New Developments of Printing Ink in China

By Joshua X.Tieshu, Coatings & Ink China | 01.04.08

The wrap-up information of the Ink Sub-Association of Chinese Daily-Use Chemical Industry shows that the increase in rates of ink consumption in China in years 2004, 2005 and 2006 are 9.4%, 10% and 9% respectively, of which the annual average increase rate of imported ink is 22.5%. Gross consumption increasing year by year is the overall status quo of Chinese ink manufacture industry. By 2010, the annual amount of ink used in China will be 430,000 tons. The number of local professional ink producers will be about 400, most of which are located in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and southeast coastal cities, with more than 30,000 employees.

From the perspective of demands in the ink market in the future, the demand of offset ink will be steady with some increase, maintaining the ratio of about 45-50%, while the increase rate of rotary offset news ink would be faster; the ratio of letterpress ink would decrease dramatically. Flexographic ink would increase greatly; generally speaking, the gross amount of gravure ink would be stable, of which plastic ink and water-based ink would increase; screen printing ink would increase, due to the increased use of  metal, glass and plastic silk screen printing ink. Anti-forgery ink for exclusive and special purpose would increase, in particular, the need for jet printing ink, anti-forgery ink, UV ink and fluorescent ink would also increase to a great extent.

People in the industry have always held that generally there is still a gap between Chinese ink and that of foreign countries in production, quality and variety, Chinese ink has disadvantages in printing flexibility (such as transfer printing, water resistance, high-speed printing flexibility, the product consistence is not ideal and cannot meet the need of high-speed, high-quality printing and some materials still need to be imported. Besides, the development of anti-forgery ink for special and exclusive use is comparatively slow and cannot meet the need of package printing and anti-forgery printing. The electronic ink used in digital printing still cannot be manufactured at home.

As society develops continuously, green and environmental friendly ink received more attention. From the perspective of long-term development, some popular un-environment protective products would be eliminated. Flexographic water-based ink has great potential and gravure print would change from solvent-based to water-based and be used in the package printing of food, beverage, medicine and cigarettes.

New Potentials of Litho-Offset Ink

Green and improving environmental friendliness of equipment, the extensive use of CTP in rotary offset printing machine, the commercialization of color offset printing machine and the development and application of offset UV ink and non-water ink have once again aroused the desire of internal printing packaging industry to invest in offset printing machines. Shanghai Peony Ink Co. Ltd. North China Region Sales Manager Li Renchao said, “Printing and packaging industries also see potential in flexographic printing, but offset printing and offset ink will maintain an application ratio of about 40% in a long time. For example, gravure printing was popular for a time in printing internal beer bottle labels. However, since competition was fierce in the industry and the change of printing plates was frequent, at present, the fast changing offset printing still holds the lead.”

The years between 1995 and 2005 saw internal offset printing developing vigorously, with the total output rising from 30,000  tons to 120,000 tons. The variety of offset printing is complete. The manufacturers are located in Shanghai, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Taiyuan, most of which are joint ventures.

Litho-Offset Environmentally Friendly Ink

The environment non-protection of offset ink mainly manifests in odor, of which the news ink pollution is the most obvious. The common issue is that if ventilation is strengthened, misting would occur; if the ventilation is weakened, the odor of ink would be spread. Due to the limitation of its components,the current environmentally friendly ink’s performance in penetrability is bad, which will influence the drying speed, hence falling short of the demand of high-speed printing. News offset ink has to guarantee the printing effect and environment protection. Therefore, the printing industry poses high demand for environmentally protective ink.

General Manager Guo of Yanjing Beer Beijing Shuangyan Color Printing Co. Ltd. said, “Many printing factories used to use offset print approach to print beer bottle labels. After the technical innovation, the printing companies affiliated to beer companies and independent printing houses shifted to flexo print. Flexo printed water-based ink technique is environment friendly and conforms to the practical need of future consumers.”

To satisfy the market need, both offset printing machine manufactures and ink manufactures are devoted to innovating traditional offset green printing.

