Metallic and Special Effect Pigments for Ink

By Kerry Pianoforte, Ink World Associate Editor | 10.09.09

Despite a sluggish start to the year the metallic and special effect ink market has experienced modest growth, with many companies optimistic that the coming year will bring increased growth and recovery.

“The beginning of the year started slowly, but every month since then business has steadily picked up,” said Norbert Hobrath, director of marketing communication, Eckart America. “We’re now back to the levels we were previously at, which is a good sign. This effort is being assisted by the new products we are regularly introducing into the market.”

“In general we the use of metallics in the industrial inks increasing modestly over last year,” said Peter Stone, marketing manager, inks and plastics at Silberline. “The market is growing more aggressively in niche area such as for metallic pigmented UV inks.”

“We are definitely seeing 2002 building toward a positive recovery from last year’s decline in metallic ink purchases, as excess product inventories are finally run down and the economic mood improves,” said Elise M. Balsamo, marketing manager, MD-Both. “There is renewed and enthusiastic interest in metallic inks and effects this year.”

EM Industries, which manufactures pearlescent pigments which are incorporated into inks to give them a pearl or liquid metal effect, has witnessed growth in the printing industry. “EM has seen a growth in the printing industry this year, despite a slow economy,” said Aram Terzian, director of sales, plastics and printing, EM Industries. “As for future expectations, consumer product companies are always looking for new and different effects for their design options. Therefore the demand for pearl is continuously on the rise.”

Because of their eye-catching appeal, metallic and special effect inks are traditionally used in the packaging and label market.

Silberline’s products are used primarily in liquid and paste inks for consumer packaging and publication printing applications, according to Mr. Stone.

“Anywhere you want to enhance the package design, metallics add that prestige,” said Mr. Hobrath.

According to Mr. Terzian of EM, pearl effects are used mainly in consumer packaging, wallpaper, gift wrap and decorative paper. “Pearl gives a soft effect which often comes in use in printing applications for the feminine care industry.”

Stephane Rochard, global marketing manager, automotive and industrial effect pigments at Engelhard, said the major areas for metallics are the packaging market, security inks and wall covering markets. “These are three major segments we see the most activity,” Mr. Rochard said.

Metallic and special effect pigment companies are beginning to branch out into new areas.

“There is no limit to the markets and applications for metallic inks,” said Ms. Balsamo. “The only limitations lie in the imagination of the graphic designer. Metallic inks are used in a multitude of commercial printing applications: high-end brochures and catalogs, greeting cards, gift wrap, book covers and advertisements. Food, beverage, cosmetic and many other product packaging applications also use a tremendous amount of metallic inks for flexible packaging, labels, folding carton and corrugated board.”

New Products

Many companies have been busy this year developing a wide array of new products that are giving their customers new colors and more styling options.

MD-Both introduced Mirasheen. a vacuum metallized leafing aluminum ink, last year. “The bright printed foil-like effect rivals foil stamping and we have seen many successful uses of our product in conventional sheetfed printing applications, as well as packaging applications,” said Ms. Balsamo.

MD-Both also introduced its SuperFusion UV/sheetfed hybrid metallic ink series, which provides the printability characteristics of conventional inks coupled with the high gloss levels achieved with UV inks, according to Ms. Balsamo. In addition, MD-Both has made improvements to is Unipak SuperLitho metallic ink series, and launched Aquamet leafing and Metaface non-leafing aluminum pigments, designed for use in water-based systems that are stabilized to prevent gassing and are easy to disperse.

Silberline has plans to launch several new products during 2003. “Our development efforts continue to focus on providing metallic pigments that promote the best aesthetic qualities while giving the ink formulator the most flexibility,” said Mr. Stone. “We are continuing to avoid developing finished inks, but rather are focusing on aluminum pigments that add value to the ink formulator. Among our products scheduled for introduction are passivated aluminum pigments with enhanced stability in one pack UV inks; easy to handle, zero VOC inhibited aluminum pigments for aqueous inks and smaller particle size, brilliant non-leafing aluminum pigments for fluid inks.”

Some of EM Industries’ newest products include Afflair 305 solar gold, an intense and brilliant new gold pigment with a particle size of 10-60 µm. Ultra Interference pigments which are TiO2- and mica-based, provide a flip flop effect. Bi-Flair is a bismuth oxychloride pigment for liquid metal effects. Colorstream multi-color effect pigments are a new generation of pigments based on silicon dioxide.

