New Pigment Technologies Help Drive Growth in Use of Color in Europe

By Sean Milmo, Ink World European Editor | 10.28.09

The trend toward greater use of color will also present technological and cost challenges for ink formulators and pigment manufacturers

Graphics in Europe are becoming more colorful, which raises hopes of higher sales and improved margins for both ink companies and their pigment suppliers.

But the trend toward greater use of color will also present technological and cost challenges for ink formulators and pigment manufacturers.

“Printers will be wanting to use more color, but they will also be looking to have higher quality color inks without a rise in cost,” said an ink company sales manager. “The problem is that it is difficult to provide higher quality color without pushing up costs because of the expense of the pigments.”

Makers of metallic pigments are expecting continued strong demand for metallic effects in printing. But designers will be wanting a metallic appearance to be combined with more colors, even though metallic and organic pigment often do not work well together.

In fact, color experts are claiming that chromatic colors will become more prominent across a wide range of sectors in Europe because people want to move away from the blacks, whites, greys and silver.

The attraction of neutral and metallic colors increased rapidly at the time of the millennium and the dot.com boom, when a futuristic mood prevailed.

“Now minimalism is seen as having been done to the death,” said Jackie Nash, director of Global Color Research, London.

“Color is creeping slowly back into vogue,” she continued. “There are signs of a desire for clean and more intense colors. But there will not be dramatic change. It will take two to three years to spread through to most sectors.

“There is currently a need for a safer and more cozy environment which is reflected in a demand for muted colors as well as more vibrant ones like electric blue,” she explained. “But there are differences in the predominant colors between sectors. What is happening in fashion is not yet happening in the world of packaging, for example.”

Color specialists believe that Europe is at the beginning of a new cycle in taste. Approximately every 10 years, the preferences of Europeans switch between neutral and primary colors.

“Much of the impetus comes from improved or innovative pigments which provide fresh, exciting colors or new metallic effects,” said one German-based color consultant. “Advances in pigments are at the moment opening up new possibilities which will lead to more colors across many areas of everyday life.”

Companies are redesigning logos, promotional materials and packaging in response to the apparent public hankering for more color.

BASF, the world’s largest chemical company and one of Europe’s top ink producers, is itself launching a new logo in March which will be appear on its packaging, advertisements, brochures and other publicity material in a selection of blue, red and green shades. It will be the first time the logo, usually printed black on white, has been altered in 14 years.

“The new emphasis on color demonstrates how we see ourselves as being a vital, dynamic and an open company,” said an BASF official.

Automotive Favorites

One of the biggest influences on the public perception of colors is the automotive sector, where the impact of the introduction of new technologies will sooner or later be felt throughout a broad range of sectors, including printing. Often the companies making the pigments for automotive coatings are those producing pigments for inks.

“Colors appearing on cars always filter through to a huge variety of product areas,” said Ms. Nash. “The automotive sector is at the forefront of new pigment technologies because the pigment producers can afford to experiment with car coatings. They have the opportunity to find out how successful new colors will be and whether they have discovered a winner.”

According to the latest surveys on automotive coating colors, silver and/or silver grey are still in the ascendancy in the European market, with a share of nearly 40 percent. Shades of silver have been leading colors for several years while their popularity in the European automotive market is higher than in those of North America or Japan.

Black and white account for nearly 20 percent, so that achromatic colors make up about 60 percent of the sector.

However, there is evidence of a drift to primary colors in the European auto market. PPG Industries, a leading auto coatings producer, calculates that blue’s share of the sector was 19 percent, while German-based DuPont Performance Coatings estimates it was 25 percent. This is two to three times greater than blue’s percentage of auto sales in Japan and North America.

In combination with the display of more color in cars, the European environment is generally becoming more colorful mainly because of changes in architectural coatings and outdoor advertising. Paint producers are selling a wide range of colors for exterior wall coatings, while new developments in iron-oxide pigments is adding more color to roofing tiles.

