Yet, the glorious march of the electronic media stops at the door of packaging printing. One may even hope that the complexity of producing multi-functional packaging material is a high enough protective barrier from any “high tech” attacks of the nearest future. Unfortunately, the history of technology innovation suggests that nothing is immune from becoming obsolete if new ideas are not continuously embraced and implemented.
Risking oversimplification, we can say that printing is quintessentially a process of transferring ink from a container on to a substrate - “from the pot to the dot.” We build large, sophisticated machines – printing presses that allow us to accomplish this act of ink transfer to a very thin 1-3 micron pattern at very high speeds, producing thousands of printed images in very short time.
In liquid ink printing methods which dominate packaging markets a blend of resin and pigment is significantly diluted with solvent, water, or a combination of the two in order to enhance ink transfer from the engraved cylinders (gravure or flexo anilox). The solvent then has to be removed from the ink film via drying and in most cases has to be captured and incinerated, and often even the C02 emissions need to be eliminated through oxidation.
Evidently, the use of diluting solvents is a fairly wasteful aspect of the printing process that has only one purpose: the simplification and acceleration of ink transfer. In today’s high throughput printing press manipulations with solvents take more energy, space and cost than actual printing.
Everywhere around us technological innovation comes with reducing energy consumption, miniaturization and improved economics. What are the opportunities for industrial printing to move in the same direction?
We think that electron beam curable ink technology is the real answer to these challenges. EB curing units are small and energy effective, especially in comparison to typical dryers and incinerators. EB curable inks, 100% solid pigment and resin blends, are perfectly suited for the quintessential “from the pot to the dot” transfer and instantaneous conversion from the liquid to the solid state. Their high color strength, resulting from high pigment to binder ratio, is the best path toward increased print mileage and reduced cost of print.
Recent advances in EB curable chemistry allow curing at lower EB doses that can be delivered at very high press speeds. Enhanced abrasion resistance and adhesion to plastics makes EB curable inks a natural choice for a broad range of packaging applications. Finally, high crosslinking density achieved without use of photoinitiators, significantly reduces the migration of any undesirable chemical compounds into the food. EB curable inks and coatings have shown a great degree of compliance with FDA regulatory guidelines for food packaging.
As we seek the “next great thing” in printing, let’s not overlook EB curing.
About the Author:
Dr. Mikhail Laksin has a Ph.D in printing science and has more than 30 years of experience in developing and commercializing innovative printing and ink technologies. Mike has a broad range of expertise covering complex rheology of fluids under dynamic printing conditions, to the interactions of various printing surfaces with inks and coatings under varied conditions, which ultimately dictates print quality. His special area of expertise is with UV and EB curable inks, coatings and adhesives. Over the last few years Dr. Laksin pioneered a game changing printing technology for printing with liquid inks on non-absorbent substrates, where different colors are trapped wet on wet over each other, without requiring any inter-station drying.
Printing Today, EB Curing Tomorrow
As mobile electronic gadgets become a dominating source of information in every aspect of human life, the future of printing in its traditional form and markets is increasingly in doubt.
By Mikhail Laksin, PhD