The Market for Metallics

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 12.09.09

The global recession and volatile prices for metals combined to make 2009 a challenging year for metallic ink and pigment suppliers.

The metallic ink and pigment market faced many of the challenges that the ink industry and its suppliers battled in the last 18 months, including higher raw material costs and a significant drop in demand.

ECKART Effect Pigments’ PlatinStar Silver offers strong performance for flexo and gravure printing on film.
Thierry Chevrier, head of the pigments business for BASF in North America, said that the metallic pigments market reflects the overall downturn in the U.S. market.

“Compared to the broader metallics market, 2009 was a down year for vacuum metalized pigments (VMP),” Mr. Thierry said. “The trend towards offshore printing as a cost saving measure resulted in a smaller market, and the economic conditions pushed prices down. We are optimistic that through the U.S. government’s stimulus plan and increased projects, we will see improvement in the market in 2010.”

“Over the last 12 months, business for ECKART Graphic Arts has been very challenging, with the general downturn in the graphic arts industry having a direct impact on our effect pigment business,” said Craig Reid, global head of marketing and business development (graphic arts) at ECKART Graphic Arts. “We have seen a trend shift towards cost effective solutions that still offer the brand owners print with impact and shelf-appeal.

“Fortunately, ECKART Graphic Arts is in a strong position to be able to offer a wide variety of effects to the market,” Mr. Reid added. “Offset inks have been specifically affected by the global economic situation, perhaps due to reduced advertising spend and the use of alternative forms of communicating a message, such as the use of electronic media. ECKART is committed to growing the market for effect pigments and inks by providing brand owners and designers with new ideas and effects such as with MetalStar 06 7000, an offset silver ink providing unique metallic color range.”

“The overall usage of metallic pigments in traditional ink segments followed the downward trend of the market,” said Mehran Yazdani, vice president marketing, Performance Pigments, Sun Chemical. “However, we see metallic growth opportunities in other segments such as digital and security.”

“The global recession certainly had an impact on metallics in the graphic arts market, in that customers were paying much more attention to just-in-time inventory, causing some stress on our ability to instantaneously meet demand as it occurred,” said Judith Goodwin, national sales manager, New Brook International. “We are fortunate to have picked up several new customers, which helped to mitigate some of the slowdown.”

William Pofahl, vice president sales and marketing for Benda-Lutz, said that Benda-Lutz saw a decrease in sales for metallics in the graphic arts market in the past year overall. “However, in the U.S., we had double-digit increases in sales of our aluminum pigments to the ink industry, as we kept expanding our product offerings and penetrated deeper into existing markets,” Mr. Pofahl added.

“The first half of 2009 was very difficult for metallics, especially in the lithographic and the graphic arts industry as for other industries as well. The second half has experienced steady recovery,” said Michael Bauer, head of marketing, Carl Schlenk AG.

“The metallic pigment market has struggled over the last 18 months, particularly in the automotive sector – not surprising when you see the dramatic reduction in the sales of new cars and the difficulties seen at the major car producers,” said Dr. Andrew Edwards, global director of marketing – inks for Silberline. “Special effect sales into the graphic arts market has been affected less, but it has still been a difficult year with many ink manufacturers reducing costs. Regionally, Asia has performed well for Silberline, and our Chinese acquisition in Jinan has done very well.”

Volatile Metal Prices

One of the most critical concerns for metallic pigment suppliers is the fluctuating price of metals. The cost of copper has doubled in the past four years, and aluminum prices have been all over the map.
“The cost of metals such as copper, needed in the ‘gold’ or ‘bronze’ colors, has more than doubled since 2005,” Mr. Yazdani said. “There are no alternatives available, and we have been obliged to pass these extra costs on to our customers.”

“Broad fluctuations in a range of metal prices over the past year make it difficult to say whether prices have stabilized,” Mr. Chevrier said. “For example, the price of aluminum has gone from 90 cents per pound to 60 cents per pound and back to 90 cents per pound in the past year. Over a longer period, aluminum peaked at close to $1.50 per pound in 2006 and 2007. With a weak dollar and an overall rising demand for commodities, there is potential for prices to rise back to those levels. It should be noted, however, that VMPs are not as closely tied to the cost of raw materials as less sophisticated traditional metallics.”

“ECKART Graphic Arts utilizes a wide range of raw materials in the supply of products for the printing industry – not only metals, but also additives, resins, varnishes, etc.,” Mr. Reid noted. “Raw material prices across this wide range of products are constantly fluctuating, with many increasing steadily throughout the year.”

