The Inkjet Ink Report

By David Savastano, Editor | 05.01.14

Digital printing is expanding its share in established markets such as wide format, and is starting to make headway in other segments such as packaging and textiles.

The expansion of the digital printing field has been the highlight of the printing field for the last decade. Inkjet has become the dominant technology in areas such as transactional printing, where the ability to customize each form using variable data makes inkjet the ideal choice. Wide format is now dominated by digital technologies, as the cost of printing a few items is far less than screen printing. 


The narrow web and label market is another area where digital technologies have made headway, and digital printing press manufacturers such as Fujifilm, HP and Landa are taking aim at the offset market.


Inkjet ink manufacturers are continuing to see growth in all of these markets, and they are seeing opportunities in new areas such as packaging.


In 2013, EFI sold more than a million liters of inkjet ink for the second consecutive year, and its VUTEk and Jetrion press lines continue to enjoy growth. Stephen Emery, vice president, ink business and Jetrion Industrial Inkjet, EFI, said that the first quarter of 2014 marked the 18th consecutive quarter of double-digit growth in inkjet ink sales for EFI, at 25% year over year growth. 


“For us, 2013 marked our second consecutive year of over 1 million liters of ink sold. Ink sales are growing faster than equipment sales, which means our customers are consuming more ink across the board, in narrow web and wide format,” Emery added.

Photo courtesy of Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd.

Emery noted that the packaging market is growing on two fronts.


“First, there is a narrow web label and packaging market that will continue to accelerate,” Emery said. “We’ve combined a number of features on our Jetrion presses, such as a very high-quality white ink, dual-configuration in-line laser cutting and cool cure LED platform, that really boost the value proposition of inkjet in the packaging space to a place where it has never been before. 


“The digital printing segment for corrugated and folding carton packaging is starting to take shape now as well,” Emery added. “While it is not a strong market yet, EFI is developing more of a marketing focus toward those applications because converters – and businesses that want to get into that part of the converting market – are starting to make definitive moves in to migrate some corrugated and carton work to the digital space. 


“Aside from the core markets in applications like point-of-purchase and out-of-home signage, there is real strength in commercial printing market as a key customer base for wide- and superwide-format inkjet graphics technologies,” Emery concluded. “Many offset printing businesses are already experts at helping their customers build their brand, but they need new ways to break out of lower-margin products. They see the opportunity in inkjet graphics, and I think commercial printing businesses will start to define more of what the inkjet graphics market looks like over time.”


Peter Saunders, business director – Digital, Sun Chemical, said that SunJet, the inkjet division of Sun Chemical, grew strongly in the past year, and widened its product and technology portfolio to meet the demands of existing and emerging markets.


“We have seen continued growth in wide and super-wide formats in the graphics market,” Saunders said. “Narrow web and label opportunities have increased as digital press capabilities are being realized. Imprinting and personalized print applications have grown in all geographies, and we have seen deployment of systems designed for commercial print and publication markets using aqueous ink technology. We have been able to capitalize on our vertically integrated strengths in aqueous and

Photo courtesy of Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd.

non-aqueous inkjet applications that leverage our technical expertise in pigments, dispersions, polymers and formulation chemistry know-how, combined with our understanding of print applications.”


DuPont Digital Printing holds leading positions in the OEM inkjet field, and the company continues to enjoy growth.


“The DuPont Digital Printing business enjoyed healthy growth in 2013 in several key market segments,” said Brian Albans, global business manager, DuPont Digital Printing. “We commercialized a new pigment ink technology platform for high speed commercial printing that enhanced color strength and productivity, and expanded our capabilities for future innovation with a new R&D facility in Japan. We expanded production at our Ft. Madison, IA facility in the U.S. and by building a new facility in Singapore to support the strong, continued growth in the Asia Pacific region.


“The strongest markets for digital printing include commercial, high-speed office, and emerging applications such as packaging,” Albans continued. “Many factors drive growth in these segments, such as greater demand for customization, shorter runs and the need for continued cost reductions.”


Karla Witte, vice president of product development for INX Digital, reported that INX Digital’s business last year was very good. 


“Our growth plan for 2014 is on track through the first quarter,” Witte said. “Digital printing involves many more markets beyond the sign and graphics industry where it all began. That market remains considerably strong, and future growth is likely to come from the light industrial and packaging markets.”


Ruth Zach, marketing coordinator for Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd., noted that Bordeaux is an independent inkjet ink developer and manufacturer focused on the wide format digital printing market. 


“The wide format market is a steady market with a strong demand for high quality yet affordable inks,” Zach said. “The demand in 2013 was similar to previous years but the market is less tolerant of low level or private label ink products. The recognition in recent years that premium inks can be as good as the original is already common knowledge and Bordeaux has a significant role in educating the end-users. Bordeaux not only offers high quality ink solutions for every wide format digital printing technology such as Eco solvent, Mild solvent, UV and dye sub, but also provides printer specific solutions that include chip and compatible packaging or Smart cartridge solution for bulk ink management, which eliminates all obstacles of switching from original ink.”


