The ABCs of Ink

By Kerry Pianoforte, Ink World Associate Editor | 10.14.09

Education is key when it comes to the ink industry.

Keeping informed about the latest technology and formulations is key to staying ahead in the complex world of the ink industry. Luckily, there are a variety of ink education courses out there to help. From the press operator who needs to understand how certain types of inks will run on a particular press to the chemist who wants to learn the latest in ink formulation to the sales person who needs to have a basic understanding of the entire process, education is of the utmost importance.

NPIRI Summer Course

For more than 30 years, the National Printing Ink Research Institute (NPIRI), an arm of the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM), has held “Intro to Printing Ink Technology” in the Sinclair Memorial Laboratory at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. This course is attended by “highly educated, highly motivated professionals,” according to Rich Incontro, technical coordinator for NAPIM.

Scheduled this year for July 20-25, the focus of the course is on technical aspects of ink and offers participants a full week of immersion into the world of ink. The course is a combination of 25 to 30 respected lecturers speaking on a variety of subjects including viscosity evaluation and color evaluation, hands-on lab work and a visit to two print shops.

“You will feel like you’re living inside an ink company for a week,” said Mr. Incontro.

Following NPIRI’s intro summer course is its advanced course. The advanced course changes topics every year. Set for July 27-30, this year’s topic is “Liquid Ink Vehicles and Ink Substrate Evaluation.”

“The advanced course is all lectures focusing on a specific attribute of the ink industry,” said Lisa Hahn, president of Flexo Tech, who has conducted the NAPIM courses. “This year we go into liquid ink vehicles.”

The advanced course features experts in the field and question and answer sessions where participants will have the opportunity to “build” an ink.

Another course that is offered by NAPIM utilizes the FlexSys press simulator. FlexSys allows students to train, troubleshoot and diagnose flexo printing problems, without wasting materials and paper. “You can set up scenarios on the computer,” said Ms. Hahn “You can actually pull proofs.”

“Our FlexSys courses have received a lot of interest,” said Ms. Hahn. “We are holding classes with 10 to 12 participants who want to learn more about flexography. It familiarizes ink makers with the actual variables that occur on the press, and what effect changing a variable will have on print quality.”

John Meadows, scientist 2 at UCB Surface Specialties, attended one of the FlexSys courses and said he came away impressed with the system’s ability to simulate changes in variables such as ink formulations, doctor blade pressure, press configurations, wettability of blankets and many other possibilities.

“The software was extremely helpful, and it was good to have a more hands-on approach,” Mr. Meadows said. “With FlexSys, you can look at printability effects through changing different parameters, and as a raw material supplier, it’s important to see how a pressman looks at the process.”

The next FlexSys class will most likely be held early this summer.

Understanding the Big Picture

Printing press operators need to have an understanding of not just how to operate a press, but they need to have a solid background in ink formulations and how it relates to the substrate.

Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, WI offers four different printing programs. Printing and publishing and flexographic processing are two-year associate degree programs, and printing and flexo printing are one-year technical diploma programs. Students in lithographic programs take “Ink and Substrates” and flexo students take “Flexographic Inks and Substrates.”

“Basically we have very strong programs in flexographic and lithographic,” said Dale Drake an instructor at Fox Valley. “That’s what sets us apart. Our facility is unique in that we have state-of-the-art equipment in both flexo and litho. We have about $10 million worth of equipment and our oldest press is only six years old.

“In those courses specifically with regards to ink, students will learn mixing and color matching and also how to measure color,” said Mr. Drake, who added that all printing students are required to take “Color Theory.”

The majority of Fox Valley’s printing students are between the ages of 18 to 22. “About 75 percent of our students are traditional,” said Mr. Drake. “The rest are people making career changes. That has been very prevalent right now. There has been an influx of older students because of the economy.”

The courses at Fox Valley give students a broad knowledge base on inks and how they fit into the printing process.

“We really take a look at how ink fits into the overall manufacturing process,” said Mr. Drake. “We explore how that fits in all the way along, both from color matching and costs and estimation considerations to different inks on different substrates. We look at the big picture and how ink fits into that.”

According to Mr. Drake, energy curables is one of the most important emerging technologies. “We have UV curable stations on one of our flexo presses,” he said. “We are exploring the possibility of adding it to the lithographic press.”

