The Jetrion 4000 Series of UV inkjet printers offers narrow web converters an affordable, full-color alternative to toner-based digital printers.
To meet demand, numerous ink manufacturers have successfully moved into this expanding field, whether through start-ups or acquisitions.
It should be no surprise, then, that inkjet ink manufacturers posted excellent results in 2006.
“Fujifilm Sericol recorded significant growth in UV and solvent digital ink in the past year as the overall market for digital print has expanded,” said Terry Amerine, marketing manager, wide format graphics at Fujifilm Sericol U.S.A., Inc.
“EFI’s inkjet product lines (VUTEk and Jetrion) had a record year in 2006, with sales up significantly over 2005, both through organic growth and through acquisition,” said Sean Skelly, director of product management, Jetrion Industrial Inkjet Systems, Electronics for Imaging, Inc. “The overall market for digital printing continues to be strong on a worldwide basis, with new applications leading the growth opportunities combined with solid sales in the more established markets.”
Gains being made in traditional markets such as screen and offset are helping to drive further growth.
“Digital continues to grow in both the wide and superwide formats while moving toward more inroads in traditional printing areas, all driven by niche market products and customized promotions,” said Brad Kisner, president, Triangle Digital INX Co. “We continued to gain last year while also focusing on integrating Triangle operations with INX.”
“Digital print technologies continue to challenge both screen and offset print technologies, particularly at lower run lengths often seen in customized print applications,” Mr. Amerine said. “The economics of digital print at these low run lengths, and the ever-improving print quality of digital, are two factors fueling the growth of digital presses and digital inks.”
Inca Onset UV digital flatbed press.
“Inkjet continues to develop within the graphics market, driven by the development of faster, higher quality inkjet printers,” said Laurie Geldenhuys, business director, SunJet. “In addition, we are also seeing the emergence of new applications in new segments of the print market driven by the ongoing development of both printhead technology and printer development.
“SunJet’s business has also grown as it continues to meet the needs of its customers through new ink technology development and the introduction of an increasingly diverse range of products targeted at emerging inkjet applications,” Mr. Geldenhuys added.
Thanks to its 2005 acquisition of Lyson, Nazdar has developed strong positions in UV, water, and solvent-based inkjet inks.
“Our synergy with Lyson is extraordinary,” said Phil McGugan, vice president of sales and marketing with Nazdar Inks and Coatings. “We had a strong showing at FESPA, and are seeing excellent growth in all market sectors.”
UV inkjet is a growing area, and Fujifilm Sericol, Triangle Digital INX and Hexion Specialty Chemicals are benefiting from this growth.
“Hexion’s UV curable inkjet business has made significant strides by further developing and improving new platform chemistries that we released in 2006,” said Willis Reese, director, new business development for Hexion Specialty Chemicals. “Our strategy to develop and market next generation UV inkjet inks and coatings has been right on the mark with industry needs that are hot in the inkjet marketplace. Hexion is seeing incredible growth the first half of 2007 and expects this to continue for at least the next few years.”
“Industry-wide, UV curable systems in particular are growing at a rapid rate, and we’re growing with this trend,” Mr. Kisner added. “We have a full line of tested and proven UV curable inks, and our R&D continues to provide advanced products to match new systems, which bodes well for our future, too.”
“Fujifilm Sericol’s Uvijet UV digital ink has grown as more Inca Columbia Turbo and Spyder 320 press platforms have been sold, adding to the installed base of these high-speed, high-output UV digital flatbed presses,” Mr. Amerine noted. “Sales of Fujifilm Sericol Color+ solvent digital inks have also grown as existing solvent presses in the market switch to Color+ to gain improvement in color and better print economics from increased ink mileage.”
Nazdar is partnering with Shanghai’s Tuck-in Development Co., Ltd. to distribute the Teckwin TeckSmart UV1600/2500 series of hybrid roll-to-roll and flatbed digital printers. “Teckwin is a huge addition to our line, and underpins our belief that UV is the fastest growing area in the inkjet market,” Mr. McGugan said. “The inkjet ink market is very exciting for us, especially as Nazdar Lyson becomes more established.”
