The Inkjet Ink Report

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 07.01.08

The growth of digital technologies was very much evident at drupa 2008, and inkjet ink manufacturers continue to find new growth opportunities.

Digital printing has made tremendous inroads into the printing industry. Walking around drupa 2008,

EFI VUTEk’s DS press was one of the highlights at drupa 2008.
one can easily see where digital printing is heading, as inkjet printers continue to make impressive inroads into a wide variety of markets.
For inkjet ink manufacturers, the past year has been a good one, and there are some excellent opportunities ahead.
“EFI’s inkjet division grew just under 25 percent in 2007, which is well above the overall market average,” said Chuck Dourlet, vice president of marketing, EFI VUTEk. “I’ve been in technology all of my life, and you can’t find businesses growing so well for such a sustained time. It’s a high growth business, and as market leader, we’re not only driving the industry’s growth, we’re taking share as well.”
“Business is good for us,” said Ken Kisner, Triangle Digital INX’ senior vice president and CTO. “It’s been a strong year. We’ve enjoyed good growth even in a slowing economy. The new equipment is driving digital technology into new areas where it hasn’t been.”
“Hexion has enjoyed triple digit growth from 2007,” said Willis Reese, director, new business development at Hexion Specialty Chemicals. “Even though we haven’t yet reached the third quarter, we know that it will be a terrific year for us. We are adding more manufacturing and sales personnel to handle the increasing demand. Although the U.S. economy is heading towards a recession and spending in many markets has suffered, the digital market continues to grow, and Hexion has seen anything but a slowdown.”
Collins Ink is enjoying success in the inkjet ink market, as it works closely with Hewlett Packard and Kodak, among others. Lawrence Gamblin, president of Collins Ink, noted that his 18-year old company recently moved into a new 83,000 square foot building in Cincinnati, OH.
“Our future looks good,” Mr. Gamblin said, adding that the company is working on developing UV inkjet inks. “The industrial market is our segment, and the market seems to be coming to us. People are looking to do more, whether it is printing 2-D barcodes or print different languages.”

A Displacing Technology

The question now is no longer whether inkjet will become a displacing technology, but when that will happen. For example, Sean Skelly, director of marketing and service for EFI Jetrion, said that the label market is growing for digital, and in time, it will no longer be just a complementary market.
“Digital printing  is still a complementary approach for the label market, but as with wide format, it will increase in importance and ultimately dominate,” Mr. Skelly said. “We now have customers who don’t even have conventional equipment; they start directly with digital. The market is growing dramatically in Asia, led by China and India. Versioning and regionalization in the label market is coming and digital solutions will be a must.”
“It is an interesting time,” Mr. Gamblin said. “Inkjet can’t be a displacing technology until ink costs reach a reasonable range, and HP claims the image cost on their new printer will get down to one cent per form. Kodak is similarly focused on impression cost. Inkjet ink makers need to adapt and learn to operate with lower smaller margins. There are some new areas, such as transactional printing of cellular phone bills, that are now 100 percent inkjet. At least in our markets it is the first example where inkjet is only kind of printing. Historically, inkjet has been used to complement traditional printing.”
EFI had a major presence at drupa, with its VUTEk and Jetrion presses drawing much attention. EFI’s VUTEk DS (Digital Screen) Series high speed UV digital flatbed printer was particularly noteworthy: scheduled to start shipping in 2009, the DS prints up to 6,000 square feet an hour with modes supporting 1200 dpi and 8-color.               

According to EFI, the DS Series represents a tipping point in productivity, image quality and flexibility, delivering screen printing speeds with short digital set-up times that will revolutionize the screen printing industry. It is designed with a high density array of printheads and a moving bed, enabling much faster speeds than existing technology that utilizes moving printheads.
“The DS Series is the fastest UV flatbed printer in the world today,” said Mr. Dourlet. “We see more screen printers looking to move into digital, and with these speeds, quality levels and the economics of digital inkjet, it is no longer just a complement, but now it is an analog replacement.”
On the EFI Jetrion side, the Jetrion 4000 UV Inkjet System, which recently was honored with the Best Product of the Year award in the Industrial (Specialty) Printing Solutions category in the European Digital Press (EDP) Awards for 2008, is now commercially available after completing successful field testing with label print customers running multiple varieties of real world jobs. It offers label converters a full-color narrow web alternative to toner-based digital printers for label runs of up to 50,000 labels.

