In the past few years, there has been much discussion about the advantages of creating an ink that eliminates fountain solution on press. Such an ink would theoretically dry faster, reduce oven temperatures and turnaround time, cut down on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as well as eliminating a key variable for press operators.
In actuality, such an idea has been looked at for many years, with ink companies and their suppliers always falling just short of the mark.
In the past few years, there have been significant gains made in the field. At Print 01, The Kustom Group, a Richwood, KY-based vehicle manufacturer, was selected as a Must-See technology by the show’s judges for its Just Water Technology (JWT) for inks. JWT inks will print on any litho press, with any plate, with plain tap water without the use of fountain solution etch or alcohol substitutes.
By utilizing JWT technology, printers can eliminate fountain solution, which cuts out another variable as well some hazardous chemicals that are commonly used in fountain solution. JWT inks also offer improved quality because of sharper printing, and better productivity because of dramatically faster drying.
There are other ink companies working on etchless inks. For example, Sun Chemical is one of the first manufacturers to successfully bring its ETCHLess water-only ink series and Eliminator low-etch inks to the market, said Les Watkins, director of sheetfed products, Kohl & Madden. Eliminator completely removes the need for any alcohol or alcohol substitutes while allowing the printer to improve print quality and reduce the fount’s etch component by more than half. The inclusion of a small amount of etch ensures full plate life and extended run lengths that may otherwise be compromised, he said.
The Kustom Group has licensed out JWT technology to a number of ink manufacturers, including Midwest Ink Corporation, Kramer Ink and TecSource. In 2003, Midwest Ink Corporation, Broadview, IL, received the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation’s (GATF) InterTech Award for its H2O Ink line. Joe Hannon, vice president of sales for Midwest Ink, said the InterTech Award shows that the technology works.
“To get the InterTech Award, you have to be running in three commercial operations for six months,” Mr. Hannon said.
Mr. Hannon said that the company’s heatset inks recently ran at RIT, with good results. “Recently at RIT, we ran 40,000 pounds of paper on its Sunday 2000 press, from 70-pound enamel to 32-pound SCB stock, and got a very good report back. Our dot reproduction was 5 to 7 points better on all colors, and the tacks were equal. We also ran faster and used less heat to cure.
Fred White, pressroom operations manager at RIT’s Printing Applications Laboratory, has conducted test runs for Midwest Ink’s Hydro H20, and came away impressed with the technology. The latest run, an eight-hour run sponsored by Heidelberg and paper companies on a Sunday 2000 press running at speeds up to 2,000 feet per minute, went well.
“The performance was certainly no worse that conventional inks, and the dot gain was actually a little sharper,” Mr. White said. “It ran well on several different papers. However, because there was no use of fountain solutions, the system seemed to run very clean, the ink transfer was easy to wash up and the slip rollers ran very clean. The blankets washed up very easily, there was no piling or paper contamination buildup.”
Other ink companies say that they are getting good response from their customers.
“Things are going really well,” said James Baker, Kramer Ink’s vice president of sales. “We now have news accounts that are using JWT, as well as some new UV accounts. The hybrids are also doing well. In UV, the biggest culprit is the fountain solution, and JWT eliminates it, which allows the ink to run much better. In heatset, the biggest advantage is the improved mileage and lower temperature. We’ve successfully reduced oven temperatures by 100°F.”
“The reaction has been really good,” said Bob McClanahan, who handles sales and technical service for TecSource, a Florence, KY-based toll provider of inks. “Right now, I have been selling to printers who run non-porous substrates such as vinyl and styrene. It has far faster set and drying speed, and everybody is reporting that they are getting so much better transfer and mileage. It also offers good holdout and high gloss. It eliminates one variable, plus anytime you can remove chemistry that stops the drier in the ink from doing its job, it’s beneficial.”
Printers Test JWT
Ultimately, the proof that the technology works has to come from the printers themselves, and pressroom supervisors have found that JWT works well on plastics and styrene.
“I use JWT on all of our plastics jobs,” said Larry Wagnon, press manager for Stevenson Color, a Cincinnati, OH-based color separator/printer specializing in large format and POP signage. “I just ran a job on 18-point styrene, and it was dry in only 12 hours. Typically, a job like this would take 24 to 48 hours to dry. With JWT inks, I could work and turn this job in 24 hours. Because you’re only using tap water, you eliminate all harmful etches that break down driers and emulsify inks, so you can get more vibrant color. JWT is another tool that tries to eliminate a variable, in this case the harmful chemicals that add VOCs. I am getting better mileage, and color consistency is better.”
“We’ve experimented with similar products the first year, but the JWT product performance seemed to have the best grip on the technology,” said Mike Fulling, pressroom supervisor for PonyXPress, Reynoldsburg, OH. “For example, we just ran a live job on vinyl, and when you put it on press, it has much greater latitude. It offers a quicker dry time on paper, which we estimate saves us 50 percent in drying time. We don’t have to worry about the water-fountain solution mixture, and we believe it is easier on the press itself. The gloss appears to be exceptional. In terms of dot gain, the inks might be slightly fuller, but we’re CTP and we curve it anyway.”
JWT inks have also been successfully used on heatset and commercial presses.
“We did a lot of testing on JWT recently and I’m impressed,” said Lonnie Clement, operations director for Prescott Newspapers Inc., Prescott, AZ, which runs a commercial plant in addition to its in-house newspaper printing. “We ran it on an 8-unit Didde press with UV lights, and I was just amazed at how fast it cleaned up on press. It also eliminated the toning problems with magenta we were having. We ran 200,000 pieces during the whole day, and I was really impressed that it cut my waste in half. I was also really impressed with how it reacted to the UV lights, as the yellows were particularly bright.
“We also have a 16-unit Goss Community press with two four-highs to do color work, and we got the same results. It cleaned up quickly, and the colors were brilliant. The rollers handled the inks perfectly, it seemed like my plates lasted longer, the images held longer and the blankets didn’t have to be touched. I’m also really happy I didn't have to use any chemistry.”
Mr. Baker and Mr. Wagnon noted that JWT requires pressmen to rethink how they run a job.
“It’s a change, without a doubt,” Mr. Baker said. “Pressmen are used to running very little water, and you have to use more water. In the beginning we ran into resistance, but when they pull up clean, the pressmen believe and become enthusiastic. It prints so sharp that you have to go back to prepress to match previous runs.”
“There is a difference, in that you have to use a little more water and the plate has to be a little wet at startup,” Mr. Wagnon said. “It’s a definite change for a pressman who learned to run less water all their life. But seeing is believing when you see its benefits.”