Metallic and Special Effect Inks

By Kerry Pianoforte, Ink World Associate Editor | 12.12.05

Although price increases continue to affect the metallic and special effect ink market, suppliers focus on innovation to drive growth.

Over the past year there has been a tremendous amount of changes within the metallic ink industry. The major events  include Altana Chemie’s acquisition of Eckart GmbH, Ciba Specialty Chemicals’ purchase of Wolstenholme’s Metasheen product line and the dissolving of MD-Both, the joint venture between Wolstenholme and Schlenk. These consolidations reflect trends in the ink market as the  industry moves to become a more global market.

“The changes in our segment are a reflection of the trends in our customers’ industry–fewer, larger and financially stronger suppliers supporting a consolidating and increasingly global industry,” said Anthony Ameo, president of Eckart America. “Specific to Eckart, we had been a family-owned business for 127 years. Altana Chemie is the perfect company to take over this business and build on the outstanding success of the Eckart family.”

“I call it the ‘Wal-Mart’ effect: there is a lot of consolidation within the metallic and special effect inks market,” said Michael Yates, global business manager, metallized pigments, Ciba Specialty Chemicals. “There is a need for global suppliers and consistency in those suppliers. As far as Ciba is concerned, the acquisition of Metasheen is a complementary business in Ciba’s growing portfolio of products. The acquisition of Metasheen has been seen as a means to combine synergistically with Ciba’s other products. There is a continuing demand for metallic pigments for the graphic arts industry.

“One of the major advantages of the Metasheen acquisition by Ciba is that it enables us to use the Ciba global distribution and supplier network to offer our ink customers a more consistent service,” Mr. Yates added.

According to Elise Balsamo, marketing manager for Wolstenholme International, corporate changes in 2005 such as the sale of the Metasheen product line and the dissolution of the MD-Both Industries joint venture, have been necessary to allow the company to proactively adjust to the varying products and supply and demand of the ink and print market.

MetalFX  previewed the new MetalFX gold base system alongside demonstrations of the original silver-base system on Heidelberg’s Speedmaster SM52 UV press at Print 05.
“Wolstenholme International is firmly committed to the graphic arts market and is now in a better position to bring even more competitive metallic ink and pigment products to the Americas, as well as a variety of special effects solutions,” Ms. Balsamo said.

As a result of a continual slowdown in growth metallic and specialty ink manufacturers must keep a careful eye on keeping costs low while providing quality products to their customers.

“The combination of slow growth in the printing ink industry and an overall sluggish economy increases the urgency for Eckart to continue to provide further innovation, expand technical support and develop the use of metallic effects in new market segments,” said Mr. Ameo.

 “The one thing that businesses are looking at is cost controls,” said Mr. Yates. “Vacuum metallized pigments replace or offer an alternative metallic effect to the converter to expensive substrates, such as aluminum foil laminates and metallized substrates, and foil blocking. That is really one of the biggest economic drivers. Using metallic pigments is the most versatile and flexible way of achieving a metallic effect, enabling the effect to position precisely in the printed package to give the optimum result. That gives end users and printers the ability to maintain and enhance product image while introducing cost controls.”

Developing innovative new products is one way to drive growth.

“This is an exciting time for a metallic ink company because interest and market demand for unique metallic printed effects has been renewed in North America,” said Ms. Balsamo. “Although there is still a negative cost perception regarding metallic inks, new and exciting developments such as MetalFX, together with already established products like our Mirasheen VMP inks, have been very well received as cost-effective alternatives.”

“We’ve seen an increase in the priority of lower price over aesthetics in packaging applications, particularly as product life cycles mature,” said Pete Stone, inks market manager, Silberline. “However, there will always be a demand for product differentiation and improved product visibility. Metallics are an excellent way to accomplish both and we expect the use of metallic pigments to grow given the current economic outlook.”

Dealing with escalating prices is just one challenge when dealing with metallic inks. Maintaining consistent product quality and consistency is another challenge companies must contend with.