Besides offering a traditional printing course, Fox Valley offers business and industry training seminars in flexo and litho. Those are offered at the Graphic Arts Center of Excellence on Fox Valley’s campus and run throughout the year. In addition, the college does customized training.

“We do a lot of seminars and we do press trials for a number of ink manufacturers,” said Mr. Drake. “In the lithographic area we have 5-color Heidelberg Speedmaster 74 sheetfed lithographic press. We also have Creo computer-to-plate capabilities. In the flexographic area, our newest press is a wide web 8-color PCMC Avanti. We have a variety of other types of flexo presses too.”

The Flexographic Trade School (FTS), in Charlotte NC, is a press-operator training, research and technology institute.

“The Flexographic Trade School is a technology and training center for a consortium of 150 organizations,” said Christopher Harper, executive director. “We have been training for three years. We are a live training process.”

The FTS has a press that is run every day, and FTS offers a variety of programs and services to assist its members with their day-to-day color production, converting and production challenges. Some of their newest services include a one-month intensive operator training course; a two-day seminar, “Introduction to Flexo Training;” a three-day seminar, “Advanced Press Operator Training” and custom “hands-on” training for special staff needs and groups.

FTS’s “Introduction to Flexography” is one such hands-on course. Students learn about the flexo process by operating a flexo press. One of the key components of the class is how inks are critical to success.

According to Mr. Harper, students need to “truly understand what the press operators have to deal with on a day-to-day basis: application technology of the ink system; how, what and why it is being applied, and how it correlates to ink formulation.”

Among the education and training courses available from the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF) is “The Paper and Ink Experience.” This workshop covers how substrates and inks interrelate; includes demonstrations in GATF’s Bassemir/ Kronenberg Ink and Paper Laboratories and on press. Students learn all about paper runnability, tight and wavy edges, and ink tinctorial strength and tack; review lithographic materials from fountain solution to wash-up solution; see paper and ink problems demonstrated on press; and get information on color reproduction, from color theory to color separation. The workshops will be held June, 24-26 at GATF headquarters in Sewickley, PA.


The Chicago Printing Ink Production Club has offered a course, “Basic Oil Ink Formulation,” through the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL for 10 years. The 11-week course looks at vehicles, pigments, waxes, flushes, dryers and ink oils. It’s a two and a half-hour session on Thursday nights.

Many students who take this course are working on their pressman certificate, although many people already in the ink industry take the class to get a better understanding of oil ink formulation.

“The speakers for the course are contact people in the industry and come and give of their own personal time to do this,” said Dean Roeing, a consultant for the ink industry and a longtime CPIPC member. “When we are covering flushes in the class, we go to a flush manufacturer. When we cover waxes, we go to a wax manufacturer. By doing this, we get people who are dealing with the product daily and who know what they are talking about. The money the club earns from the courses is used for scholarships for the NAPIM summer courses in Lehigh, PA. We are now giving away two scholarships, one for the first course and one for the advanced course. We have been doing this now for several years.”

According to Mr. Roeing, the Chicago club is the only one in the U.S. that’s offering any course. “The other clubs have either died or are too small to offer one,” he said.

“One of the goals of the Chicago Printing Ink Production Club is ink education,” said Mr. Roeing. “A lot of us guys who made a good honest living in the ink business want to give back with the hope younger people will want to pick up where we left off.

“We are in the process of setting up more ink course at the college of DuPage,” Mr. Roeing added. “The immediate goal is to set up a basic liquid ink course where we would take on both solvent inks and water inks at the same time.”

Putting It Together

In order to truly understand the ink business, one must be familiar with all facets of it. People involved in all aspects of the ink industry must keep themselves informed of the latest breakthroughs and trends.

“Having an understanding of ink, both manufacturing and formulation, is not easy to come by,” said Mr. Incontro.

“As far as I’m concerned when it comes to ink education, if you don’t talk about the whole formulation ,you are shortchanging yourself because everything is interrelated,” said Mr. Roeing.

“It’s all going to become so important,” Mr. Roeing added. “New productions are coming on the market. New applications, new challenges, the person with the best background is going to be the person who wins. You can’t miss a thing.”