Vehicles and Varnishes

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 09.09.05

While pricing pressures continue, manufacturers look for ways to differentiate their products.

As was the case with most raw materials suppliers to the ink industry, vehicle and varnish manufacturers found 2002 to be similar to 2001.

Vendors found that the slowdown in the economy translated into further price constraints. Meanwhile, the costs of the basic ingredients for varnishes are going up, which is putting suppliers in a bind. For varnish manufacturers, the key is to develop technologies that are unique and provide advantages to ink manufacturers.

The Role Vehicles Play
Vehicles and varnishes play an essential role in the characteristics of a printing ink, so much so that they are referred to as the “backbone” of an ink and have a wide variety of roles to perform.

“Basically, the role vehicle plays is to get the pigment onto the substrate to the customer’s satisfaction,” said Andy Grabacki, vice president of sales at General Press Colors, Ltd. “It seems simple, but in reality it becomes quite complicated. It must first be able to be easily made into an ink. Second, it has to flow satisfactorily through the press roller system. Third, it has to emulsify within a predictable range to make the lithographic process perform. Fourth, it has to have a low misting potential. Fifth, it must produce the desired print properties (i.e. set speed, gloss, dot gain, etc.) Finally, it has to perform all of the above within price and compatibility limits.”

The role of vehicles and varnishes with pigments is particularly important, as pigments are the most costly ingredient in printing inks.

“A vehicle is the matrix in which the pigment particles are embedded,” said Dr. Nasry Rizk, director of marketing and business development at Carroll Scientific. “A vehicle can make or break an ink and is responsible for delivering the desired ink performance on and post press. Also, ink makers count on the varnish to extract the maximum benefit out of the pigment, which is the most expensive ingredient in an ink.”

“As price pressures continue to mount in the pigment areas, technologically advanced varnishes are needed to coax the maximum amount of pigment strength from both flush and dry pigments,” said Marc Owens, product/marketing manager for varnishes and wax compounds at Eastman Resins. “Eastman expects to see the flushing and grinding areas of varnish manufacture make tremendous strides in the upcoming year.”

Pricing Concerns
As is the case with suppliers of pigments and resins, manufacturers of vehicles and varnishes are facing price pressures on both sides. Ink customers don’t want to pay more for the ingredients, and the costs for the raw materials needed to manufacture vehicles and varnishes are increasing.

“Raw material costs for varnishes continue to escalate,” Mr. Owens said. “Linseed oil and soybean oil pricing have risen sharply in the last few months. Energy costs have also resisted any urge to relieve pressure. Increasing price pressures such as these continue to place an immense strain on the pricing in the varnish market.”

“Rosin is steady but is very dependent on the global price of gum rosin from China,” said John Schultz, Akzo Nobel Resins’ commercial manager, North America. “Many of the commodity raw materials, like soybean and linseed oil, have already increased dramatically. The petroleum-based oils are trending upwards as war with Iraq threatens and the situation in Venezuela unfolds.”

Recent Trends
As pricing becomes even more of a concern, then it is up to the vehicle and varnish manufacturers to make their products stand out. Determining the needs of their ink customers is the clear first step. One emerging area of growth is hybrid ink technology, and varnish manufacturers are working to meet new demands.

“One of the most recent trends is that hybrid ink technology has made concrete inroads in the printing market, establishing itself as the method of choice when applying a UV coating over a conventional ink in a single pass,” said Dr. Rizk.

“One of the most exciting developments in printing are the co-cure/hybrid inks,” said John Jilek, president-again of Inksolutions, a specialty niche, technical and service-oriented vehicle company specializing in lithographic vehicles, overprint varnishes and additives. “This area, along with other unique products, is where we are putting our emphasis. We’re able to concentrate on the specialized products along with quick, customized service that our customers deserve.”

Improved press properties and low prices remain an important goal.

“Ink companies are looking for exceptional performance at a good price,” said Mr. Schultz.

“Ink companies in general are looking for better flow properties without misting on higher speed presses,” said Mr. Grabacki. “Pricing is critical so the pigment wetting characteristics cannot be ignored as the object is to get the best color value per unit of pigment. With the advent of newer measurement techniques, the ink makers are now ‘zeroing in’ on the attributes of vehicle systems that produce better inks.”

“As competition and price pressures continue to mount on both printers and ink makers, they are looking to reduce cost elements wherever possible,” said Mr. Owens. “Varnishes designed to withstand the ever-increasing press speeds and varnishes which can be utilized on a number of different presses are becoming the primary concerns of our ink customers. Both of these areas allow the ink maker to obtain the most value from their varnish, and subsequently their ink.

“With our level of backward integration combined with Eastman’s excellent understanding of manufacturing and process management, we expect to continue to be able to give ink makers a reliable, consistent partner that is committed to the ink industry long-term,” Mr. Owens added.

Opportunities for 2003
Even with the concerns over pricing pressures, varnish manufacturers remain optimistic about 2003. “We are optimistic the market will be good for 2003,” Mr. Grabacki said. “Heatset seems to have rebounded some from 2001 and 2002.” “Eastman expects 2003 to be a noticeable improvement over 2002,” Mr. Owens said.

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