“The Jetrion 4000 has completed beta testing, and is now commercially available” said Mr. Skelly. “It is capable of achieving photorealistic quality with its expanded gamut of UV inks, and enables customers to be able to adhere to and print on more substrates than ever before.”

“We have 4000s in the field running successfully and continue to focus on making improvements to meet our customers expectations. Now with the integration of the  Xaar 1001 printhead, we can  offer customers a wider print- width and higher reliability for increased  up time,” said Dr. Kenneth Stack, EFI vice president and general manager, Jetrion. “The Jetrion 4000 stands apart from other solutions with both  lower running costs and a lower purchase price than toner alternatives, which delivers a compelling ROI.”
Delivering the entire system and partnering with manufacturers are two keys to success in the digital market. INX Digital offers a full complement of digital ink systems, advanced technologies and integration services through its member companies and affiliates, with additional design expertise, products and services available as needed. Worldwide offerings include inkjet inks and toner, application-specific electronics and equipment, software development, engineering design and total-system integration.
“At INX, our concept is to evolve traditional printing to digital by offering the complete package from software and firmware to education, ink and support,” said Ken Kisner. “We are providing the whole package to traditional printers. For example, ISI is developing drive components and ink delivery systems, and they will be developing more for us. This gives our customer the ability to do prototyping and short run production.”
“You have to be willing to try things out,” Ken Kisner added. “We’re finding ways to make faster ink, faster than the printheads. We are also working with SAKATA INX on new technologies.”
Brad Kisner said that INX Digital is looking for partners from the conventional press side. “We want to be enablers to the industry,” Brad Kisner said. “No one company can do everything right by itself.”

Another new avenue for INX is the new MD600 UV flatbed printer being brought to market by INX Digital from sister company Innovative Solutions INX. The MD600 achieves extremely high resolution – more than 1000 dpi – on coated or uncoated aluminum or steel substrates. It is ideal for short runs and prepping samples.
Brad Kisner noted that the MD600 UV flatbed printer is being used for the 3 piece or flat sheet metal decorating and prototyping market.. “There’s a lot of interest in this from the INX International installed base,” he added.

A significant ink development coming out of Hexion is the launch of the HexiStretch platform at drupa. These inks provide exceptional printing features which include dot optimization, wide color gamut, high opacity as well as rapid line speeds.  These inks are designed especially for large banners that upon printing may be rolled for storage before the application with no cracking or the flaking of ink. The optimum coefficient of friction (COF) to aid during the winding and the unwinding of printed banners make this platform very unique for advertising applications.  

Meanwhile, technologies that have been showcased in recent years are now making some headway. FastJet, was developed five years ago by Sun Chemical and Inca Digital Printers for printing corrugated sheets, particularly within the fast growing market for multi-color, shelf-ready packaging and display applications. It is capable of printing thousands of square meters per hour in full color, and economically serves the packaging market with short and medium run orders. 
At drupa 2008, Sun Chemical announced that IMG Digipack GmbH, based in Remscheid, Germany, is its first beta partner for FastJet. A second FastJet press is currently being commissioned in the UK, and a third will go to the U.S. later in 2008.
“It seems a long time since we demonstrated the first concept machine at drupa 2004 together with our partner Inca Digital Printers, but we have made a lot of positive progress since,” said Stefan Slembrouck, business manager for Sun Chemical’s Digital Print Solutions division. “We are delighted to announce our partnership with IMG Digipack, a company which is ideally positioned to offer added value corrugated printing to sheet converters and end users and validate the technology.”
“It is a milestone for our company to see the first FastJet production press commissioned at a customer site,” added Bill Baxter, managing director of Inca Digital. “But now it has printed the first 10,000 sheets, even we are pleased with how consistently the press prints at high speed without nozzle loss.”

Excellent Opportunities

There are many excellent opportunities for digital technologies to make further gains. Mr. Reese said that Hexion continues to see companies in the traditional printing areas migrate toward digital inkjet printing because of the advantages that digital printing can provide.
“For the traditional graphic arts areas, more printers with our UV IJ inks on-board are being sold,” Mr. Reese said. “However, the true long-term market growth is in the industrial printing area, which is why Hexion has developed high performance ink platforms to meet the needs of this evolving market.”
“Industrial packaging is always a hot area,” Mr. Reese added. “ Regional advertising and short-runs are becoming more popular. This plays into the strength of inkjet printing – short-run, customized printing.”
Aside from the label market, EFI Jetrion is also a leading innovator for the “direct-to-product” market.
“Security features, both overt and covert, will take time, but these are a natural extension step for the direct-to-product market,” Mr. Skelly said. “By 2012, we’ll see applications we haven’t even anticipated.”

