“Through 2006, the market for UV-curable inkjet inks has continued to develop well, with more than 35 percent increase in revenue, and a higher increase in volume,” said Stewart Partridge, director, digital inks business unit, Nazdar. “Many more flatbed and hybrid [flatbed/roll] printers have been installed, and dedicated roll-fed printers using UV-curable inks are also gaining momentum in the market.”
Nazdar is currently positioned as an after-market supplier to the UV-curable inkjet market, but in 2007 the company anticipates its first OEM ink sales.
“We are committed to supporting the growth of this market, and have some innovative technology to help improve flexibility and adhesion properties of UV-curable inkjet inks, which we feel that our OEM partners will value,” said Mr. Partridge.
The UV inkjet ink market has seen significant and steady growth as the number of digital platforms continues to increase. “The scope of UV digital platforms now includes roll-to-roll units in addition to flatbed and combination units so this will help to spur additional growth in the market for UV digital inks,” said Terry Amerine, market manager, wide format graphics, Fujifilm Sericol.
“The UV segment of the inkjet market is evolving rapidly in all directions,” said Willis Reese, director, new business development, Hexion Specialty Chemicals. “At Hexion we have many global opportunities in several markets. Our sales and technical teams are aggressively pursuing new development from one day to the next. We don’t see the UV inkjet market targeted in just one segment of the printing world, since this technology is enabling many facets of the industry. However, opportunities exist as a replacement for solvent inkjet inks where the push is coming from North America, Europe and Far East. It is exciting from Hexion’s perspective as we attempt to meet and exceed the technical challenges offered to us.”
“In general, the sales of UV curable printers have been very strong in 2006,” said Ken Kisner, senior vice president, chief technology officer, Triangle INX. “Purchasers of the machines have increased their output as they develop markets to utilize the technology of UV curable. Being that this technology is ‘fresh,’ the purchasers of the UV curable printers are actually forced to develop the market as well.”
of InkJet Inks
The many benefits of using UV inkjet technology have certainly contributed to its rapid adoption and growth. The technology has been adopted by many printers who want to increase their capabilities with quicker turnaround time, environmentally friendliness and cost benefits.
Another notable benefit is UV inkjet ink’s ability to be printed on a wider variety of substrates.
“Printing to many new substrates or substrates that were never possible to print to has been of increased interest,” said Mr. Kisner. “UV has grown the possibilities with the ability to print to glass, many plastics, wood and metal. We have been working with many companies to bring digital technology into new industrials with UV curable because of the benefits of printing directly to these above mentioned substrates.”
“The inks adhere to a wide variety of substrates and media, although not quite everything, as some early product literature and marketing campaigns might have suggested,” said Mr. Partridge. “Certainly UV-curable inks offer extremely cost-effective printing onto rigid media for indoor and outdoor display panels and rigid signage. Often, there is no need for any priming of the substrate, or any after protection of the ink layer. However, if additional substrate priming or overvarnish protection is required for more demanding applications, this can also be provided.
“UV curing solves one of the biggest challenges facing an inkjet ink,” said Mr. Partridge. “The ‘Shangri-La’ of inkjet inks is to have almost indefinite stability in the printhead nozzle without blocking or drying, yet to dry or cure very fast after printing onto the substrate. UV-curable inkjet is the only inkjet ink technology that can achieve this result on a non-porous substrate. In fact, many end-users are finding that the superb nozzle stability of UV-curable inkjet inks mean that they can be more economical to use than ‘cheaper’ solvent-based inks, as much less ink is wasted during set-up and purge cycles. The cost per liter for UV inks suggests that they are more expensive to use than solvent-based inkjet inks, but the reality in the market is surprisingly different.
“The fast drying speeds for UV-curable inkjet also means that printers can be built to print faster, without printhead blocking problems,” added Mr. Partridge. “Some more innovative printers are substituting a single UV roll-fed press to take over the production output previously handled by three solvent machines, and saving man-hours and factory space as a result.”
