Vehicles and varnishes play an essential role in ink formulations. With the exception of color, vehicles control all of the properties of an ink, whether it is drying or setting speed, gloss and adhesion. Varnishes provide the special effects and gloss that the consumer notices.
“The key properties ink makers are looking for in lithographic vehicles is runnability at a low cost,” said Dan DeLegge, vice president of smoke ‘n’ mirrors at Inksolutions LLC. “This has been the case for the last few years. Ink makers want and need reliable inks that perform as designed without trouble and at an acceptable cost. Press speeds have not radically increased nor has the paper quality gone up. The idea is still to do more with what you have and make it more reliable and trouble-free for all applications.”
“The majority of any ink is vehicle, and so choosing the correct one for a particular application is critical,” said B. David Aynessazian, Kustom Group vice president of sales and marketing. “Vehicles are the binders that fasten the pigment particles to the substrate. It is the media that allows the ink to flow through the printing press and places the pigment particles on just the right spots on the substrate that is desired. There would be no printing without ink vehicles.
“Although overprint varnishes do not typically carry any pigment, their role is equally critical as these are the surfaces that the print buyer actually comes in contact with,” Mr. Aynessazian added. “These overprint varnishes need to show off the printed piece with the desired gloss needed. More and more, these overprints are used to achieve special effects that wow the people who look upon the printed piece. These overprint varnishes also impart resistance properties to get the printed piece through binderies quickly and efficiently or produce packaging that will stand up to filling lines and long transportation trips.”
“For the packaging industry, the ink manufacturers are mainly looking for resin systems which provide universal solutions, which can cover a wide range of end applications with the required food and environmental safety profile,” said Ivo Lansbergen, business director adhesives and graphic arts for DSM Resins. “These properties of the ink system need to be combined with the right economics of the final ink system.”
Raw Material Costs
Vehicle and varnish prices are highly dependent on the price of crude oil, which has been volatile, to say the least. While vehicle and varnish manufacturers report that pricing is generally steadier at this moment, it is a situation that is, as Mr. Aynessazian describes it, “very fragile.”
“We do see some raw material stabilization at this time, but it is very fragile,” Mr. Aynessazian said. “In the last 18 months, our industry, which is based to a great degree on crude oil derivatives, has watched crude oil prices go from $147 per barrel to $30 per barrel, and is now semi-stable between $60 and $75. In the last few years, the various companies in our industry have learned that crude oil prices affect us all in many ways and some that may not be obvious. All are on edge and are watching crude very carefully.
“Vehicle and varnish companies have spent a tremendous amount of time in the last year making sure that they are buying right and that their suppliers are being responsive to changes in the commodity prices of the raw materials,” Mr. Aynessazian added. “As a result, prices for vehicles and varnishes are more stable than they have been. Unfortunately, the experience of the last two years has caused commodity suppliers to be much more reactive to small fluctuations in costs and less apt to ‘ride it out’ or ‘see what happens’ than they were in the past. Seeing $147 oil is a sight that has scared many and will not be soon forgotten.”
“In general, raw materials have been relatively stable,” Mr. Halvorsen added. “It’s difficult to say how the coming year will unfold. Rosin, vegetable oils and petroleum distillates drive most of the raw material costs in offset varnishes.”
“Raw materials are actually increasing again primarily on the back of oil, despite the fact that oil dipped again lately in September and October, oil is still significantly higher than at the start of 2009,” said Mr. Lansbergen. “Pre-cursors and other raw materials are following this trend although with some delay. As a result, DSM NeoResins is facing higher raw material prices in the fourth quarter.”
“Raw material prices are still under pressure,” said Richard Ponx, president of Accu-Chem Industries. “Despite oil coming down, we haven’t experienced a corresponding reduction in the raw materials we use. Meanwhile, customers are asking for more performance but are not willing to pay for it, which is leading some suppliers to sacrifice quality.”
Mr. DeLegge said that raw material cost have stabilized somewhat with the exception of oil-based raw materials. “We have still seen significant movement in oil-based materials both up and down and we expect this will continue into 2010,” Mr. DeLegge noted. “Other key materials such as soya and linseed oil prices have stabilized and are maybe even move lower in 2010.”
New products are the lifeblood of any industry, and manufacturers of vehicles and varnishes are working on new technologies. However, with the amount of consolidation throughout the printing industry and its supply chain, more competition, and the impacts of the global recession and higher raw material costs, it becomes a daunting challenge to be able to develop new products.
“The U.S. printing industry is no longer going to be looked at as the steam engine for the print industry in the world,” said Mr. Ponx. “When you take a look around at all the printers that have closed or merged with other printers, a good deal of the graphic arts talent has left this field.”
“We’re all experiencing a lot of offshore competition, and we all are trying to do things leaner, which means we have less and less time to spend developing new products,” Mr. Ponx said. “And when we do introduce new products to our customers, they have less and less time to evaluate these products, because they too are trying to fit more into their schedules.
“As we see the future in this industry, despite the difficulties we are facing, we must still focus on developing newer and better products to help those printers who are still in this business,” Mr. Ponx said. “For example, we are making some excellent inroads on a UV dull strike-through varnish which cures in one pass, and offers an extremely good contrast effect between dull and gloss. We have also developed our Ink Mate release aid, which helps the printer achieve crisper, sharper dots as well as helping them come up to color within 25 to 50 sheets. Those of us still left in this industry must focus on helping our printing customers stay in business, otherwise who is going to keep us in business.”
