China Report

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 09.16.11

Chinese Ink Industry Continues to Enjoy Growth

The Asia-Pacific printing industry has enjoyed a quicker recovery from the global recession than North America and Europe, and China remains a major driver in that expansion.

“The Chinese printing industry continues to grow as the GDP grows,” said Sunny King Jin of Bloit Printing Ink. “The government has set up the objectives for the printing industry. i.e, by 2015, the industry size will reach 1100 billion RMB (USD$170 billion), which makes China the second-largest country for the printing industry. This means an average annual growth rate of 9%. As one of the important parts of printing industry, the ink industry will be the major beneficiary of this growth.”

“We mainly play in the middle- and high-end markets thus we are not sure about the whole market,” said Hiroshi Nagai, general manager, corporate communications department at DIC Corporation. “However, we observed the increase in demand as 2010 progressed mainly due to increase in demand from export markets.”

“While the economy continues to grow, both the printing and printing ink industries are growing as well,” said Dr. Kotaro Morita, managing director of Sakata INX Corp.

“Last year, demand recovered in China, in part benefiting from a spillover effect generated by the Shanghai World Expo,” said Yu Adachi, corporate communications, Toyo Ink SC Holdings Co., Ltd. “The surge in demand also spread to areas inland.”

“Last year’s printing/ink market in China has shown double-digit growth,” said Mr. Takamizawa, president of Hangzhou Toka Ink Chemical Co., Ltd. in China. “The Chinese economy also has racked up double-digit growth. But what we the think about the Chinese economy is that there might be a minor bubble economy burst from 2012 to 2013, so we think it will be very hard to get double-digit growth after next year, even though we might be able to do that this year.”

The Growing Emphasis on China

The printing ink business has long been a growth area, withleading global ink manufacturers and large domestic ink companies playing important roles.

In terms of Chinese ink companies, Tianjin Toyo Ink Co., Ltd., a joint venture specializing in offset and news ink set up by Tianjin Printing Ink Co., Ltd. and Toyo Ink, is considered to be the largest ink manufacturer in China.

“Growing our operations in burgeoning markets such as China is a priority strategic objective for the Toyo Ink Group. In these regions, we aim to expand our foothold while developing our product lines by closely catering to market needs,” Mr. Adachi said.

Hangzhou Toka Ink Chemical Co., Ltd., a joint venture between T&K Toka, Hangzhou Chemical Industry Controlling Stock (Group) Company and the Bank of China Zhejiang Branch, is thought to be the second largest ink company in China. It specializes in offset, gravure and UV inks, and understands the importance of developing local operations. “We think the most important thing is considering development of local companies in China,” Mr. Takamizawa noted.

DIC Corporation and its sister company, Coates, have a long history in China, with Taiyuan Coates Ink Chemical Co., Ltd. and Shenzhen DIC Ink Co., Ltd. among the largest Chinese ink producers. Mr. Nagai said that DIC Corporation is anticipating further growth in the high-end ink and printing markets.

“China has a huge population and the economy is supposed to grow more,” Mr. Nagai noted. “Therefore, DIC is placing much emphasis on China. However, the whole market of China is too large to cover, and in fact, many classes of market, from low-end to high-end, exist. Therefore, we have concentrated on middle- to high- end markets only.”

Other leading global ink manufacturers are active in China, including Sakata INX, Flint Group and Siegwerk, among others. Major domestic ink manufacturers include offset ink manufacturer Shanghai Peony Printing Ink Co., Ltd.; Bauhinia Variegata Ink & Chemicals, a wholly-owned subsidiary company of Yip’s Chemical Holdings, which specializes in offset, gravure and screen inks; and Bloit Printing Ink, whose expertise is in offset and gravure ink, and is expanding its operations.

“Bloit Printing Ink has bought land to build a new plant, with a designed capacity of 30,000 MT/year,” Jack Baarends, consultant and technical director for Bloit Printing Ink, said. “By the end of 2012, the plant will start to produce green inks.”

Key Growth Areas in China

In terms of printing processes, offset and gravure remain the most dominant among China’s printers.