The environmental advantages UV inkjet inks offer, including removal of solvent emissions, is also considered a lasting benefit. “This attribute is particularly valuable to the printer in countries or regions where regulatory issue are of serious concern, but more importantly, we should all be working towards the manufacture and use of systems with reduced negative environmental impact,” said Mr. Partridge.
“Some benefits that instantly come to mind are absence of volatile organic compounds, faster cure and low energy requirements, low heat requirements for temperature sensitive substrates, good chemical and solvent resistance, allowing for more customization/personalization on many substrate, excellent cure properties on a wide variety of substrates, offering a smaller equipment footprint, shorter runs that allow for better economics, and less ink waste from purging and flushing,” noted Mr. Reese.
“The maintenance requirements are greatly reduced and the range of materials which can be printed is broader,” said Mr. Amerine. “The print quality of UV digital equipment and the ink is outstanding. This is due to the rapid cure and the ability of ink to jet consistently through heads that produce droplets down to 6 to 7 picoliters.”
Because of its adaptability, the growth potential for UV curable technology is wide open.
“It seems that the possibilities that the UV curable technology offers are limitless and leave the future wide open to the most innovative of minds,” said Mr. Kisner.
“Applications are numerous and the list seems to grow daily,” said Mr. Reese. “Some of these include printing on metal, glass and different types of plastics, particularly heat sensitive substrates. Short-term market penetration will be driven by supplementation and/or replacement of legacy print processes where customization is required.
“In the long-term, industrial markets that are currently utilizing other processes to deposit functional and decorative images and patterns onto parts will be streamlined and enhanced by digital UV inkjet, especially as a replacement for processes requiring subtractive steps within existing deposition processes,” Mr. Reese added. “Some specific markets also targeted for UV inkjet growth are signage, package printing, automotive, appliances, textiles and other niche applications.”
“Short-term, the main growth opportunity for UV-curable inkjet is in the wide format and grand format graphics applications, for advertising and signage applications,” said Mr. Partridge. “Medium-term, the technology is developing into new applications such as packaging, glass decoration, home furnishings, laminates and coatings.
“Longer-term, we at Nazdar believe that UV-curable inkjet will be pervasive,” Mr. Partridge noted. “Our screen experience – Nazdar was formulating and selling UV-curable screen inks from the early 1980s – means we have the technology and experience to develop UV-curable inkjet inks for a variety of industrial applications. Our OEM partners find this skill-set particularly valuable as they strive to open up new market opportunities for digital printing.”
“The predominant applications remains point-of-purchase (POP) advertising,” said Mr. Amerine. “The print quality of UV inkjet will continue to push it further into backlit signage, and the introduction of UV-curable white ink just pushes the envelope for POP applications even further. As VOC concerns increase with the proliferation of solvent equipment, the future of UV in the roll to roll applications is quite promising. We believe the introduction of greyscale head technology utilizing UV inks and the roll applications will become exciting new opportunities.”
With such a promising future, manufacturers of UV inkjet inks are focusing a great deal of effort on developing innovative technologies to increase their presence in burgeoning markets.
According to Mr. Reese, Hexion’s technical marketing strategy is focused on new/next generation technology. “On Oct. 17, 2006, Hexion Specialty Chemicals announced the introduction of three new UV-curable inkjet technology platforms to enable the industrial inkjet markets,” Mr. Reese noted. “The new inks are tailored to provide superior end use properties such as adhesion to difficult substrates, formability and low-energy curing.”
“In terms of new technologies, pardon the pun, but UV inks are not a cure-all,” said Mr. Partridge. “Whilst we see growth opportunities for competent ink formulators in this industry, we also see growth opportunities in novel aqueous and solvent inks for certain applications. The acquisition in February 2006 of Lyson provided Nazdar with a much-increased technology portfolio, and our challenge today is more choosing ‘what opportunity not to follow,’ and to focus our resources where we, our partners and our final customers derive maximum benefit. But, these are nice challenges to have!”