Things that sparkle and shine tend to get noticed. Take packaging for instance. When a consumer is torn between two items that serve the same purposes and cost the same amount, what might be the deciding factor in their purchase? It could come down to what the product looks like…and metallic inks and pigments help the ordinary stand out from the crowd.
Although metallic inks represent only a small segment within the printing industry, it is one segment that focuses on performance and really can be impacted by changes in fashion and personal preference.
“A lot of the demand relates to whether metallics are the popular colors at the time,” said Dave Hunt, regional sales manager, U.S. southeast, U.S. Bronze Powders, Inc.
“The market is generally growing,” said Jane Lawrenson, marketing manager at MD-Both. “Silver has been a tremendously popular color starting in the millennium year and continuing today. The trend for ink makers to ‘buy in’ their metallic ink requirements is increasing, allowing them to concentrate on their core business.”
Improvements in the performance aspects of metallic inks have driven market growth. “The market for metallic inks is now growing at a faster rate than the ink industry average,” said Oliver Crowhurst, director of business development, graphic arts, Eckart America. “This is attributable mainly to recent improvements in performance that have capitalized on the fact that metallics were underutilized due to poor performance.”
Developers of metallic inks and pigments most likely face more challenges than do manufacturers of conventional products. Pigment suppliers must be concerned with brightness, while high gloss and rub resistance are at the top of an ink manufacturer’s priority list. It appears that, as in other market segments, the best way to eliminate hurdles encountered during production is cooperation between ink manufacturers and pigment suppliers.
“For metallic pigments to be successful, Eckart has realized that very careful attention must be paid to the formulation and manufacture of the inks,” said Mr. Crowhurst. “This process must ensure integrity of the metallic particles during manufacture and for the commercial life of the ink. The media in which the metallic pigments are dispersed include water, solvent-based solutions of wide ranging viscosities, and monomer/oligimer systems; Eckart has developed technologies to provide stability in these systems while ensuring optimum printing properties. In summary, the improvement of metallic inks for the graphic arts industry is dependent on the cooperative development efforts of pigment and ink technologies.”
“Manufacturing metallic pigments is very capital intensive, requiring expensive plant and equipment in order to atomize, mill and classify through to the final grade of bronze or aluminum flake required,” said Ms. Lawrenson. “This process requires the input of mechanical and chemical engineers.”
In terms of metallic pigments, the focus is on brightness.
“The big challenge of manufacturing metallic pigments is making them brighter than they currently are at particle sizes necessary to run in offset printing,” said Mr. Hunt. “We’ve been able to produce very bright pigments at 3-4 microns, but we are still pushing to make them brighter.”
As performance requirements increase, Eckart has developed a research program focused on metallic pigment development.
“Metallic pigments are produced by atomizing and ball-milling techniques that were essentially unchanged for many years. Being based on metals (copper/zinc for bronze pigments; aluminum for silver), the pigments are quite reactive compared to organic pigments and their shape, size and density characteristics provide many challenges in formulating and printing,” said Mr. Crowhurst. “Eckart has a multi-faceted research program whose aim is to fundamentally revolutionize the metallic pigment industry, ranging from process improvement to radical new pigment design.”
Performance Properties of Metallic Inks
The challenges faced by ink manufacturers correspond more directly to the overall performance requirements demanded by the intended end-use markets of metallic inks.
According to Michael Bauer of Carl Schlenk, performance characteristics sought in metallic inks are good printability, gloss, rub resistance and shelf life.
Areas of concern for metallic ink manufacturers include runability – getting metallic inks to run on more substrates; absorbent properties – manufacturing metallic inks that obtain good hold-out with quick drying times; and water pick-up – performance and printability improve with less water pick-up.
“Metallic inks, though very specialized, are used on conventional presses and are subject to the same performance requirements as conventional inks,” said Ms. Lawrenson. Increasing press speeds, alcohol-free fountain solutions (for offset), smaller anilox cells (for flexo) all have caused changes to be made in metallic ink and pigment formulation and manufacture. The main obstacle to metallic inks achieving the same print performance level as conventional inks is the large particle size of metallic pigments which can be as much as several hundred times larger than conventional organic pigments. Also, metallic pigments are much more reactive than conventional pigments, which imposes severe restrictions in raw material selection of resins for ink vehicles. These problems have been largely overcome by improvements in both resin/vehicle and pigment technology.