Mr. Edwards said that the stability of raw material pricing is always a concern.

“Metal prices have moved upwards gradually over the past 12 months, and aluminum and copper prices aren’t far away from two-year highs,” Dr. Edwards reported. “Recently there have been increases of oil prices in the market, and this inevitably will cause increases in oil-based raw material prices, transport and energy.”

Ms. Goodwin noted that raw material prices have not stabilized to the point of being able to accurately predict pricing out more than 30 days. “Particularly steep were the increases in copper and aluminum,” Ms. Goodwin said. “In addition, currency fluctuations have also put pressure on the ability to appropriately forecast end user pricing.”

“Metal prices have continued to fluctuate in 2009 and thus are still causing problems for both the producer and the customer,” Mr. Bauer said. “To the benefit of our customers as well as our industries, we would wish to see stable metal pricing. This would facilitate forecasting tremendously.”

“Raw material prices have increased significantly, but are still below the peaks seen in mid-2008,” Mr. Pofahl said.

Emerging Opportunities

Even with these challenges, the advantages of metallics offers opportunities for end-users.

“ECKART Graphic Arts has always believed that effect pigments and inks offer a cost effective alternative to other decorative effects such as foiling or metalized substrates,” Mr. Reid said. “The recent economic situation has seen brand owners increasing their activity in this area, with many looking for good effects at a competitive price. To capitalize on this opportunity, ECKART’s focus has been to develop ways to provide a variety of different effects to fit the customer’s budget. The improved quality in recent aluminum pigment developments has made this possible, as exhibited in recent product launches like PlatinStar and RotoStar HE.”

“The key market for metallic inks is packaging, where metallic effects can add significantly to the perceived value of the pack and the product,” Mr. Yazdani said. “There is almost no limit to the attractive effects possible when using metallic effect pigments or integrating these metallic inks into different colors. Metallic effects add significantly to the ‘shelf-appeal’ of many consumer products. Metallic effects also make an attractive alternative to bright plain colors in magazine cover designs.”

Mr. Chevrier said noted that the digital inkjet and toner markets will continue to grow.

“The newest printers highlighted at the NIP International Conference on Digital Printing Technologies, which operate at 150m/min, will attract business from items normally printed by traditional means,” Mr. Chevrier said. “The desire for personalization and targeted singular or short run items, not just in packaging but in a variety of print applications, is a key driver for this. Digital printing will continue to take market share from screen printing with the latest wide web printers. Ultraviolet (UV) light and electron beam (EB) will continue to grow, but probably at more modest rates. Publication inks will start to see the impact of e-ink applications.”

“Although not a new technology, UV metallic inks experienced significant growth last year,” Mr. Bauer said. “This is also true for VMP inks used as alternatives to foil effects. The increasing use of EB curing in 2010 should be seen as a positive wave of the future in the field of metallic inks. This also accounts for metallics being made available for all new printing techniques (inkjet and electronic offset) and thus offering unique effects. The compliance with official regulations such as REACH and the growing importance of packaging low migration/migration-harmless inks with all printing techniques will turn out to have considerable impact.”

Conductive inks is an area where metallic ink and pigment manufacturers can find opportunities.
“Increased use of conductive inks in smart packaging will mean higher percentages of packs using some form of printed circuitry,” Mr. Chevrier said. “Interestingly, RFID antennae, previously thought to be a big growth area, are moving away from print. The security printing market will grow but remain a comparatively small niche.”

“Benda-Lutz views the conductive ink market as significant in the next few years,” Mr. Pofahl said. “We are partnering with companies to produce tailored products to meet their stringent specifications.”

“Conductive inks are certainly an emerging market, as are security inks,” Ms. Goodwin said. “Of particular interest are the areas of UV curable inks, inks for water-based systems, and anything that can be deemed environmentally friendly or ‘green.’ Inkjet inks requiring very fine grinds are also an area of growth. In the non-metallic ink market, formaldehyde-free fluorescent pigments are gaining in market share and are widely requested.”

New Products

To meet the demand for new products, metallic ink and pigment manufacturers are developing a wide range of new technologies.

Mr. Reid noted that ECKART Graphic Arts has many new products that have been designed to target specific market opportunities.

These include MetalStar 06 7000, a conventional offset silver ink with unique properties that creates unique colors when tinted with compatible printing inks and remains color stable during printing and when overvarnished; MirrorGold, a solvent-based gravure or screen ink, which produces a golden mirror when printed; RotoStar HE 81-41203, a solvent-based gravure silver ink with fantastic optical appearance and offering great value for money.