Per Frost, vice president of strategic planning at Durst, is seeing strong growth on the equipment side.
“The overall market for wide format is growing very well – probably in the 20-25 percent from a unit
Digital printing advances continue to be paced by new UV curable inks and printer technologies. One example are the new inks developed by Triangle Digital INX Co. for the ISI BlueStreak UV printer, which utilizes an upgrade kit to transform NUR Blueboards into faster units with higher quality, more environmentally friendly UV curable output.
“Price erosion continues at all parts of the industry. Ink volumes may be growing even faster – perhaps as high as 30 percent,” Mr. Frost added. “The installed base is growing and newer machines with higher productivity and improved reliability are constantly being introduced. At the same time, the conditions amongst the printers is very good at the moment, so printer utilization rates are at a record high.”
New Frontiers for Inkjet Technologies
In just the last few years, digital technologies have made strong inroads in a number of printing segments, most notably in wide format. Inkjet is also moving into markets as diverse as labels and packaging, and this is likely to continue as technical and pricing hurdles are overcome.
“In wide format, you see less and less screen printing,” Mr. Kisner said. “Now we’re seeing more digital web presswork or roll-to-sheet applications. Narrow web labels and flexible packaging are increasing, too. There’s also work being done in 2- and 3-piece metal decorating. How soon ‘significant’ share gains will be made remains to be seen.”
Gains in speed and quality are being made in inkjet technology, and that is improving inkjet’s competitiveness in numerous segments.
“The continual improvement in digital inkjet equipment speed and print quality is driving digital print technology into the commercial offset print market and selected industrial applications,” Mr. Amerine said. “Digital is also penetrating the textile segment.”
Mr. Geldenhuys said that SunJet continues to see the development of inkjet technology within the graphics market as printers deliver higher image quality at higher print speeds.
“Ongoing innovation in printhead technology and the increasing sophistication and capability of inkjet integration companies will continue to drive inkjet into new markets,” Mr. Geldenhuys added. “Inkjet technology is now also addressing the needs of a wider range of market applications, including applications within packaging and various industrial niche segments.”
Mr. Frost said inkjet will make gains in the pressure sensitive label market. “This market has been developing for a number of years, and I think it is ready to take off in terms of inkjet solutions,” Mr. Frost said. “This will almost all be UV curable inks.”
Mr. Reese sees modifications being made to traditional processes to incorporate digital’s capabilities.
“Inkjet is making inroads into many markets including sheetfed; however I think for the early stages we will see more and more print shops providing the flexibility to print a product with conventional methods like sheetfed, but will have either modifications on the conventional press to include digital needs or they will have separate digital printing machines alongside the conventional equipment,” Mr. Reese said. “Being more focused on the industrial market, we are seeing customers more interested in utilizing digital UV inkjet printing to complement their traditional printing methods, such as screen, flex or pad printing.”
Mr. Skelly said that inkjet is poised to have a major impact in the packaging space.
“Many packaging companies have been evaluating digital printing technologies for many years, and the early adopters are now in the midst of implementing inkjet-based programs as part of their packaging lines,” Mr. Skelly said. “Included in this area are labels, flexible packaging, folding carton, corrugated and a variety of direct-to-product packaging.”
The Packaging Market
While many companies are closely looking at the possibilities for inkjet in the commercial market, the wide-ranging packaging field also holds promise. Already, inkjet is appearing with varying degrees of success in corrugated, labels and graphics.
“We see the packaging market really starting to pay more attention to inkjet, and there is no doubt inkjet will make its way into some of the current traditional packaging market segments,” Mr. Reese said.
SunJet’s FastJet inkjet system, developed in collaboration with Inca Digital, has a throughput of up to 6,000 square meters/hr, printing on to corrugated sheets up to 1.7 meters in length.
“We’re seeing significant potential in digital labels and flexible packaging, including some sheetfed clear laminate 1-2 color applications,” Mr. Kisner said. “Other key packaging areas include textiles, folding carton and corrugated, as well as metal decorating with energy drinks or for tailored campaigns to complement longer, traditional-print can runs.”