“One challenge when working with metal and specialty inks is maintaining product consistency batch to batch. Maintaining product consistency and appearance is critical for the brand owner,” said Mr. Yates. “Our customers demand the same shade and printability from batch to batch. By offering a range of products that can be blended together, we can enable the ink maker to achieve consistent results.”

“We’re seeing a continued demand for improved hiding and adhesion requirement along with the need for smaller and brighter metallic pigments,” said Mr. Stone. “Developing technologies that provide consistent stability and performance in aqueous and UV curable inks while maintaining acceptable price and performance is an ongoing challenge.”

The major issues for metallic inks in general are no longer technical challenges but ones of managing expectations, according to Nick Rink, business development manager, Wolstenholme. “Metallic inks are used for a huge variety of applications and there are many factors that will affect the end result – substrates, varnishing and lamination. By continuing to educate our customers and the people who use our products, we can help to ensure that the end customer buying the piece of print is satisfied with the result and that their expectations have been met,” he said.

“We are faced with many of the same situations that the industry is faced with as raw materials continue to increase,” said Mr. Ameo. “Like everyone else, we attempt to mitigate these increases as much as possible through driving efficiencies in all of our processes. At the same time, we continue to focus on driving innovation and developing the best products for the graphic arts market.

“Eckart provides continuous improvement in existing markets and new, innovative solutions for new markets where the use of special effects was previously thought to be limited or even impossible,” said Mr. Ameo. “For example, new innovations such as the Metalstar 06-7000 NL silver allow our customers to print a metallic effect with very good overprintability, excellent cohesion and very little color change when overlacquered. Eckart’s Rotovario 560 series of leafing silver dollar pigments and the Rotovario 530 series nonleafing pigments provide market leading special effect, thus raising the bar for brilliance and printability of silver (aluminum-based) inks. Finally, Eckart recently introduced its Topstar color palette for sheetfed and web offset printing. This new color palette is just another example of the services Eckart provides in order to further define and clearly deliver Eckert’s special effect capabilities.”

Wolstenholme has recently launched a new line of energy curable metallic inks. “Our Unipak SuperCure series of sheetfed and flexo inks have demonstrated superior print performance on a wide variety of substrates,” said Mr. Rink. “These inks utilize new pigment technology combined with a special stabilizer that gives increased in-can stability and a high level of metallic brilliance.”

Wolstenholme International has also been an approved distributor of MetalFX licenses in North America for more than two years now, and manufacturers the base silver ink for the MetalFX process. “We are currently launching two new products for the MFX process – a new non-leafing silver ink, and a gold ink for MFX version 2,” said Mr. Rink. “These products will enable printers to further expand on the current capabilities of MetalFX.”

Ciba Specialty Chemicals is complementing its range of pigments through the acquisition of the high-reflectance aluminum Metasheen line from Wolstenholme International. The transaction includes the respective manufacturing facilities owned by Wolstenholme. The pigments will continue to be marketed under the Metasheen product name. These versatile metallic pigments give a wide choice of shiny, sparkling and mirror-like effects, allowing manufacturers and designers broad scope and high flexibility in meeting today’s market demand for exclusivity, and bright, lustrous shades, according to the company. Metasheen are vacuum-metallized aluminum pigments giving high-quality, high value-added effects in end uses such as inks, packaging, paint and cosmetics. Applied as inks, Metasheen pigments can be placed exactly as required and can therefore be used to create individual packaging designs.

In addition, Ciba is presenting pearlescent pigments, added to its range through a new joint venture involving China’s leading manufacturer and supplier of pearlescent pigments, for applications such as coatings, plastics, inks, cosmetics and paper making. These decorative effect pigments can reproduce the special luster and color of natural pearls and metal on surface coatings and plastics.

Ciba Specialty Chemicals and the Liucheng Group have established the joint venture Zhejiang Ruicheng Effect Pigment Co., Ltd. The business activities of China’s leading manufacturer and supplier of pearlescent pigments for applications such as coatings, plastics, inks, cosmetics and paper making, Wenzhou Kunwei Pearl Pigment Co. Ltd., affiliated with the Liucheng Group, will be transferred to the joint venture, which includes R&D, production and marketing.