The UV Inkjet Ink Report

By Kerry Pianoforte, Ink World Associate Editor | 01.13.06

The market for UV inkjet is continuing to expand, and ink manufacturers are finding new opportunities for growth.

Although UV inkjet ink is still a relatively new technology, it has experienced growth in a number of markets, with the most use found in wide format printing.

“Since UV inkjet was first introduced in the 1990s, the demand for UV inks has grown, but volume usage remains low on a relative scale,” said Jason Oliver, director of marketing and new business development, Jetrion.

According to Mr. Oliver, the highest volume users are wide format printers.

“IT Strategies estimates that wide format printers will use more than 600,000 liters of UV ink in 2005,” he said. “They forecast this to grow to more than two million liters by 2009. Much smaller markets by volume include variable data printing for addressing mail as well as barcoding and numbering on labels and packaging. While these markets may today use less than 50,000 liters of ink annually, growth estimates go as high as 20 percent to 30 percent.”

The growth in UV inkjet is currently seen in the equipment being installed.

“For UV digital inkjet units that cost more than $200,000, there are more than 300 UV digital flatbed and combination printers in North America and more than 1,000 worldwide,” said Ed Sayers, marketing manager digital, Fujifilm Sericol.

Growth Potential

Dr. Michael Stoudt, president, Aellora Digital, feels the growth potential for UV-curable solutions, both for radical and cationic platforms, is significant.

“Each day we see more and more applications being tested for digital imaging, from more simple product marking applications to more complex ‘label-less labels’ container decoration,” Dr. Stoudt said. “The key to this growth is the continued development of higher precision print arrays and the inks to meet an expanded application set. Inks for glass, metal, ceramics, without need from substrate prep, will help expand the adoption of ink jet technology for decorating and other industrial applications.”

According to Mr. Oliver, the market for UV inkjet is growing rapidly as more printers realize the advantages of using this technology.

“The advantage of UV inkjet in wide format printing includes increased image durability, improved printhead runnability and broader substrate selections. In labels and packaging, these same advantages apply,” Mr. Oliver said. “Also, label printers today rely on slow, off-line thermal transfer printers with expensive ribbons to print most monochrome variable data. UV inkjet printers, like the Jetrion 3025, are the only high speed in-line solutions that can truly replace thermal transfer printing. For full color, UV inkjet presses are just entering the marketplace as a full alternative to short- and medium-run label and packaging printing.”

“The most widely used application for UV digital inkjet has been printing direct to rigid substrate for the POP market,” said Mr. Sayers. “The technology is also being used to create lenticular signs, outdoor signage and trade show graphics.”

Developing digital capabilities is becoming essential for many printers.

“The CAGR rate for the next three years is well over 25 percent,” said Mr. Sayers. “Many of the graphic providers that have not bought UV digital inkjet know they have to buy one to stay competitive. Most are in the process of deciding what capacity they will need from a printer, and when to buy.”

Benefits of UV Inkjet

UV inkjet technology is being adopted by many printers looking to increase their capabilities. UV offers users many benefits, including quick turnaround time and the ability to print directly on a substrate.

“The quick turnaround time gained by using UV digital inkjet is a huge benefit in the on-demand world we live in,” said Mr. Sayers. “Being able to print direct to substrate and eliminate many post print processes has reduced costs and turn-around times.

“The technology also opens up new markets for graphic providers by increasing their capabilities,” Mr. Sayers added. “An example of the efficiency gains and cost saving can be seen by taking a look at how screen printers are using the technology.

“They are able to produce small runs in house more economically than using their screen technology,” Mr. Sayers continued. “They are also able to take long run prints off the screen press and customize them on the digital press with language, local contact information, local promotions and local pricing. To sum it up, UV digital inkjet provides flexibility, efficiency and profitability for small runs that currently cannot be beat by any other technology.”

“Clearly an advantage of UV over solvent-based ink jet platforms is having no VOCs,” said Dr. Stoudt. “As users continue to become concerned with VOCs in their plant, UV-curable solutions will become more attractive. Plus, we feel the application reach for UV will eventually surpass current solvent inks. The other key thing to point out is that UV-curable platforms fall into a number of different categories. There are liquid UV inks and hybrid UV inks, with hybrid UV exhibiting some beneficial characteristics beyond liquid UV in terms of adhesion over a broader number of substrates and system integration flexibility by allowing cure to occur off-line without image degradation or after all printing is completed.”

New Markets for UV Inkjet

Inkjet ink manufacturers report that UV inkjet is starting to make inroads into new areas.

“There has been an incredible amount of interest in UV digital inkjet,” said Mr. Sayers. “The technology is being adopted by screen shops, digital labs, industrial printers and offset houses.”

“Aside from the adoption of UV into the wide-format equipment industry, we see any application that is currently being done today by pad printing or screen printing as a target area,” said Dr. Stoudt. “This can range from industrial applications, to promotional printing to signs.”

Color printing is also gaining greater attention in this market. “The new markets for UV inkjet will demand color,” said Mr. Oliver. “Many market niches within labels and packaging will embrace the advantages of digital printing coupled with UV inks. We see the industrial and secondary label markets and some of the film packaging markets moving quickly to color UV inkjet technology advances as costs come down over the next few years. The promotional products and specialty products markets are beginning to adopt UV inkjet as the best solution for printing durable, high quality images on a wide variety of materials.”

In order for this technology to continue to grow in new markets, educating suppliers on UV’s benefits and correct usage will ultimately be key.

“The use of UV light to cure ink, while somewhat common in conventional offset and flexographic printing, is new to many printing companies,” said Mr. Oliver. “Suppliers must spend time educating users to handle and print with UV inks and corresponding printing systems.”

“Equipment manufacturers who find these inks attractive must be willing to invest in the ink handling and print engine development necessary to make a robust system or find a partner that knows how to do it,” said Dr. Stoudt. “My feeling is that off-the-shelf solutions, whether it be inks or print engines, will satisfy some applications, but more complex inks and the systems behind the inks will be needed to truly capitalize on the opportunity. Also, there is a tendency for the end-user to want to ‘digitize their current system,’ without putting thought into how a different approach might be less expensive and an overall better solution which capitalizes on digital benefits.”

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