Vehicles and Varnishes

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 10.07.09

Developing products are key to creating new markets and spurring growth

Varnishes and vehicles play a critical role in ink manufacturing. While pigments provide the color and are most noticeable, varnishes and vehicles are responsible for carrying the pigments to the substrate and making sure that the ink has the essential properties that printers require.

A varnish and a vehicle are essentially the same thing.However, those who formulate offset inks, and flushes for offset inks, usually use the term varnish to denote the mixture of resin components and additives that are used to disperse pigment or complete the ink formula.Solvent- and water-based flexographic and gravure ink formulators (and those who manufacture pigment dispersions for these inks) use the term vehicles to address this blend.

“Varnishes and vehicles affect the final properties of the ink, such as printability, resistance properties and visual characteristics. Selection of components for the varnish/vehicle depends on the type of press being used to print the ink, as well as the substrate being printed on,” said Lisa Hahn, president of Flexo-Tech, Columbus, OH. Gloss, misting, tack and rheology are just a few of the properties controlled by varnishes and vehicles.

There are two key types of varnishes and vehicles. Letdown vehicles complete the ink, providing the properties that the ink needs. Grind vehicles are used to disperse the pigments, thus creating a concentrated color base.

Varnishes and vehicles are known throughout the industry as the “backbone” of the ink, and ink manufacturers are always looking for new resins and additives to improve the functionality of these components in their ink systems. It is a challenge that varnish and vehicle manufacturers continually strive to meet.

A Slow Year in 2001

As was the case in the ink industry, varnish and vehicle manufacturers saw little growth in 2001, as ink companies tried new approaches ranging from captive production to new systems.

“As most of the industry experienced, 2001 was a slow year for varnish growth,” said Marc Owens, business manager for ink vehicles at Lawter International. “More companies moved to internal manufacture of their varnish, causing an overall shrinking of the varnish market. Another major cause of the slow market for varnishes was the large number of companies that moved to resin solutions, thereby eliminating many of the more ‘traditional’ type varnishes. However, Lawter was able to adjust to the resin solution trend as we manufacture our own resins and resin solutions.

“The alkyd market was also affected as ink makers moved away from formulating alkyds into their new heatset inks,” Mr. Owens said. “Lawter adapted to this shift by creating two new alkyd lines, Cinerkyd 5 and the Terkyd Series.

“While the Terkyd Series offered an excellent price/performance ratio, the Cinerkyd 5 created a demand for a product that was truly unique in the market,” Mr. Owens continued. “Its wide range of applications, combined with its overall performance properties, allowed Lawter to give our customers the ability to vary many individual ink formulations while using only one alkyd.”

Mr. Owens said that the sheetfed ink market was not immune from the economic downturn in printing.

“The sheetfed varnish market was also soft due to the drop in overall printing demand in 2001,” Mr. Owens said. “Lawter’s customers indicated that both economics and differentiation were needed in their ink systems. Our Excelith sheetfed gel captured both of these areas. Excelith’s performance is among the best sheetfed systems on the market, but it also manages to maintain an excellent economical model to give the ink maker the ability to have the best of both worlds. Another route that Lawter used to combat the soft sheetfed market was to stress our broad UV lines. Lawter offers hybrid UV varnishes and many different UV additives such as anti-mist agents, tack reducers and bodying agents.”

As the economy slumped, pressure on raw material prices increased. Nasry Rizk, director of marketing and business development at Carroll Scientific, Inc., expects that pressure to continue.

“Although oil prices have softened a little, raw material suppliers were reluctant to reduce prices partly because the market has been depressed,” Dr. Rizk said. “It is expected that pressure to reduce raw material prices will continue.”

Thoughts on 2002

Varnish and vehicle manufacturers are anticipating a better year as 2002 progresses.

“We see an increased demand for specific vehicles designed to meet very precise ink performance requirements,” said Dr. Rizk. “Carroll Scientific continues to foster new business relationships by meeting very specific customer requests.Some of our newer developments can be used as additive vehicles to enhance the performance of a given system.”

“As Lawter moves into 2002, we expect to see the varnish market start to recover,” Mr. Owens said. “Lawter will continue to stress their commitment to the ink maker, and continue to work hand-in-hand with their customers to develop specific solutions to their ink formulation needs. We are also continuing our work with our parent company, Eastman Chemical, to explore synergistic effects of the myriad of Eastman resources. Lawter and Eastman are committed to the ink industry, and we will continue to offer new and exciting technologies in the upcoming year.”

As varnish and vehicle manufacturers look ahead to 2002 and beyond, it is clear that new systems will continue to be essential to their success in the printing ink market.

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