The expansion in digital printing and ink jet inks, together with the introduction of more flexible film substrates, have led to big increases in the size of large-format advertisements on buildings and other outdoor sites.

“We are getting not only more color in our everyday lives but also a greater variety of colors,” said one color consultant. “At the same time, people want colors which are of a higher quality than before. They expect better colors than those which were prevalent 20 to 30 years ago, but they also like new colors.”

Printing Trends

Experts in color trends in Europe are predicting, however, that the more widespread application of colors will be accompanied by a broader use of metallic and special effects. Colors with a hint of metallic in them should be popular, while in graphic designs there should be a preference for a mix of colors and metallics like silver and gold.

“We are expecting a continued growth in demand for metallic pigments because the metallic look in areas like packaging will continue to be seen by consumers as a mark of quality,” said Michael Yates, commercial manager at U.K.-based Wolstenholme International, a specialist in metallic pigments. “People may desire more color but they will want some sort of metallic effect as well, which is good news for us.”

Wolstenholme has been concentrating on developing color systems which allow the efficient use of metallic pigments with four-color printing.

Ink producers and pigment makers face difficulties in achieving both quality colors and metallic effects when organic and metallic pigments are brought together.

“We are seeing some new designs for own-label lines, for example, which put strong colors alongside metallic strips or try to merge the two close together, and it does not work very well,” said one ink company executive.

“The trouble is that the organic pigments diminish the gloss and luster of the metallic pigments, especially the gold,” he continued. “On the other hand, if the metallic inks are too strong, they weaken the appearance of the colors. Somehow there has to be a trade-off between the two so that a good balance is achieved.”

A standard approach with metallic effects has been to print colors on a metallic base. Increasingly, ink producers are providing formulations which mix metallic and organic pigments, although the products usually are sold at a premium because of the higher costs of metallic pigments.

Technological advances in the manufacture of smaller- and uniformly-sized particles are providing more effective mixes of metallic and organic pigments which show single colors with a lustrous, three-dimensional appearance.

Because of current trends, suppliers of ink jet inks and pigment makers are under pressure to overcome the technical problems in the application of pigments in ink jet printing across a variety of substrates.

“The ongoing shift from screen printing to ink jet printing is making new demands for pigments, such as an extreme need for low viscosity and increasingly also for a good performance in UV inks,” said Michael Mordente, market center head for inks and graphics at Ciba Specialty Chemicals.

“Much screen printing on PVC has already switched to solvent-based ink jet printing, using high fastness pigments,” he continued. “But now there is a focus on moving to water-based systems and also to other substrates, such as polypropylene.”

In offset printing, ink producers are projecting an increase in sales of inks which are an improvement on conventional four-color process products but fall short of the quality of specialty high pigmented inks.

“This growth in the middle sector between the conventional and the color products will come from improvements of standard pigments used in four-color inks,” said Juergen Riedlinger, manager for sheetfed and offset inks at BASF Drucksysteme, Stuttgart, Germany. “The objective will be to achieve higher quality colors with ease of processability while keeping down costs.”

A big dilemma for ink makers will be to maintain premium prices for these middle-range color inks while preserving a difference between them and the standard inks.

“The prices of these premium inks will probably be as much as 10 percent higher than the ordinary four-color inks,” predicted one commercial manager. “But it will be a different matter keeping that differential, particularly when there will be the danger that with the introduction of the improved inks, you will be cannibalizing your standard inks.”

In line with the rising requirement for strong, clear colors, BASF is expecting a doubling of growth in sales next year of its specialty Novaspace sheetfed offset ink series, which offers color tones of high purity with a greater diversity in the color range.

“Designers want these higher pigmented inks because they give them something different from the competition and visually make an instant impressions,” said Mr. Riedlinger.
The big test for European ink makers over the next few years will be how to provide clean, distinctive colors in their products without pricing themselves out of the market.