Sensient is active in industrial textile inkjet printing, an area where inkjet is making gains.


“This is an industry that is now taking advantage of the availability of faster and faster printers, which is boosting the digitalization of the industry and thus our business,” said Dr. Christophe Bulliard, commercial director, Sensient Imaging Technologies SA. ““We are following essentially industrial printing and we see this segment as growing,”


Chris Cudzilo, Wikoff Color’s inkjet business development manager, said that 2013 was a good one for Wikoff Color’s inkjet business. 


“We added more people to our development team, and the new manufacturing and R&D facilities are state-of-the art,” said Cudzilo. “The heightened visibility led to increased sales, and, more importantly, increased our ink development projects significantly. The growing demand for energy curable inks in the industrial print market was a key reason for our inkjet investment and we have not been disappointed.


“Opportunities exist across most segments of digital printing, and will continue to growth as the demand for product customization increases,” Cudzilo added.


Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager for FUJIFILM North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division, reported that inkjet ink is one of the fastest growing segments in Fujifilm’s portfolio. 


“We are extremely pleased with the results,” Nelson added. He added that commercial print and sign and display are among the strongest markets for printing.


“Our inkjet business continues to grow at a decent clip,” said Lawrence Gamblin, president of Collins Inkjet. “Wide format, transactional, direct mail continue to be strong and are dominated by the major equipment manufacturers. Ceramics and textiles continue to do well. Packaging, including label printing, is just starting to really take off.”


“Our business sales were flat for 2013,” Michael Andreottola, president, American Ink Jet Corporation, said. “However, 75% of our sales were for new products developed within the last year. I think that the strongest markets continue to be in the proofing and POP segments; however, I am seeing a shift to the high speed web printing, which is taking over for the more traditional types of printing.” 


Key Growth Markets


Not surprisingly, digital printing is pretty much growing in every market, and inkjet ink is expanding with it. One such area is UV LED inks.


Saunders noted that UV LED and water-based inkjet inks are areas of growth for inkjet ink manufacturers.


“We are seeing significant growth in UV LED,” Saunders said. “There is significant regional demand for UV LED, and many bigger players in the market are looking at UV LED because of its environmental benefits. Over the years, as lamp and ink technology have advanced, at SunJet we have developed a series of graphic inks, which fully cure with LED UV exposure. We also have inks for imprinting applications,which use exclusively LED lamps in single pass. In narrow web applications, we have inks that are tuned to either use LED lamps to ‘pin’ drops, for print quality optimization, or can be fully cured with correctly selected lamps. The SunJet UV LED inks are part of the Crystal and EtiJet product ranges. 


“We also see aqueous ink technology as a great opportunity for the future. In the very near future, we expect aqueous to move mainstream. We believe it has the potential to leapfrog solvent inkjet inks,” Saunders added. “The latex inks market is also growing. Recent developments in this field have opened the industry’s eyes to water-containing inks. Solvent and eco-solvent are products that Sun Chemical markets under the Streamline brand, and although arguably the development of ink technology has peaked, the Streamline aftermarket business is growing strongly and Sun Chemical is developing a structure to increase share in the U.S. market. In terms of the pace of technology development, UV LED, UV inks as a whole, and aqueous inks are central to our R&D focus.”


“Our LED inks continue to be the fastest-growing ink product as our existing and new customers adapt this technology and further broaden their printing applications,” Emery said. “We see significant growth opportunities in the narrow web label market for digital printing as the label market continues its march down the analog-to-digital transformation path. The addition of inline die cutting on our narrow web Jetrion printers is also driving more digital volume due to the increased productivity and convenience of this capability. This growth is also driven by the need for shorter runs, faster turn times and an increased number of SKUs to address smaller and smaller target markets, events and regional and seasonal differences. 


“We also see continued growth in wide format and superwide format for many of the same reasons,” Emery added. “These printers are creating out-of-home advertising, POP, packaging mock-ups, interior décor and much, much more. The ability to cost effectively produce these materials in shorter runs and with higher quality than has been possible in the past opens the door for marketers and print businesses to come up with new and different ways to use the technology. As the world’s largest producer of industrial UV inkjet inks, the consistent double-digit growth of our ink sales is validation of these trends.”


Saunders said that inkjet is growing in all markets, even in well-established sectors such as wide format graphics, with packaging and commercial printing markets emerging.


“Variable data markets in China, for instance, are seeing tremendous growth due to the need for supply chain traceability,” Saunders added. “If we talk about future opportunities, packaging applications and commercial print markets are a real focus for us in ink technology and for our partners in hardware development. Both of these areas require UV inks and aqueous inks, depending on the end applications, and maybe even hybrids of the two in some cases.”


