The UV ink jet market has had another positive year in 2004, and all indications are that UV ink jet will continue to grow into new markets and expand its reach in existing markets in the coming years.
There are a number of reasons for UV’s growth, such as the recent introduction of hybrid UV cure ink jet, combined with its ability to adhere to a wide variety of substrates. This has led to its more widespread use in a variety of new applications.
“There has been significant interests for UV cure ink jet, especially with the recent introduction of hybrid UV curable chemistries, for several key reasons,” said Mario Carluccio, business development manager for Aellora Digital. “UV cure ink jet offers the broadest substrate reach at the highest print quality for drop-on-demand ink jet technologies. UV cure ink jet is also a solvent-less solution, which equates to providing highest system uptime again for drop-on-demand ink jet technologies.”
|The Columbia Turbo is the successful result of the collaboration between Inca Digital and Sericol.|
According to Mr. Carluccio, hybrid UV cure also offers several advantages over liquid UV cure related to print quality and production output that is “helping UV cure ink jet to become a key enabler for further acceptance of this digital print technology.”
“UV ink jet technology is causing a lot of excitement, not because it’s just technology for technology’s sake,” said Sean Skelly, director of product management, Jetrion, LLC. “Rather, it helps customers meet needs they have always had, for example printing on wide range of substrates. This is a classic case of customer requirements and technology maturity converging. Many of the key components of ink jet systems, such as lamps and raw materials, are getting to the point where they can compete with alternative ink types. This has led to more and more application opportunities which have then generated even more interest.”
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Because of its versatility UV ink is suitable for a range of applications.
“Liquid UV cure ink jet has been well suited for initial expansion of wide/large format graphics applications such as billboards and displays as well as several other niche commercial print applications,” said Mr. Carluccio. “Recent introduction of hybrid UV cure ink jet has significantly broadened the application reach of piezo drop-on-demand ink jet. This includes industrial components, glass containers, consumer goods packaging, commercial signs, advertising speciality items, direct mail and gift cards. These are all applications that value the benefits of going digital, but that require a robust, cost-effective digital print solution not previously met by solvent ink jet.”
SunJet has developed a wide range of UV ink jet inks, according to John Law, general manager. SunJet forms part of the Sun Chemical Digital group within Sun Chemical.
“In cooperation with both OEM integrator companies and leading printhead manufacturers, including Spectra, Xaar, ToshibaTec and Ricoh (formerly Hitachi Koki), SunJet has a proven track record in providing high quality UV ink jet inks for a wide range of applications and markets,” said Mr. Law. “SunJet continues to invest in research and development capability to satisfy the significant and growing interest in UV ink jet inks.”
UV ink jet inks are used extensively in flatbed graphic printers where the range of print media requires the ink to display good adhesion to a wide range of substrates. UV inks are very well suited to this application, Mr. Law said. In addition, with careful pigment selection, UV inks also show good color gamut while providing excellent lightfastness.
According to Mr. Skelly, any applications that have demanding adhesion and durability requirements, combined with the need for high image quality, are perfect opportunities for UV ink jet.
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|FastJet, Sun Chemical and Inca Digital’s collaboration for the corrugated market, has a print speed of 3,000 square meters an hour.|
UV ink jet offers its users some key benefits. One of the biggest benefits is durability, including rub resistance and lightfastness. Another key advantage is its ability to adhere to a wide range of substrates.
According to Mr. Carluccio, compared to solvent piezo ink jet, UV’s benefits include wider substrate reach, lower overall printed product costs, lower maintenance, environmentally friendlier characteristics and superior lightfastness.
“Compared to water-based thermal ink jet, benefits include highest print output, significantly broader substrate reach and lowest operating costs,” Mr. Carluccio said. “Compared to liquid UV cure ink jet, hybrid UV cure ink jet benefits include high print output at highest print quality, superior drop control, wider substrate reach and maximum processing flexibility and ease of handling. “Compared to traditional pad or screen printing, benefits include quick turnaround without labor and time intensive set-up needs, lowest cost for low to mid-volume production with serialization and personalization capabilities. Of course, UV cure ink jet is a digital print process so all the benefits of digital apply here as well,” he added.
An important benefit of UV is, of course, its environmental friendliness.
The 100 percent solids chemistry of UV ink jets ensures that odorous VOCs are eliminated, according to Mr. Law. “UV inks only dry or cure when exposed to ultraviolet radiation, a feature that enables these inks to display very high jetting reliability that is far higher than solvent or aqueous ink jet inks,” Mr. Law said.
“This means that UV inks are the inks of choice for fixed array as opposed to scanning ink jet applications, where jetting reliability is the primary requirement to ensure consistent print quality,” Mr. Law said.
These benefits, combined with instant drying, excellent adhesion to a wide range of media and good film-forming properties, are the drivers for adoption of UV ink jet technology in the developing market for digital printing, according to Mr. Law.
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As more and more users are seeing the benefits of using UV technology, the technology is set to grow into new markets.
“As reported by industry consultants, CAGR are greater than 50 percent over the next five years,” said Mr. Carluccio.