“Today’s metallic pigments are more tightly classified (narrower particle size distribution) and of smaller particle size than previously,” continued Ms. Lawrenson. “Raw material selection for ink vehicles still requires extensive testing and screening (especially for UV/EB inks) but the palette of potentially useful materials is growing.”
Another focus of ink manufacturers is increasing the types of substrates the ink can print on. “With metallic inks, the focus is on developing one generic metallic ink that works on a variety of different substrates,” said Mr. Hunt.
Packaging continues to represent the largest consumer of metallic inks, although other segments also depend on metallic products for a sharp appearance.
“End-use seems to be mainly concentrated in packaging, but the greeting card industry still uses a fair amount of metallics,” said John R. Whalen, vice president, marketing, Kerley Ink.
“There are many end-use segments, including packaging, publication and commercial, covering oil based, water-based and energy curing metallic inks,” said Ms. Lawrenson. “All have shown good growth as gold and silver continue to be popular colors.”
With only a few players in the metallic market, new product development will be driven by the needs of their customers.
“Eckart has a particularly progressive approach to bring new products to the market that is borne out of the need for improved products,” said Mr. Crowhurst. “The year 2000 has witnessed the development and/or introduction of several new high performance water base, UV and solvent-base Roto Star liquid ink products and the particularly successful Metal Star paste ink products.”
New from Kerley Ink is its Metallix line of metallic litho inks. Available in rich gold, pale gold and silver, Metallix inks “show a truly amazing sheen when printed, and have excellent ink/water balance, low misting and perfect viscosity for no misting or dripping,” according to the company.
Mr. Hunt said U.S. Bronze Powders has introduced a new offset/sheetfed metallic ink. “Solo-Met IV offers improved runability, brilliance and less water pick-up then Solo-Met III,” said Mr. Hunt.
“Schlenk has launched only recently a series of high-performance aluminum and bronze metallic products,” said Mr. Bauer. “We are consistently aiming at optimized economic performance as well as environmentally friendly products.”
MD-Both has developed two new offset bronze pigments that have been made available with the use of advanced pigment milling and classification techniques, according to the company. According to the company, MD-6224 provides excellent metallic brilliance together with improved gloss levels and covering power, while MD-6327 delivers increased color strength, excellent gloss levels and exceptional covering power.
Whether you are talking about inks or pigments, pricing will always be an issue. Especially in the metallic ink market, pricing will continue to impact the market as we enter 2001.
“Value sells,” said Mr. Whalen. “Just like a few other ink markets, metallics have grown quite competitive. The more cheaply you price your product, the quicker it sells - provided you deliver a product that performs up to the customer’s expectations. Kerley is focusing on delivering excellent print performance with our Metallix inks, but we’re not placing Metallix at the bottom rung of the price ladder.”
Mr. Hunt said the metallic pigment market will be more affected by pricing than its ink counterpart. “Even though it is more likely that we will see a price increase in aluminum pigments in 2001, it will most likely not effect the offset metallic ink market, only the pigments. Speculation of price increases for bronze pigments and paste are based on the copper comex market which is speculating a 20 to 30 percent increase in the year 2001.”
A product shortage could also impact the price of aluminum pigments. “We are seeing a shortage in the aluminum pigments market,” said Mr. Hunt. “Product demand is higher than the suppliers’ capabilities. There has been a rise in demand for metallic pigments for manufacturing of powder coatings, which has been taking away capacity designated for metallic inks. We are more likely to see price increases for aluminum pigments instead of bronze pigments.”
“Aluminum feedstock prices have increased significantly and capacity is very tight, mainly driven by the tremendous increase in silver used in automotive,” said Ms. Lawrenson. “There have already been price increases in aluminum pigments and we expect this to result in an increase in finished silver ink prices.”
Whether pricing will remain stable or not appears to be something no one knows for sure. It looks like the ink industry will just have to wait and see how things pan out.
“The pricing of metallic pigments and inks has been very stable over the last several years,” said Mr. Crowhurst. “While Eckart has deferred any price increase of its products, I believe that some may be expected for 2001 in line with the industry average.”