Color Offset Printing  on Micro-flutes

Micro-flute offset printing has just started in China and is only confined to the E flute. There are only a few medium flute types and they are in low level and need improvement. Many companies in China have imported four-color offset printing machines, which provide basic necessary equipment for micro-flute printing. The total corrugated packaging amount is 15 billion square meters. If 10% of them are changed into micro-flute and 3g of offset ink is needed per square meter, then 4,500 tons of offset printing ink would be needed.

Instant Commercial Colour Printing

There are two changes in the printing market. First, the press work is becoming high quality, in small printing number and a short period. The second is that the packaging industry and label printing, publication printing and commercial printing are all investing to introduce equipment, accelerate technique innovation and optimize productivity in order to innovate the technique and the product. Some printers with future perspectives have began to use four color offset printing plus on-line varnish (or UV offset printing technique), symbolizing that short edition color printing industry will become a major area. Heidelberg has come up with SM52 on-line varnish and UV offset printing to meet the new economic development trend, which will undoubtedly bring business opportunities to small-sized offset ink manufacturers.

Water-Based Ink

The fast development of water-based ink conforms to the need for “green” packaging and printing products. In China, the manufacture and application of water-based ink started rather late and water-based ink is not used quite often in package printing. However, as green packaging and environment protective packaging become popular, the packaging of products with strict package printing requirements such as cigarettes, liquor, food, beverages, medicines and toys will gradually use water-based ink. Therefore, water-based ink has great market potential in China.

Water-Based Primary Color Ink

If water-based ink is to be top grade, it should develop towards making presswork colorful, light and beautiful. At present, some foreign countries can produce high-quality water-based primary color ink, while internal ink factories have also developed cheap water-based ink with quality as good as imported water-based primary color ink. The ink with good printing flexibility, high tinctorial strength, great re-dissolve ability, water resistance, adhesion and wearabilty can perform very well in image representation, overprint and high-speed printing, suitable for high-quality printing and basically satisfying the needs of most printing companies.

Water-Based Plastic Printing Ink

With the growth of the dairy industry, the packaging quality of dairy products has received attention. Although many enterprises choose Tetra Pak asepsis packaging, quite a number of dairy products use plastic packaging, and the emergence of plastic ink has satisfied people’s healthy requirement.

Application Areas and Developing Trends

In recent years, the quality of Chinese ink has improved and the gap between Chinese and foreign products is becoming smaller and smaller. However, the low price ink produced by many Chinese ink manufacturers is still not standardized.  Foreign printing machines are fast, with strict production environment and in large batch and undivided color, which requires the ink to be high solvent, low adhesion, colorful and with high tintorial strength. However, most machines used in China are low and middle level printing machines, their qualities differentiate a lot, their performance varies and the products are in small batches and many varieties. The production environment is bad, the operation is not standard and price competition is fierce. All these require that ink should offer good flexibility and fluidity at a low price.

At present in the gravure ink used in China, there are a great many organic solvents (about 50%), which caused benzene remnants that will pollute the food or article packaged. The Chinese ink industry has been trying to solve this problem by developing alcohol-dissolve ink. Therefore, to replace alcohol-solvent ink with aromatic-solvent ink is a necessary trend for the development of plastic soft package print.

However, non-benzene and non-ketone ink still retains environment pollution and solvent remnants; therefore, attention has been paid to replacing solvent-based ink with water-based gravure ink. However, the use of water-based ink in plastic film printing is still not really applied. Generally speaking, water-based gravure ink cannot gain further ground because its printing performance and quality cannot meet the solvent-based ink printing standard.

At 2006 Shanghai All-in-Print Exhibition, Zhejiang Fanfbang Machinery Co. Ltd. and Xi’an Space Flight Huayang Company exhibited satellite-type high speed letterpress (flexo print) printing machine at the same time, Baoding Eastar and plastic printing enterprises in  Dalian also introduced advanced high speed letterpress (flexo) printing machine to satisfy the need for diary product package, solve the problem of benzene solvent polluting environment and leftover issue, thus becoming a competitive bright point in plastic soft packaging print. Thus it is necessary to produce cheap gravure ink that can use single solvent product (easy to recycle), can integrate cover printing, inner printing, lamination and steam cook ability, can be used on any plastic film, in any climate at high speed, mid speed and low speed and can satisfy the need of Chinese gravure printing industry.