“UV ink jet has tremendous growth potential as it is in the relatively early stages of adoption in the market,” said Mr. Skelly. “Combined with a user-driven explosion in the need for digital printing capabilities, such as personalization, test marketing, short run printing and serialization/barcoding, UV ink jet is the right technology in the right place. Additionally, the quantum speed and quality improvements in drop-on-demand printhead technology has laid the foundation for the adoption of UV ink jet systems. There appears to be no shortage of areas in which the benefits of UV ink jet systems can’t be achieved.”
Additionally, Mr. Skelly said hybrid solutions where UV ink jet systems are attached to and complement traditional printing system, such as flexo presses,will be a major source of growth.
With the development of single-pass print arrays, ink jets will enable high speed printing that is orders of magnitude greater than traditional scanning ink jet printing systems, according to Mr. Law. “This increased productivity will satisfy a key requirement for its adoption as a printing technology for both industrial and packaging markets, driving a double-digit compound annual growth rate for UV ink jet printing systems over the next decade.”
Sun Chemical, in partnership with Inca Digital Printers, demonstrated FastJet, a single pass UV ink jet printing system, at Drupa 2004. The FastJet technology is focused on the corrugated print market. At Drupa, it was demonstrated printing corrugated board at print speeds of 100 linear meters (300 feet) per minute or 3,000 square meters (30,000 square feet) per hour at a print width of 520 mm (20 inches).
The printer will be further developed to print at a print width of 1,040 mm (40 inches) producing a print output of 6,000 square meters (60,000 square feet) per hour representing a 30 times to 40 times improvement over scanning printing systems. The FastJet corrugated board printer will be commercially available early in 2006.
Sericol is working on the next generation of its Uvijet UV digital inks, to provide adhesion on an even wider range of substrates, as well as work effectively at higher print speeds, according to the company.
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As with any new technology, there are some challenges for UV to overcome, namely developing higher cure speeds, inks that cure under lower power and technology for use on variable substrates with larger color selection.
“Some of the key challenges that are yet to be overcome include accelerated curing so that UV ink jet can be used at higher and higher speeds, inks that cure under lower power requirements allowing for non-traditional lamp technologies to be used, and support for more increasingly complicated and variable substrates and non-traditional colors,” said Mr. Skelly.
“Improvements in speed, drop size and accuracy of piezo ink jet printheads will be a key impetus in furthering the application reach of UV cure ink jet,” said Mr. Carluccio. “Expansion of color and color-matching capability will be key for UV cure ink jet chemistries.”
Ink jet printing systems are complex and require significant expertise and development time to ensure that they meet the requirements of today’s print markets, Mr. Law said. For example, the FastJet printing technology has a capability to jet one million drops of ink per second, each required to be placed precisely on the print media.
Mr. Law said the ink challenges include optimization of adhesion, functionality of the ink film, including abrasion resistance and flexibility, while maximizing cure speed. In addition, new applications in packaging markets will require UV inks with low odor. While meeting the application and market requirements, the inks need to be precisely engineered to provide very high levels of jetting reliability in an increasingly wide range of industrial piezo printheads.
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Expansion into New Markets
Because of its ability to adhere to a wide range of substrates UV ink jet inks are increasingly being used in markets and expanding their reach in existing ones.
According to Mr. Skelly, UV ink jet will be moving into several new markets, including packaging and metal deco, with further expansion in wide format printing, including billboard printing and label printing.
According to Mr. Carluccio, UV ink jet will be moving into high output, commercial print applications including labeling and packaging.
UV ink jet applications will have applications in a wide range of markets, Mr. Law predicted. These include display graphics, packaging markets such as corrugated board, folding cartons, flexible packaging and labels, as well as other industrial applications, such as circuitry notation and ceramics. He added that UV ink jet systems will begin to satisfy the print requirements in which more traditional printing processes such as screen printing and flexography are commonly used.
Alliances are Key
There are a lot of variables when it comes to using UV ink jet inks. All of the equipment and materials need to work together in order for the finished results to be positive. Many UV ink jet ink makers have formed partnerships and alliances to help them meet their customers’ needs.
“Ink jet product development is extremely demanding because it requires a comprehensive systems approach to be successful; this means that the inks, printheads, printers, software, lamps, transports and substrates all have to be co-optimized in order to meet end users’ needs. To ensure market success with our products, Jetrion has developed strong relationships with a broad range of key ink jet equipment suppliers,” said Mr. Skelly.
“Furthermore, Jetrion has embraced the hybrid model of printing (e.g., ink jet + flexo) as is demonstrated by our OEM partnership with Mark Andy, the world’s leading manufacturer of flexo and narrow web presses,” Mr. Skelly said.
SunJet is able to leverage the ink technology and application knowledge of its traditional ink business to support, through partnership with OEM integrator companies and leading printhead manufacturers, the development of ink jet technology as a leading technology for print in the future, Mr. Law said.
On the digital press front, Sericol has worked with Inca on two new developments: the Spyder 150, a high resolution UV digital ink jet press specifically engineered for the photo-lab market and the Columbia Turbo, the next generation ultra-fast wide format UV digital flatbed press.
As new applications that utilize UV ink jet printing continue to be designed, UV ink jet ink manufacturers will be ready to formulate the innovative products that will be required to meet these new opportunities.