“All of our pigments can be used in most printing applications, water- or solvent-based systems,” said Mr. Terzian. “Iriodin Pearlets, a new family of value-added products provides benefits to the user such as considerable time and labor savings, ease in achieving the unique Iriodin effect and optimized ink manufacturing. Pearlets is offered in a limited number of products for water, solvent and UV applications.”

Eckart has introduced a new line called Topstar, ultra bright, ultra clean metallic colors. There are seven colors in the family. “They are not made with conventional aluminum pigments but are manufactured with Metalure,” said Mr. Hobrath. “Metalure is an aluminum dispersion that’s produced with vacuum metallizing. It is an ultra bright silver dispersion. That is the basis for Topstar and we mix in colors to give the different colored inks that look. Those colors can also be mixed and you have an unbelievable palette of colors available to you. The packaging industry is very interested in this product.”

Eckart has also developed a special color in the line called TopStar Brilliant, a leafing silver that creates a mirror-like surface.

“For the flexo and gravure market we have a sister product to Topstar called Ultrastar,” said Mr. Hobrath. “This is receiving wide acclaim in the flexo and gravure market. Ultrastar really can deliver a foil-like look depending on the substrate. It can also be used on flexible packaging, including clear polyfilm, so the user achieves a metallic look. This has got the packaging people very excited where the metallic can be printed in-line versus costly metallized foil or foil stamping.

“We have also seen very good potential in the rotary screen market, especially labels,” said Mr. Hobrath. “We have developed two new products, the Rotostar 825 Series and Ultrastar Brilliant silver. Because screenprinting uses a larger particle size they can get a look for labels similar to a dusting metallic.”

“We always try to be as innovative as possible with new products,” said Mr. Rochard. “We try to bring added value to our products. The idea is to bring more than just an effect and differentiate our products. Every year we target two to three new products to the market.”

Engelhard’s latest offering is Lumina brass pigment, a mica-based, non-metallic effect pigment that brings a metallic gold effect to inks. It features increased chromaticity, higher color purity and more brightness and hiding powder than traditional non-metallic metallic brass colors, according to the company.

Lumina brass is based on tight mica particle-size distribution and a multi-layer coating technology. A non-reactive and non-tarnishing pigment, Lumina Brass is compatible with both solvent- and water-based liquid coatings as well as powder coatings. It processes easily in injection molding, blow mold or extrusion processing, and can also be used in inks for gravure, flexo and screen printing processes, according to the company.


Although there are many advantages to using metallic and special effect pigments, many printers are simply not aware of these pigments’ versatility.

“One of the challenges is educating printers and converters on what they
can do with metallics,” said Mr. Hobrath. “When they take new products to the market such as Ultrastar, many people are not even aware that they have an cost effective alternative to using foil stamping or metallized papers until we can show them.”

“There has always been a stigma attached to metallic inks, primarily that metallic inks are more difficult and high-maintenance to work with,” said Ms. Balsamo. “MD-Both has been working hard to correct this misconception over the last several years with many product improvements and enhancements, excellent R&D efforts and a skilled technical support team. We are making good progress in our efforts to increase the comfort level associated with using metallic inks.”

“The biggest challenge for mica- based pigments is the particle size,” said Mr. Terzian. “The printing application determine which particle size range can be used. Another solution to this situation is our Bi-Flair products. Bi-Flair provides ultimate luster and the right particle size range for most printing applications.”

The Future

Many manufacturers have plans to penetrate new markets with new products and an increased focus on customer and technical service.

Ms. Balsamo said MD-Both will continue to focus on working one-on-one with its customers by offering the services of its sales team, technical support team and product managers.

“We want to leverage our domestic production facilities,” said Mr. Hobrath. “We have both a bronze pigment production facility and an aluminum pigment production facility. In addition, we also have a domestic ink manufacturing operation in our Painesville, OH location. This year we added a new sheetfed ink filling line so now we can offer bronze and aluminum pigments and inks, all made here in the States.

“We also plan to grow by supporting sales and marketing activities that educate designers, brand owners and printers/converters,” said Mr. Hobrath. “We want to let them know that there are new alternatives available for their designs. We can show people cost-effective ways to use metallic inks. We are taking this approach in new business development, with a strong presence at trade shows.”