“In offset, sheetfed printing is still by far the most used printing technique in China,” Mr. Baarends said. “Even many magazines are printed with high quality sheetfed. Gravure is also very large, in particular for the packaging industry (plastic and aluminum substrates). Offset heatset is growing, as well as coldset, but less than expected, due to high investments costs. There is a lot of focus on environmentally-friendly inks, in offset and in gravure. Water-based and the elimination of certain solvents are high on the list for gravure, and in offset, the ‘vegetable’ inks are the important topic.”

“China is the world’s most populous country in the world, and printing jobs tend to be large lot (large batch) printing, so we see gravure ink having made remarkable progress recently,” Mr. Takamizawa said.

“The commercial offset and gravure package printing segments have produced the best results for the printing industry in China,” Dr. Morita observed.

Mr. Nagai said that the packaging ink segment is showing the most growth, supported mainly by demand from the export market.

“Notably, sales of gravure inks for food packaging applications is growing, as is the market for eco-friendly products and solutions,” Mr. Adachi said. “Demand for these products continues to show strong signs of growth."

Growing Emphasis on the Environment in China

Without question, environmental issues are playing a key role worldwide, and China is no exception. Ink manufacurers note that environmetally friendly inks are becoming ever more important to printers.

“As the Chinese government instructs people in China to give attention to environmental concerns, the most important trend from now on are the environment-friendly products we manufacture,” Mr. Takamizawa said.

“We have been emphasizing on the environmental issues in the region, providing more vegetable oil-based inks and water-based gravure inks,” Mr. Nagai said.

“We expect to see further growth in printing ink demand for food packaging applications,” Mr. Adachi said. “For this sector, Toyo Ink plans to further invest in China in the development of eco-friendly solutions, such as bioethanol- and bioester-based gravure inks.”

“Green ink will be the future,” Mr. Baarends said. “We estimate 30% of conventional offset ink will be replaced by 'green ink' within three years. In gravure, solvents such as toluene and xylenes are banned and MEK will follow soon. Raw materials from renewable resources are becoming very important for all industries, but in particular for printing inks.

“Saving oil is very welcome in China,” Mr. Baarends said. “Biodegradability will be an issue for the near future. We think that the whole green concept, which leads to better health, better environment, safer working and better biodegradability, must be accepted in particular because of the initiatives and pressure from the government and the authorities. It is still unknown what energy curing (UV) and water-based will do in future. Both chemistries have a lot of negatives for the environment and people. The discussion is still on-going. Where migration is a hot item, many printers will choose bio inks instead of these kind of inks.

“Bloit Printing Ink is focusing on Total Green Printing,” Mr. Baarends added. “This ‘green’ concept includes 'green inks', 'green' press cleaners and 'green' fountain solutions. We are going to focus on the following areas:

• Enhance the public's awareness of the 'green' concept. Mr. Baarends said it is essential to improve people's understanding of how important “green printing” is to their health and the enviroment. “The message to the printers and their customers is respect for people and nature, awareness, responsibility for our ecology and people and higher attention to safety,” he added.

• Get the support from the government. “The government is very enthusiastic about our ‘green’ technology,” Mr. Baarends noted. “It is an innovative technology with innovative products. This is second point which is encouraged by the Chinese government. They would like China to lose the name of cheap and low quality products. Innovation, high quality and environmentally friendly are the high topics for the industry. Bloit Printing ink promotes their new line of Super Green inks as much as possible. Interviews on TV, radio and publications newspapers have already taken place on request of journalists.”

• Cooperate with the multinational companies who are the market leaders of their markets. Mr.. Baarends noted that this includes big printers as well as multi-nationals such as Sony, Martell and many other companies in the packaging industry (included cigarettes) as well as magazines, etc.

• Influence and lead other ink makers and printers to 'go green.’ “Bloit Printing Ink has taken the lead in 'green' inks and like to contribute to a greener sky, greeener earth and greener (healthier) people,” Mr. Baarends concluded. “Our ink series are called GS,GE and GP. We want to encourage other ink makers to go greener.”

“We view the introduction of environmentally-friendly inks to meet market requirements in China as a key element,” Dr. Morita concluded. “This is very important to us because environmental and safety issues will become more stringent in the near future. The requirement of environmentally friendly products continues to increase in the Chinese printing market. This includes soybean oil-type offset printing ink and non-toluene and non-MEK types of solvent-based inks. The reason for this shift is due to demands from both domestic and overseas markets.”