“In packaging there are some inroads being made, but in many cases inkjet technologies are replacing other inkjet technologies,” said Lawrence Gamblin, president of Collins Ink. “There are opportunities; however, in many cases, they tend to be low volume, high value propositions.”
The Importance of Customization
With interest in personalization and localization becoming more attractive to end-users, inkjet makes plenty of sense. Mr. Skelly said that the opportunities for inkjet printing in the packaging are broad and varied, and increasing every day.
“With the explosion of SKUs in packaging (food, beverage, industrial, electronics, pharmaceutical, etc.), there is a need for variable packaging to manage language changes, ingredient changes, code numbers and SKU number changes, just to name a few,” Mr. Skelly said. “Promotional applications already exist for sports scores and other ‘local’ information being used as an added value by consumer goods companies. Studies have shown that personalized and localized packaging can significantly increase sales of that product. Any application that requires a package printer to print a large variety of information in short runs is a strong candidate for variable data printing done through inkjet.
“Specifically, regarding inkjet printing itself, EFI feels that this technology is ideally suited for the packaging space,” Mr. Skelly continued. “Inkjet printing as a technology is a non-contact printing process which is extremely important when you’re dealing with the wide variety of substrates and packaging line configurations that confront package printers. Unlike toner-based technologies such as Indigo or Xeikon which require direct contact with the printing surface, inkjet printing allows fine droplets of colored liquids to be fired through the air on to the packaging surface that combine to create excellent quality images. Imagine trying to roll a fuser roller over a bottle or a can.”
Mr. Skelly noted that UV inkjet inks have a number of advantages when compared to alternative inkjet technologies, including adhesion and reliability.
“UV inks adhere very well to a broad range of substrates including coated and uncoated paper stocks, films, foils, metal, plastics, glass, wood, etc., making them ideal for many label and packaging applications,” Mr. Skelly said. “Unique substrate characteristics that affect ink spread (and ultimately image quality) can be readily accommodated through ink formulation modifications. Additionally, UV inks are extremely reliable, never drying out in the printhead unlike highly evaporative solvent inkjet inks, which dry very easily in the head, and are therefore maintenance-prone. This reliability is a cornerstone of UV inks and is critical for production processes like package printing that have high uptime requirements.
“Lastly, UV inks can be formulated in such a way to meet any specialized needs that a package printer might have,” Mr. Skelly added. “Some examples of this include the creation of spot colors, inks that meet recyclability, health and safety requirements, or the inclusion of security features for foiling counterfeiting efforts.”
In recent years, there has been a concerted effort by numerous ink manufacturers, large and small
Nazdar Ink & Coatings is distributing Teckwin TeckSmart’s UV1600 series of printers.
“The packaging market is starting to pay more attention toward UV digital inks,” Mr. Reese noted. “However, for packaging applications, less expensive inks are desired. UV digital inks are typically more expensive. However there exists an opportunity for ink makers to utilize the best of both water-based and UV chemistries. Some of the emerging applications in the packaging market are for labeling of food, beverage and pharmaceutical containers. Customers want adhesion to substrates that normal UV inkjet inks do not adhere well to. This is one of the many reasons we developed our HexiLok UV inks.”
Mr. Frost said that there are some gains being made in the corrugated market, although those numbersare relatively small at this time.
“Strong efforts with focused equipment from companies like Inca Digital in collaboration with Sun Chemical – and also from my company Durst – means that penetration in the corrugated market is now happening,” Mr. Frost said. “But it is still in the very early days and the number of printer units being placed are not high. While it is relatively insignificant from a revenue and ink volume point of view, corrugated does seem to be the next conventional printing market to be attacked by inkjet.”
“The development of single pass digital printing, largely through the use of a large array of digital print heads, has resulted in application of digital print technology in the corrugated packaging segment,” Mr. Amerine said. “Digital printing of packaging labels is also on the horizon as digital equipment is developed to provide the print speed, print quality, and cost-effectiveness required for this application.”