“Overall, inkjet printing is a rapidly growing industry, and we will continue to see rapid growth,” said Cudzilo. “Digital printing is in or entering so many different markets that we should look at each segment separately. The largest digital printing segment for inkjet, sign and graphics, is not growing at the rate it used to. Digital label printing entered the market last year and is beginning to gain exposure while seeing nice growth and the industrial print space is growing at a good pace.”


“We are seeing robust growth in the textile, commercial and high-speed office inkjet printing segments.  DuPont continues to invest to support that growth, for example with the 2013 expansion of our black ink production capacity in Ft. Madison, IA,” Albans said. 

“Existing markets appear to be growing at historical levels,” said Gamblin. “Some of the newer market segments appear to be emerging and growing at a rapid pace.”


“We are seeing rapid growth in all areas, with sign and display and packaging leading the way,” Nelson said.
“In the graphic arts sector, Bordeaux noticed a higher demand for printer specific solutions,” Zach said. “Bordeaux is active mainly in the wide format digital printing market. Within this sector, Bordeaux is seeing a rise in UV printing applications and also in soft signage, which is cheaper to ship and is not sensitive to folding and rolling. In UV, Bordeaux offers ink products for a wider range of UV printers.
“The end users are eager for solutions which are plug & play and do not require going inside the printer,” Zach said. “Since each printer has its proprietary features, it is mandatory to provide a solution which is fully compatible with the specific printers and which does not require technician time to install or operate.”
“We have experienced significant growth with UV and water-based inks,” Witte said. “While there is a trend towards UV and water-based inks, global market demands continue to show preference for our superwide and wide format solvent inks.”
“I see tremendous growth in the digital inkjet business,” Andreottola said. “Most of our growth is in the digital publishing business, such as high speed web printing and publishing.”
“In terms of size, labels and commercial printing must be well ahead of the pack,” Dr. Bulliard said.


“I see tremendous growth in the digital inkjet business,” Andreottola said. “Most of our growth is in the digital publishing business, such as high speed web printing and publishing.”


Anticipation for the Next Five Years


With these new markets in mind and the advances being made in digital technology, it is understandable that inkjet ink suppliers are optimistic about the potential growth of their business in the medium (five years) and long term into fields such as commercial printing and packaging.


“Over the next five years, large and small brands will start to demand more flexibility from their packaging suppliers,” said Cudzilo. “On demand manufacturing, mass customization and target marketing will drive the need for new digital systems to meet this demand. I do not see traditional printing going away in these markets any time soon; however, digital will bring new capabilities to both markets.” 


“Digital printing will continue to expand in all areas,” said Gamblin. “At the moment there appear to be more printer and printhead manufacturers than the market justifies. I expect we will see a rapid development of new chemistries and new business models that enable rapid growth in all major print segments.” 


“It is expected that packaging will move faster into digital printing, bearing in mind however that even for special events where specific design may be wished, jobs runs are still quite large,” Dr. Bulliard said.


“DuPont Digital Printing is celebrating a major milestone this year with our 25th anniversary of developing and manufacturing inkjet inks,” Albans said. “DuPont was at the forefront of the industry with the first home desktop inkjet printers in 1989, the first pigment ink for desktop printing in the early 1990s, and the first textile roll-to-roll printers in 2004. As we look forward over the next five years, we expect the adoption of inkjet digital printing to accelerate in commercial and packaging as new technologies enable faster printing on multiple substrates.


“Longer term, we will continue to explore new opportunities to advance the technology,” Albans added. “By leveraging our insights and experience, and by continuing to work closely with our customers, we are looking forward to what the next 25 years will bring.” 

“We expect both markets to show rapid double-digit growth, year over year,” Nelson said.


“I see expediential growth for digital printing in the traditional packaging and sheetfed markets,” Andreottola said. “I am really excited about what is going on in the market place.”


“INX is a global leader in the packaging market,” Witte said. “Our focus is to support this market segment and its customer base as it transitions from traditional methods to digital, specifically in the short run arena. Our EVOLVE Advance Digital Solutions brand line of equipment and products is proving to be very popular since it helps people make the transition from traditional to digital printing. We’ve been very successful the last three years and expect that trend to continue for the immediate future as word continues to spread about our capabilities.”


“Our outlook continues to project growth in a manner that reflects the industry-wide transition from analog to digital print,” Emery said. “We are seeing it not only in the signage and label and packaging markets, but also in industrial applications like ceramic tile decoration.”


“We expect to see solid continued growth in the narrow web markets,” Saunders concluded. “We also expect to see more cartons digitally printed, and we could potentially see some flexible packaging inroads being made.”


For more information on inkjet inks, including new technologies, see the online version of this story at www.inkworldmagazine.com.


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