It’s clear that the packaging and digital sides of the printing industry are showing the strongest growth, and the commercial and publication sides are declining. These trends have led to subsequent patterns in the ink industry as well.
One way that these trends have manifested themselves is in the acquisition of smaller packaging ink specialists, which I have covered in the past. Another way to look at it is in the release of new ink technologies.
It is no secret that many of the larger ink companies have cut their R&D budgets in the face of the economic downturn of 2008-09. As a result, ink formulators have to focus on areas where there is growth. Putting it another way, if the market for news inks is in decline, investing significant time and money into the segment makes little financial sense. Even if a company increases its market share, inevitably sales will go down, and the ROI just won’t be there.
Thus, ink companies are putting their R&D efforts into growth areas for printing, which makes a lot of sense. Packaging and UV inks are a key growth area. For example, the UV LED market is strong, as printers look at the advantages of LED curing. UV LED installations are reportedly on the rise, and ink companies have had to develop technologies that cure at the right wavelength.
Flint Group has done a lot work in this area. At Labelexpo Europe 2013, the company received the Award for Innovation at The Label Industry Global Awards in for its EkoCure UV LED ink technologies, which it developed with Mark Andy. In the last two months, Flint Group has launched EkoCure UV LED coatings for flexo, EkoCure UV LED shrink whites for shrink sleeve applications, EkoCure UV LED Metallics and two new UV LED Rotary Screen Whites in the last few months. Siegwerk also developed UV inks for LED curing.
Low migration inks are another key area of interest, as food packaging companies are understandably nervous about potential scares in packaging. Sun Chemical introduced its SunPak LMQ inks for food, tobacco and pharmaceutical packaging, where low migration characteristics are essential. Flint Group launched its Lithocure ANCORA low migration inks for label and food packaging, which the company notes is a tested low migration solution. Other recent LED inks have been developed by INX International (INXFlex UV CLMII Low Migration Process inks).
Along the lines of flexible packaging, shrink sleeves are a growth area, with 7% growth being reported. In addition to its UV LED inks for shrink sleeves, Flint Group released its Ultraking Shrink U family of UV and EB curable offset inks. The company notes that the U stands for universal, as it can be used on a wide variety of substrates. For printers looking to cut inventory – imagine having hundreds of different inks left over from press runs – a universal ink is a positive development.
INX International Ink Co. has been active in the shrink ink segment area as well, with its new INXFlex UV ITX-free Shrink 70 Process inks and the solvent-based gravure Etona and ShrinkPac F ink systems for PETG and OPS applications.
Retort packaging Is a growth area, as consumers look for ease of use in cooking. Toyo Ink America, LLC brought its REXTA solvent-based flexo lamination ink for high-pressure, high heat boil and retort applications to the U.S. market. This is a new development, as gravure is typically the process used for retort applications, and these inks are Swiss Ordinance-compliant, which is key for food packaging. The company also developed RIVET, a solvent-based flexo lamination ink for general-purpose packaging applications. Siegwerk also developed nitrocellulose-based flexo inks for flexoible packaging.
Sustainability is important, and Siegwerk has been active in this field with UniRICS, a water-based ink system with 10% to 20% renewable raw materials for corrugated post print and preprint applications.
“To formulate this premium quality ink, a totally new polymer, a ‘hybrid’ of bio-monomers and ‘standard oil derivate’ acrylic monomers, is utilized,” said Herbert Forker, Siegwerk’s CEO. “To increase the renewable content of our ink even more, without losing performance or increasing costs, Siegwerk will further research this hybrid technology.”
INX launched new water-based flexo inks for labels, including the AquaTech ION-T Thermal series for thermal laser printers; the ION-P Paper series; and the ION Film Glow & Sheen Metallic series for Prime Label, semi-gloss and EDP substrates, as well as most treated films and foils.
With an eye on catching the attention of consumers, Pulse Roll Label Products launched a new series of UV curable fluorescent inks aimed at flexo labels.
It makes sense that ink manufacturers are focusing their attention on growth printing markets, and judging by these new products, packaging and UV are receiving he most attention from R&D departments.