The Potential of Inkjet
In the Sheetfed Market
With inkjet having made significant inroads in several markets, most notably wide format, there is great interest as to where inkjet can make its next sizable gains. The commercial sheetfed market is one obvious area of interest.
However, the speed of the leading sheetfed presses, reaching 18,000 sheets per hour at high quality, is well out of inkjet’s reach, at least at this time, and new technologies will be needed to reach these speeds.
“Sheetfed printers continue to explore ways to exploit inkjet technology within their businesses. However, inkjet technology today is not able to meet the print quality requirements at the print speed necessary to compete directly with offset technology,” Mr. Geldenhuys said.
There are opportunities for inkjet to find a niche within the commercial marketplace. Inkjet is being utilized as a complementary technology, where it can be used either to add personalized data or to handle short run jobs.
“Digital within commercial operations is still largely supplemental, effectively expanding traditional printers’ ability to handle shorter runs and specialized needs: serial data, for example, special promotions and custom printing,” Mr. Kisner said.
Mr. Skelly noted that combining commercial sheetfed and digital technologies into a hybrid approach is an effective combination that appeals to some printers.
“As with other traditional printing technologies – for example, narrow web label, among others – commercial sheetfed printers are combining traditional technology with digital printing to get the best of both worlds,” Mr. Skelly said. “Jetrion calls this marriage “Hybrid Printing” and we believe this is an important component of the overall digital adoption curve by printers.
“Initially, inkjet printing is complementing commercial sheetfed printing by printing a variety of variable data objects, including bar codes, sequential numbers, variable images, etc.,” Mr. Skelly added. “Most of this digital printing is monochrome and augments the other information that a sheetfed printer is conveying. This combination of technologies allows commercial printers to achieve low cost, high speed printing while simultaneously expanding their capabilities to respond to market demands.”
Durst’s Rho 800 UV printer was introduced at FESPA in Berlin.
Mr. Kisner said the day is coming when digital technologies make sizable gains in the sheetfed market.
“It’s coming,” Mr. Kisner said. “The latest (third and fourth) generation printhead technology is now available, but fixed array systems are still experimental and more work needs to be done to further alleviate costs and increase speed before major gains will be achieved. A key will be integrating printhead and hardware technologies – something Triangle INX is well-positioned to do – as more-advanced systems evolve.”
Mr. Amerine said that the new Inca Onset offers some new opportunities for commercial printers.
“The recently launched Inca Onset UV digital flatbed press, with breakthrough print speeds and print quality, will challenge offset printing economics with lower cost of production particularly at lower print run lengths,” Mr. Amerine said. “Commercial printers will likely add digital to their operations to complement their offset operations and provide a broader capability for customers needing more customized, shorter run length print jobs.”
Ultimately, the advantages of inkjet, including personalization and short run lengths, will continue to lead to greater interest in digital technologies, particularly as new equipment further improves speed and quality. Ink manufacturers are continuing to develop new technologies to help drive growth in this rapidly expanding segment.
New Developments in the Inkjet Ink Market
To meet increasing demand, nkjet ink manufacturers have introduced a number of innovative products to market.
“EFI has been very aggressive in building an organization that provides end-end solutions for its print customers,” Mr. Skelly said. “By continuously expanding the feature set of its world-class Fiery controllers and print MIS solutions, EFI has maintained its lead as the software/ firmware supplier of choice for the industry. More importantly, EFI has invested heavily in inkjet technology as a strategic part of its overall product portfolio so it can go address the challenges of the industrial printing markets. Besides Vutek (acquired June 2005) and Jetrion (acquired
November 2006), EFI has made further investments in inkjet technology including its $3.5M investment in Kornit to address the growing needs of the\ printed textile industry. This is a sign of its further commitment to assist printers in navigating the challenging landscape from analog to digital printing.”