“We have recently commercialized a product platform including a new resin system, sheetfed and heatset varnishes, entirely based on phenol-free chemistry and significantly higher bio-renewable content,” Mr. Halvorsen said. “In a difficult market when developments are difficult to find we are excited about our new ECO-REZ, ECO-SET and ECO-WEB products, which enable offset ink makers to support the printing industry’s desire for sustainability improvements.”
“We have launched several new products in our solvent urethane and radiation curable range,” said Mr. Lansbergen. “NeoRez U-430 is a new elastomeric polyurethane resin for gravure printing applications. This resin can be formulated in high performance laminating suitable to replace vinyl copolymer based inks. The product also exhibits very good adhesion and bondstrength performance in complex laminates. In the radiation curing range we have launched two new polyester acrylates named NeoRad P-40 and P-60. These polyester acrylates are excellent pigment grinding vehicles for flexo and offset applications. Besides that we have launched an unique waterborne UV curable polyurethane dispersion called NeoRad R-1500. This resin provides after curing excellent soft feel properties in combination with a matt appearance and good chemical resistances.”
Mr. Aynessazian said that Kustom Group believes that ‘green’ will be big in 2010, and has developed a series of products to allow customers to be ready for the green requests that they will get from their customers. These new products include KB-1012 and KB-1013 sheetfed gel and free flow, KB-3138 gloss sheetfed overprint, KB-2054 and KB-2055 heatset gel and free flow, GRN-1000 and GRN-1001 UV gel and free flow, and KS-358 and KS-359 UV flexo vehicles.
“All of our new products are registered on the NAPIM website with their BRC index numbers so their green content has been independently verified,” Mr. Aynessazian said. “Kustom Group is proud to be the first supplier to have its products registered on the NAPIM website and to again be on the cutting edge of new technology for the graphic arts market.”
Mr. DeLegge said that Inksolutions has introduced a complete line of heatset and sheetfed overprint vehicles, including the SV-1281 high gloss, SV-1282 satin, SV-1283 dull, SV-1284 wax free and SV-1285 high rub for sheetfed, and HV-1353 high gloss, HV-1354 satin and HV-1355 dull for heatset. “These products are designed for both reliability and economics,” Mr. DeLegge said.
“In addition to the new OPVs Inksolutions introduced the new ‘Back to Basics’ vehicle system for sheetfed and no heat type applications,” Mr. DeLegge added. “Returning back to basics has lead our formulators to use our most commonly used high molecular weight resin with a proprietary blend of drying vegetable oils, to create a very unique vehicle system. A system that has no overkill built into it, which will insure maximum run-ability, transfer, and great set. SV-1335 gel vehicle and SV-1336 free flow vehicle is the back to basic vehicle system. The key idea here to provide simple yet effective vehicle technology with performance and reliability and improved green-ness (high BRC rating) at a reasonable cost.”
Hexion Specialty Chemicals has introduced a number of new sheetfed varnishes built on the ECO-REZ phenol-free resin platform. All of these varnishes are 100% non-volatile and include up to 20% higher bio-renewable content. These include ECO-SET 4500 pigment dispersion varnish; ECO-SET 4600 free flowing varnish; ECO-SET 4800 fast setting sheetfed gel varnish; and ECO-SET 4801 hard drying sheetfed gel varnish.
In addition, Hexion’s ECO-WEB 5600, 5800 and 5801 are web offset varnishes built on the ECO-REZ phenol free resin platform. This vehicle system includes up to 20% higher bio-renewable content. Hexion’s new sheetfed varnishes for the European market developed using ECO-REZ phenol-free resin platform include ECO-SET 4025E grinding varnish and ECO-SET 4315E sheetfed gel varnish.
The Coming Year
Despite the challenges they are facing, vehicle and varnish manufacturers have high hopes for the coming year.
“We anticipate an exciting year ahead at Hexion as we roll out our new and exciting products,” Mr. Halvorsen said.
“DSM NeoResins is very confident for 2010,” Mr. Lansbergen said. “Despite a relatively flat market, DSM has been and will be launching new products which provide new opportunities for growth also in relatively difficult times. DSM NeoResins+ is convinced that not only cost but also other requirements – like sustainability and differentiation – will play an important role in decision processes and product development. As such the market can expect new promising products from DSM NeoResins, in 2010 and beyond.”
“We believe that we will hear a lot about ‘green’ in 2010,” said Mr. Aynessazian. “It would have been a focus earlier if it were not for the recession putting it on the back burner. With the official end of the recession in early 2010, Green will again be a buzzword and in focus.”
“Kustom sees a general recovery from the worst recession that we have seen since the 1930s,” Mr. Aynessazian added. “We see 2010 as a year where some markets will come back, but where it will become obvious that some are gone for good. The recession caused a move from some markets into different technologies and methods. The internet and digital printing have become the way of doing some things that were traditionally done by offset and flexo. Packaging has been relatively strong and we see it growing in 2010 as stock replenishment takes place, as inventories have been reduced to record low levels. Although publication will not come back completely, we do see a pick-up in mid- to late 2010 versus the very low levels we are at now. And for commercial printers, who rely on auto makers, airlines, retails stores and the like, it would be hard to have a worse year than 2009. Our view is that commercial printing will be better but not great.”