SunJet, INX Digital, Hexion Showcase LED-Curable Inkjet Inks at drupa

There were plenty of innovations on the digital ink side at drupa 2008, and one of the

Photo courtesy of Summit UV
most intriguing was the prevalence of LED-curable technologies. Among the ink companies showcasing LED-curable digital inks were SunJet, INX Digital and Hexion Specialty Chemicals; on the conventional side, Toyo Ink and Ryobi exhibited an LED-curable sheetfed press.
The advantages of LED are numerous. It reduces energy consumption and heat, allowing printing on thin films.
“We’re printing at 5 meter per second currently with LED, and its energy consumption is 4 watts/cm vs. UV, which is 300 watts/cm,” said Ken Kisner, senior vice president and CTO of Triangle Digital INX, which showed its Evolve LED inks. “We’re getting full cure. It’s a perfect answer. LED is very green – low power consumption, no ozone generation and low heat generation, which allows us to print on thin plastic films without melting them. LED can be retrofitted onto existing equipment. LED lamps also weigh less, which will allow the carriage to move faster.”
The keys to LED curing is both utilizing the right wavelength and delivering a high output.
“Summit UV has been developing its unique UV LED curing technology over the last four years, selecting the 365nm UV-light wavelength and then maximizing the highest achievable outputs in cost-efficient product designs,” said Mario Carluccio of Summit UV. “The 365nm wavelength is a common peak in mercury UV lamps and in turn, in broad spectrum UV chemistries. It is often referred to as the mercury i-line. As such, there are many more off-the-shelf photoinitiators available for the 365nm wavelength as compared to longer visible-light wavelengths such as 395nm or greater that have been used in conventional high intensity LED units.”
Mr. Carluccio said that Summit UV first showed its UV LED curing technology at SGIA in October 2007 on a wide format printer, retrofitting with its compact air-cooled only lightheads and fully curing full-color images at production speeds with broad spectrum UV inkjet inks.
“It let people know that this no-heat, more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendlier UV-curing technology is finally ready,” Mr. Carluccio said. “At RadTech and then drupa, we showcased our latest advancements in UV LED curing of full-color images in single exposure at maximum inkjet print speeds and with no inert curing atmosphere. We have also been working closely with the ink companies, who in many cases see this as an enabling technology. Three significant inkjet ink companies have already introduced offerings optimized for our UV LED curing units. The future is bright for UV LED printing.”
Willis Reese, director, new business development at Hexion Specialty Chemicals, noted that Hexion released LED inks at RadTech 2008 in Chicago.
“Our game plan was to come up with LED inks that will push the end user to adopt cheaper and easily adaptable printing technology with ramifications far reaching in terms of lowering the cost per square footage,” Mr. Reese said. “According to the U.S. Department of Energy estimates, the adoption of LEDs for lighting, as an example, could slash electricity consumption by 10 percent worldwide, cutting billions of dollars per year from electric bills. This is our way to adapt ourselves quickly to the dynamic situation resulting from the rising energy cost situation. On this front we are working with several of our OEMs with pending approvals. These inks provide end users physical and mechanical properties that are very similar to our conventional ink sets.”
SunJet announced at drupa the development of new ink chemistry specifically designed for curing under exposure to UV light from LED sources. In laboratory tests, line speeds in single pass applications have exceeded 100 meters or 300 feet per minute. In the last two months, SunJet has produced a set of inks designed for use in single pass applications which raise the achievable line speed by more than three times.
“Our ink chemists have been able to increase cure speed significantly and apply the speed increases to other SunJet ink families,” Peter Saunders, sales and marketing manager for SunJet, said. “Increased line speed on this scale really widens the scope of LED curing as a method of drying inkjet films. We see application in coding and marking, digital label production, wide format graphics and in variable data printing on plastic smart cards.”
Brad Kisner, president of Triangle Digital INX, said LED technology is coming very fast. “The chemistry and printhead technology are maturing at the same time,” he added. “The LED technology allows us to work on continuous web, and speeds will grow astronomically. By next drupa, LED technology will be all over the show.”

– David Savastano

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