ECKART also has developed JetFluid, the world’s first metallic digital ink series for industrial digital presses. ECKART is currently working with some of the most influential printhead manufacturers, printing machinery manufacturers and system integrators to qualify products for their individual systems. The JetFluid product family comprises solvent-based and UV-curing inks for the most common piezo DOD printheads.

Mr. Yazdani said that Sun Chemical Performance Pigments launched its new Polymer Encapsulated Aluminum Pigments for use in consumer electronics, automotive trim and other single coat applications that require a high level of acid and base resistance or non-conductivity.

“An expansion of the SunMetallics aluminum pigment product line, the encapsulated aluminum pigments are designed to maintain the brilliance and gloss of the pigment and resist tarnishing in areas that are exposed to high levels of acidic or basic conditions,” Mr. Yazdani said. “Additionally, the polymer encapsulation makes the pigments non-conductive, which is essential for the consumer electronics market.”

Mr. Chevrier noted that BASF has added Cromophtal Jet Magenta 2BC, the newest addition to BASF’s portfolio of nano-sized, high-performance pigments for digital applications. It offers outstanding chromaticity, color purity and light stability. Because of its high chromaticity, it allows for an extended color gamut in the latest generation of digital small office/home office (SOHO) printers. Among BASF’s existing products, Xymara Metasheen vacuum metalized aluminum pigments for mirror effect inks expands BASF's range of effect pigments.

Mr. Pofahl said that Benda-Lutz recently introduced new pelletized, extremely bright and small particle-sized silver dollar aluminums for the highest quality inks, Compal 4456 D and Compal 4466 D.
“Following the success of our UV stable aluminums that have been chemically stabilized for much brighter effects than encapsulated versions, we introduced leafing versions in the same UVAL product line. It has particle sizes as small as 5 microns,” Mr. Pofahl added.

“There is active R&D development currently in the pipeline, the results of which we anticipate bringing to market within the second half of 2010,” Ms. Goodwin said. “We do currently have a complete line of formaldehyde-free fluorescents, both powdered pigments and dispersions commercially available, which have enjoyed success at customers.”

Mr. Bauer pointed to Metaprint metallic inks for all main print processes, VMPs for waterborne and UV systems, and systems meeting low migration requirements.

Dr. Edwards noted that earlier this year, Silberline launched the Aquavex AD range of aluminum pigments stabilized for water-based liquid inks, but modified to give optimum adhesion on all substrates. “Also, the SparkleBrite Ultra and Silvet AD Ultra range of pastes and high adhesion granules were made commercially available,” Dr. Edwards said. “These use advance silver dollar technologies to provide aesthetic effects that bridge the gap between regular silver dollar and vacuum metallized flake products. These are especially useful for shrink sleeve applications and reverse printed films.”

Expectations for 2010

With all of this in mind, metallic ink and pigment manufacturers anticipate sales to remain level or perhaps even increase in 2010. For example, Mr. Bauer anticipates improvement and stabilization of the economy and an increase of requirements for special effects such as metallics.

“Sun Chemical’s metallic ink sales are expected to be approximately the same as the sales level in 2008 and 2009,” Mr. Yazdani said.

“Hopefully, we will see some stability in pricing and supply particularly in the metallics market,” Ms. Goodwin said. “I anticipate some increase in demand as customers who have been keeping inventory on a just-in-time basis will begin to use up stock and place larger orders. In addition, any improved stability in the currency market will be key to helping adequately forecast and price appropriately.”

“Worldwide, we expect sales to take an upward trend compared to last year, but not at the same rate as the decline,” Mr. Pofahl said. “Benda-Lutz expects to have a good year for our specialty products though, like UV stable aluminums, vacuum metallized pigments and zero VOC polished aluminum pasted in deionized water.”

Mr. Chevrier noted that BASF’s 2009 acquisition of Ciba Specialty Chemicals added people, technology and products that complement BASF’s existing offerings.

“The addition of Ciba’s innovative portfolio – for example, its high quality reds and oranges – will complement BASF’s existing product range and enable us to offer an even broader range of solutions and deliver increased value to our customers,” Mr. Chevrier noted.

“There are signs that the economic climate is slowly improving, but I fully expect that there will continue to be difficult trading conditions throughout 2010 and into 2011,” Dr. Edwards concluded. “Despite this, Silberline is optimistic about the future and continues to invest in developing new products and technologies to meet the demands of the markets we serve.”