The Metallic Pigment Market

By Kerry Pianoforte, Ink World Associate Editor | 10.16.09

Driven by the need for product differentiation and decorative appeal, the metallic and pearlescent ink market continues to grow.

As is true of all aspects of the ink industry, metallic and pearlescent pigments and inks have felt the effects of the economic downturn. However, the news is not all bad for special effect inks. Special effect ink manufacturers Ink World spoke with predicted that as the economy shows signs of recovery, the special effect ink market will follow suit with an increase in use for consumer packaging and publication products.

“The metallic market has been affected consistent with the economy as our business follows the general industry trends, and that when the graphic arts business is soft our sales mirror this activity,” said Ron Oberstar, Eckart America’s director of sales – graphic arts. “Advertisers, packaging designers and those key personnel that make planning or buying decisions on graphic content and design have a choice of appearance, look, color and size of the run. Metallics, normally associated with higher prices, are occasionally redesigned to use less expensive ink. We’re expecting that as the economy continues to gain foundational and sustainable strength, metallic inks will be more prominently featured on consumer packaging and publications.”

“2003 has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride,” said Elise Balsamo, marketing manager for MD-Both Industries. “MD-Both Industries has done well in the packaging markets this year. However, in the commercial and publication markets, demand has been sporadic. The positive news is that demand for metallics in the last two to three months has begun to level off, and we anticipate a definite pick-up in the coming months.”

Creating Eye Interest

There will always be a need for these eye-catching inks, as manufacturers seek ways to get their products to stand out from the pack.

“The use of special effects has continued to grow despite the economic slowdown, driven by needs for product differentiation and decorative appeal,” said Stephane Rochard, marketing manager, automotive and powder coatings for Engelhard. “Engelhard expects continued growth for the future with the introduction of new and innovative products to respond to specific marketneeds.”

Metallic inks are used in a variety of markets. While traditionally they have been used for things like gift wrap and other specialty coated papers, they are also increasingly being used in areas such as publication printing.

According to Mr. Oberstar, metallic inks find application across multiple market and product lines, from beverage containers and consumer packaging to publication printing. “They’re often used to create eye interest and attract the consumer’s attention to a product on a shelf in the market or on a magazine stand. Metallics enhance the appearance and quality image of a product,” he added.

“Traditional large markets for metallic inks and pigments are gift wrap, tobacco packaging and beverage cartons, all of which have remained relatively strong,” said Ms. Balsamo.

Mr. Rochard reported that target market segments for metallic inks are cosmetic packaging, wines and spirits and specialty coated papers.

New Products

A variety of new metallic ink products have been launched offering users cost savings and enhanced performance.

“We’ve created new ink products and solutions for our ink partners, enabling them to offer added value alternatives to their printer converter customers,” said Mr. Oberstar. “Breakthrough technologies employing vacuum metallized pigments (VMP) to simulate foil-like effects offer meaningful cost benefits to them through driving the cost of labels and finished product designs much lower. We’re also concentrating on upgrading the performance qualities of our conventional ink offerings through increased brilliance, user-friendly and press-friendly reformulations. Metallic inks have historically been viewed as a difficult ink to run and this simply is not the case today. Eckart press-ready inks run trouble-free with little or no press side support needed.”

Engelhard has introduced a new generation of mica-based pigments called Lumina Colors showing more chroma, color purity and higher reflectivity than conventional effect pigments. “We also expanded our particle size range of borosilicate flakes to target thin film applications by creating Firemist Super pigments,” said Mr. Rochard. These new product lines can be used in flexo, gravure and screen printing applications.

Challenges Faced: Particle Size and Cost

There are numerous challenges to using metallic inks, most notably developing the smallest particle size possible and decreasing the cost to printers. Ink manufacturers have been working to develop inks that meet these needs.

According to Mr. Oberstar, an ongoing challenge facing Eckart is finding new technologies to improve brilliance with smaller particle size pigments. Eckart currently has press ready inks that utilize the smallest metallic particle size available, he reported.

According to Mr. Rochard, the main challenges facing metallic ink manufacturers are related to the application parameters of printing technologies and the particle size of special effect pigments. “Engelhard special effect pigments are transparent,” he said. “Best results will be obtained when special effect pigment is applied as an overprint.”

A Bright Future

Metallic and pearlescent ink manufacturers are continuously working in the R&D labs to develop newer technologies and better performing inks.

“Our plans are to continue to partner with and strengthen our relationships with our ink company partners as we’re in this business together and their challenges are our opportunities,” said Mr. Oberstar. “We’re committed to continuous improvement in ink developments as well as metallic pigment breakthroughs.”

Eckart has complete domestic product manufacturing capabilities from metallic pigment manufacturing to upgrade product solutions encompassing dispersions and finished inks, according to Mr. Oberstar. “We’ll also be adding to our special effect portfolio with the introduction of our Phoenix pearl product line,” he said. “We believe that our customers will welcome our introduction of new pearlescent technologies into the graphic arts market.”

In addition, Eckart and MD-Both are working with a new pre-press software system, MetalFX, in which they supply conventional silver and premium silvers inks to this new concept. MetalFX is designed to enable users to achieve a wide spectrum of metallic colors utilizing its easy-to-use software.

Engelhard has plans to develop new technologies which will bring added value to the printing ink market.