The Specialty Ink Market

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 10.09.06

Colorcon and Chromatic Technologies, Inc. specialize in unique applications that showcase the capabilities of ink manufacturers and printers.

When most people think of the printing ink industry, their thoughts go to the conventional, large-volume

Photo courtesy of Colorcon.
areas such as publication, commercial, and to a slightly lesser extent, packaging.
However, some of the most interesting work is being done for unique applications, where shipments are marked in gallons and pounds and R&D is involved in just about every shipment. It is these cutting-edge inks that open eyes as to the real power of printing and the capabilities of ink manufacturers.
There are a few ink companies that have done very well in this niche. In particular, No-Tox Products, a division of Colorcon, Inc. and Chromatic Technologies, Inc. come to mind as creators of unique inksthat fill a special need in the marketplace.

Customer-Driven R&D

For specialty ink manufacturers, developing products for specific customers is the key for success.
No-Tox Products, a division of Colorcon, Inc., creates non-toxic printing inks that are employed for direct or indirect contact applications involving food, pharmaceutical, medical devices and associated packaging.
“I’d say 99 percent of our products are customer driven,” said Gerald  Napiecek, Colorcon, No-Tox Products’ manager of technology and regulatory affairs.
Chromatic Technologies, Inc. (CTI) is a specialist in a wide assortment of effect inks, including thermochromic, photochromic and glow-in-the-dark inks, which have appeared on all sorts of unique products, from Dairy Queen cups to the Nirvana box set. The Nirvana box set, “With the Lights Out,” featured a UV screen thermochromic ink on the front and back covers which, when touched, made the black cover disappear and scenes from the band appear.
“Our work is very much customer driven,” said Dave Randall, senior account representative at CTI. “We go to end-users and ad agencies with our printers, and pitch them on ideas.”

R&D, Regulations and Specialty Ink Manufacturers

Chromatic Technologies, Inc.’s thermochromic inks were used on Nirvana’s box set, “With the Lights Out.” When touched, the UV screen thermochromic ink on the black front and back covers disappear and scenes from the band appear.
R&D is essential for the specialty ink manufacturers.
“R&D is a big part of what we do,” Mr. Randall said. “We are continually innovating and are always listening to what our customers are looking for.”
For Colorcon, R&D is, in many ways, just the first step. Because the company’s products appear on food and medical products, to name but a few of the sensitive applications Colorcon takes on, the company has developed tremendous expertise in regulatory issues. They also produce printing inks for every printing process.
“Everything we manufacture must meet regulations, whether it’s for food, medical device marking or pharmaceutical packaging”, Mr. Napiecek said. “We must strictly adhere to FDA regulations
and Good Manufacturing Practices, and thus we are extremely limited in our raw material selection. With respect to inks we design for medical devices, while use of 21 CFR compliant raw materials may not be mandated by the FDA, we limit ourselves to such ingredients for these inks in order to provide our customers an extra margin of safety.”       

CTI’s products also appear on food packaging, which requires regulatory clearance. “Most of our inks are cleared for indirect food contact,” Mr. Randall said.
Getting the right raw materials to meet their customers’ needs is a challenge, as the volumes aren’t particularly eye-catching to suppliers.
“Our volume doesn’t compare to conventional ink manufacturing volume, and while some suppliers will help us with new items, we mostly have to look at new raw materials already out there, ask the right compliance questions and see if the materials will fit our business profile,” said Michael Gettis, general manager for Colorcon, No-Tox Products.   
 Because of the customized nature of these inks, including the high price of R&D and raw materials, an ink company probably could take advantage of their customers and charge a premium price. Mr. Gettis said that fairness is essential. “We have very fair pricing, considering volume, our raw material costs and the time we invest in these projects,” Mr. Gettis said.           

For Colorcon and CTI, these R&D efforts can often turn into successful product lines.
“We spent more than a year on pigmented inkjet inks for edible applications,” Mr. Gettis said. “We took the more difficult route of using pigments rather than dyes because of better permanence and resistance properties, and we are able to achieve particle sizes less that one micron.”   
“The neatest thing we’re doing now are glow-in-the-dark offset and flexo inks, which historically have been done by silk screen,” Mr. Randall noted. “We see a tremendous amount of potential for these inks. We are also making pretty good progress with metal deco thermochromic inks for the beverage industry.”
A job using a unique ink may not be sizable, but these are still very important to the customer.
“A lot of what we do are smaller size runs,” Mr. Randall said.
“We do some very small projects – some maybe a couple of gallons a year – but we feel we have a responsibility to the industry we serve to do those as well,” Mr. Gettis said.
Creating these inks makes for a fascinating market.
“Everything Colorcon does is unique,” Mr. Gettis said. “Our pharmaceutical and food & confectionary groups provide edible coatings and inks that go directly on tablets, foods and candies. The No-Tox Group provides inks and coatings for interior packaging, such as printing inside of candy wrappers, yogurt lids, fast food cartons, coupons, wrappers around ice cream cones and even temporary tattoos.”

“Another interesting area for Colorcon is medical packaging,” Mr. Gettis said. “Even though our inks are on the outside of the package, they are still used in sensitive environments such as operating rooms, and we have to make sure our inks won’t migrate onto disposable gloves, wet with alcohol, and end up in the wound or incision.”     
There are an incredible array of applications where a unique ink will make a difference. For specialty ink manufacturers, those are the projects they enjoy solving.

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