Over the past year EFI has launched Jetrion 4000 Series UV Label Press, an affordable, full-color, digital narrow label press, along with a new UV4000 set of CMYK inks, including the integration of Fiery XF into the 4000 to ensure that this printer is able to print the best possible colors; VUTEk BioVu ink, the first solvent-based ink made from a renewable resource, and the only one recognized by the EPA and VUTEk QS3200 and QS2000 with their UV inks , first in an all new category of printers that combine EFI’s production and workflow management technologies with the market-leading digital print capabilities of its VUTEk superwide format printers. In addition, Crown and Jetrion are scheduled to build a full-scale production system prototype for the world’s first high-resolution,
full-color UV digital inkjet printed cans.
INX is moving on several fronts, including UV inks for high-speed, UV-curable systems. “One example is inks for the ‘BlueStreak’ from Innovative Solutions INX (ISI),” Mr. Kisner said. “ This technology transforms NUR Blueboard units into much faster and more environmentally friendly UV units. Our R&D also is keeping us in the forefront on ‘green’ ink options such as biodegradable BioINX and low-odor PureINX mild solvent products.
“In addition, we’ve worked with InterWrap to develop substrate-specific ink systems and are now distributing ‘ECOS’ (Environmentally Conscious Outdoor Substrates), 100 percent recyclable polyethylene which is much lighter weight and longer-lasting than traditional media: ECOS Posterflex, for the poster market and flexiLite for billboards and banners,” Mr. Kisner added. “We are also working to provide new, total-system solutions for commercial printers moving into digital, via ISI’s (Innovative Solutions INX) integration expertise. Visitors to Drupa will find new printers in our booth.”
SunJet has also been very active in the inkjet market. “SunJet continues to innovate in inkjet ink technology and has developed a wide range of inkjet inks, these including ultra violet curing inks, hot melt, oil, aqueous and solvent-based products designed to meet the ever increasing demands of a diverse set if inkjet applications and markets,” Me. Geldenhuys said. “Recent announcements of new inks include UV graphic high opacity white inks, a range of inks for coding and addressing applications (Persona inks) and UV inkjet inks designed in cooperation with leading print head manufacture including Spectra (Dimatix), Xaar, Konica Minolta and ToshibaTech that deliver high jetting reliability.”
Fujifilm Sericol has been working on the development of single pass digital printing, largely through the use of a large array of digital printheads. This has resulted in application of digital print technology in the corrugated packaging segment,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Digital printing of packaging labels is also on the horizon as digital equipment is developed to provide the print speed, print quality, and cost-effectiveness required for this application.”
Hexion offers HexiFlex UV inkjet inks which allow for postforming once the product is printed. “Our HexiLok chemistry has performed well on multiple substrates because it its outstanding adhesion characteristics,” Mr. Reese noted. “Hexion’s UV inkjet Flashcure technology has been ideal for single pass, low dose/fast cure needs such as the ID and prepaid card market. Lastly, our HexiJet UV white ink has been a real door opener because of its unique characteristics, which include provides high opacity and requires little if any recirculation as it stays in suspension for a long period of time. Hexion always has an eye towards the future. Some of the future ink developments are LED-curing UV inks, even greater flexibility than our flexible HexiFlex inks, and adhesion to substrates like polypropylene and polyethylene.”
Ink manufacturers have partnered with OEMs to help sell equipment and promote ink lines. One such collaboration is occurring at Nazdar, which is partnering with Shanghai’s Tuck-in Development Co., Ltd. to distribute the
Teckwin TeckSmart UV1600/2500 series of hybrid roll-to-roll and flat bed digital printers. The combination of Teckwin’s equipment manufacturing prowess and Nazdar's UV ink development expertise results in enhanced print performance for customers.
“Teckwin is a huge addition to our line, and underpins our belief that UV is the fastest growing area in the inkjet market,” Mr. McGugan said. “The inkjet ink market is very exciting for us, especially as Nazdar Lyson becomes more established.”
According to Mr. Frost, decoration of glass is an emerging application. “Durst introduced a new system for this market at the recent Fespa show,” he said. “Durst has also pioneered the first real digital production solution for the tile market with a product called the Gamma 60.”