“UV technology can fit a lot of particular needs for the printer. However it is best utilized when formulations are focused on a defined application, similar to the trend in screen print technology,” Mr. McGugan noted. “One ink will not perform perfectly on all materials, but a ink could perform well on a few selected materials.”
“UV inkjet’s potential is practically limitless, as higher speed, fixed array machines and the like come on the market,” Brad Kisner said. “Tapping that potential, like ‘green’ initiatives, calls for integrating printhead and hardware technologies along with UV ink chemistries. The breadth and depth of our UV involvement uniquely positions us to assist with all aspects. With UV, we’re carrying our tradition of OEM equipment-matched inks a step further – several steps, in fact, involving hardware, media and UV curing systems.
“In hardware, we’re partnering within the INX Digital group and beyond … creating special inks, for example, for new systems like the Blue Streak from Innovative Solutions INX (ISI) — an inexpensive upgrade that transforms NUR Blueboards into much faster, higher quality and more environmentally friendly UV systems. UV inks for 2-piece, 3-piece and other metal applications are in the hopper – the prime topic during recent demonstrations at our San Leandro, CA headquarters. An ideal machine for this (using specially created inks) is Milano, a new UV curable printer engineered by Italy’s Anteprima SRL. Users can print directly onto flat sheets or roll-to-roll.”
“Our inks are being used on credit cards, labels, corrugated – and we’re well along in developing UV inks for flexible packaging and high-potential applications,” Ken Kisner said. “Along with hardware- and media-specific inks, including UV for recyclable PE and the list of media noted earlier, we custom-tailor inks to match UV curing mechanisms – microwave, and LED, for example, in addition to Mercury Vapor systems — which further expands our UV marketplace applications.”
“Inkjet is a broad enough technology platform to meet the demands of many conventional markets,” said Mr. Wettersten. “Packaging is a market undergoing significant change in order volume and print requirements that conventional print technologies are struggling to keep up with. Inkjet is viewed as a technology with great promise to packaging converters and brand owners. The challenge of large markets, such as packaging, is developing the right technical solution to meet the specific application requirements of the market. Corrugated, folding carton, labels, and flexible packaging each have different needs requiring unique solutions. Digital applications for the packaging and label market, for example, must meet expectations in terms of high productivity, consistent printing of solid and vibrant colors, and the reproduction of sharp lines to obtain readability of bar codes and small text. The ink must also perform as good as, if not better than conventional inks in managing scuff and abrasion resistance, flaking, and fade. The chemistry of UV inks seems to be the right platform to develop the right balance between these divergent demands, albeit with the help of an appropriate primer as a pre-coating.
`The development of inkjet inks implies the development of tailored primer systems which are usually based on conventional chemistry,” Mr Wettersten added. “Sun Chemical can bring together decades of experience in both conventional and inkjet printing in order to develop reliable inkjet solutions for particular market applications. Sun Chemical has assumed the role of working with converters and end users to assess and understand application requirements, and then assemble select ‘partners’ to develop application specific solutions meeting the defined needs of the users. A catalyst towards the adoption of UV inkjet is the receptivity of the inks by a wide variety of substrates. The advancement of print head technology, combined with the versatility of UV inks will open many new markets to digital development. For example, Sun Chemical has initially entered into the corrugated and narrow web labels markets based on customer feedback regarding application requirements and the current capability of the technology to meet those requirements.
“Sun Chemical believes another market moving toward inkjet printing is the label market,” Mr. Wettersten said. “ The label market has been changing to a short run, ‘on demand’ supply chain over the past few years. With the need for consumer product companies to constantly change their graphics and provide many variations or ‘flavors’ of a particular product, current production processes are unable to economically keep pace with the reduced print run lengths and continual job changeovers. The UV curable ink on a digital press allows them to economically compete in this market with a product comparable to what they currently provide either water-based flexo or UV flexo.”
Mr. Reese said that it would be very naive to say that UV inkjet to be a solution for all the technological issues. “Although it cannot replace traditional printing processes including screen-printing in entirely, it may serve to offer advantages over traditional inkjet printing, meaning solvent inks,” Mr. Reese said. “In this respect, the UV technology seems to have a great future. Furthermore, already inks with novel chemistries are in the process of development that will have an even greater impact on printing over glass as well as in certain automotive market sectors. We really believe that the sky is the limit for this technology. The demand for customized products and the ease of handling of these inks, along with the hardware and software advances that the industry is enjoying, is really going to catapult this chemistry.”
Green Chemistries and UV Inkjet
The environmental advantages of UV will also help UV inkjet’s growth in the coming years.
“UV inkjet inks will absolutely benefit from the desire to move to ‘greener’ technology,’ Mr. Amerine said. “UV ink technology overcomes issues that solvent digital inks face such as VOC emissions. The emergence of UV roll printers, and the green chemistry of UV digital inks, will likely result in a shift from solvent inks to UV inkjet.”
“Certainly, as some ink companies are currently involved in bringing the best of both the UV inkjet along with aqueous inkjet technology for specific applications involving package printing,” Mr. Reese said. “The environmental benefits are certainly a door-opener for these inks. However, the added benefits that UV curable inkjet inks bring to the game make them even more appealing.”
“As the capabilities for UV inkjet expand, the technology is being utilized in applications requiring green chemistries as a new entrant, and it’s also displacing older inkjet technologies in existing markets,” said Mr. Wettersten. “An example is solvent-based ink systems in wide format graphics. The market developed first around solvent-based inks as the only available solution, migrated to eco-solvent-based chemistries when they became available, and is now developing around UV inkjet.”
“We’re constantly developing green technologies on the ink side,” Brad Kisner said. “We also have several additional green initiatives on the table. One is with ECOS — recyclable polyethylene media for which we’ve developed special UV inks. ECOS PE is much lighter as well as stronger than traditional vinyl on billboards. And for posters, instead of having to replace paper every month, a posting can last for six months – and still look better.”
“Inks that have less of an environmental impact have been an integral part of our development agenda for years,” Ken Kisner said. “Biodegradable BioINX and low-odor PureINX mild solvent products are two resulting examples – along with our extensive array of UV curable formulas.
“Furthermore, in this industry, ‘green’ involves more than ink itself,” Ken Kisner added. “Our ability to develop custom UV inks to adhere to so many more substrates – plastics, for instance – opens the way to using recyclable polyethylene instead of traditional vinyl billboards and ‘paper’ posters. Of course, non-porous surfaces such as PE offer unique challenges. We’ve worked very closely with users to develop super-adhesive, media-specific UV inks.”
Mr. McGugan noted that UV is only partially green in the true sense of the word. “Although UV gives off no VOCs into the atmosphere, we are a long way away from having biodegradable or non-petroleum-based UV products,” Mr. McGugan said.