The Metallic Pigment Market

By Kerry Pianoforte, Ink World Associate Editor | 08.06.12

Metallic pigment manufacturers reported growth in 2011 and are cautiously optimistic for the coming year.

Photo courtesy of Eckart America.
Metallic inks are used in a wide variety of applications. From magazines to consumer packaging, metallic inks are a sure-fire way to get a product to stand out. Metallic pigment manufacturers are reporting that 2011 saw solid growth, and are optimistic for the coming year, although raw material costs continue to remain a key challenge.

“Sun Chemical Performance Pigments has seen solid growth in metallic pigments for graphic arts over the past two years and we expect to see similar growth over the next year,” said Aaron Holllman, global product manager - effect pigments, Sun Chemical Performance Pigments. “Sun Chemical will continue to invest in new metallic pigment technologies and process capabilities to deliver quality, service and innovation to our customers.”

“The vacuum metallized pigment market showed continued growth throughout 2011, particularly with the darker chrome shades, such as BASF Metasheen 41 series of mirror effect pigments,” said Neil Forsythe, business manager, printing and specialties, BASF Corporation.”The sluggish economy during the second half of 2011 stimulated further interest in unique effects for product differentiation, from both brand owners and package designers.”

According to Joseph Perdue, marketing manager, North America - graphic arts at Eckart, the marketplace for metallics continues to be as challenging as ever.

“Customers continue to look for cheaper alternatives even if they had to sacrifice some quality or performance,” he said. “Metallics have remained a key differentiator to all forms of packaging, but more so than ever, we are seeing customers highly scrutinize the cost for these effects and are very conservative with their choices.

“There is also increasing interest in printing metallic effects as an alternative to foils and metallized substrates, particularly given the economic and environmental advantages metallic inks offer today,” Mr. Perdue continued “This is encouraging. However, cost increases, supply issues, raw materials and concerns over the economy in general continue to apply added pressure on the metallics industry. Considering the circumstances, we are satisfied with the way our business has developed. We believe metallic inks and pigments still offer growth opportunities for companies that are willing to look beyond the day-to-day and consider the wider picture of both the decorative and functional possibilities of metallic pigments and inks.”

Raw material prices remain a key concern for metallic pigment manufacturers.

“Raw material and conversion costs for pigments remain a concern throughout the market in certain areas, and 2011 was no different,” said Mr. Forsythe. “BASF continues to search for innovative ways to improve manufacturing processes, better utilize our assets and global infrastructure, and minimize the impact of raw material price increases while continuing to deliver high value products to the industry.”

Mr. Perdue observed that raw material cost pressures and supply concerns seem to be on the rise again.

“There has been a high degree of consolidation in the market, which has led to various challenges and changes in the supply of raw materials,” he noted. “Both suppliers and customers remain very active in trying to identify lower cost alternatives. Although demand and the economy, in general, are less predictable today, with a strong global infrastructure in place, Eckart is very committed to ensuring continuity of supply and is well positioned to meet customers’ ongoing requirements.”

Sun Chemical is anticipating raw material prices to stabilize at the current high levels.

“However, we are certainly aware of the high degree of volatility in the global economy,” said Mr. Hollman. “Therefore, we will continue to monitor the key raw material indexes and focus our manufacturing team on process and raw material productivity. “

Key Growth Areas

Metallic inks are used across the board in all forms of printing, but there are several new areas that seem particularly attractive. Some key growth area are packaging inks, graphic arts and printed electronics.

“We are excited about a number of new growth opportunities for metallic effects in graphic arts,” said Mr. Hollman. “In terms of market segments, we have a number of new products that provide unique aesthetics for packaging inks and functional effects for barrier coatings and printed electronics. These areas should provide nice growth in the coming years. Obviously, we also intend to grow in emerging markets. Therefore, we intend to expand our manufacturing footprint to better service key markets in the Americas, Eastern Europe, Russia and Asia.”

“The growing narrow web market exhibits high interest in effects suitable for use in energy curable ink systems,” said Mr. Forsythe. “Metallic effects on labels for home and personal care, cosmetics and the wine and spirits segments continue to utilize metallic effects.”

“There are many growth opportunities for metallics in the graphic arts industry,” said Mr. Perdue. “Printed metallics remain a key differentiation factor for packaging and point of purchase displays. Differentiation is key for most brands. Our society continues to be overwhelmed with choice in everything we buy, and metallics are a great way to catch the eye and also to improve the appeal of any product. The quality of the decoration on that package in most cases greatly increases the likelihood that one product is chosen over another. For this reason, metallic and similar decoration options are always considered.”

“We are constantly asked for products that are new, products that are unique,” Mr. Perdue added. “Brands want their products to stand out on the shelves. Eckart is continuously developing new and different technologies. We believe these will all have high impact on the future of the metallic segment and provide the innovation that most companies are looking for. In addition, Eckart invests heavily in the search for new markets and has many projects on-going as the leading supplier of effect pigments and inks to the global graphic arts market. Demand remains high for mirror-like effects, but the costs of these products limited the use. The ability to provide similar effects at lower costs would be a strong growth opportunity.”

Conductive Inks

The need for conductive inks is being fueled by the solar market and the burgeoning printed electronics market.

"With the continuing trend toward green technologies, we see growth opportunities for conductive inks in the solar market," said Mr. Hollman. "Sun Chemical has a wide range of products and technologies that meet the additive and subtractive needs of the c-Si, thin film and printed electronics markets, including a variety of silver tabbing and aluminum backside pastes, inkjet nanosilver inks, etch resists, insulator and dielectric products."

"Screen and digital printable silver pastes/inks and aluminum pastes, etch resists, and dielectrics for the c-Si market are sold under the SunTronic Cellmet brand name," Mr. Hollman continued. "Screen printable silver and graphite pastes as well as inkjet nanoparticle silver inks, etch resists, and dielectrics for the thin film market are sold under the SunTronic Solsys brand name. SunTronic Eclipse PTF silver, and graphite pastes/inks, etch resists and dielectrics are sold to printed electronics manufacturers and other emerging applications."

"BASF Inorganics business unit is actively involved with conductive pastes and materials for markets such as the photovoltaic industry, with the CypoSol line of products," said Bill Fetterly, industry marketing manager, pigments for printing and packaging.

New Metallic Pigments

New products are helping to drive growth in the metallic and specialty pigment market. BASF offers Firemist Crystal Touch, a new unique tactile effect pigment with bright sparkle appearance and Glacier Frost White, the whitest effect pigment, based on synthetic mica.

Eckart offers a new range of glass pearl pigments under the brand name LUXAN. These products are based on artificial glass substrates and show high transparency due to very smooth and optically perfect surfaces. These pigments exhibit outstanding brightness and reflecting power that lead to distinct flashy and clear color stylings.

Eckart has introduced PLATINSTAR inks and PLATINVARIO pigments where in certain applications they can offer a foil-like look with greatly improved economics compared to vacuum metallized pigments (VMP). "In addition to the improved effect, these pigments transfer significantly better than other silver dollar pigments of this type, opening up new opportunities for flexo applications where previous version of silver dollar pigment did not achieve enough hiding power or functionality to be considered," said Mr. Perdue. "These products are targeted specifically for the decorative portion of the flexible packaging segment, where currently metallic effects are mostly achieved from metallized substrates. This new PLATINSTAR range would offer printers the ability to spot decorate inline.

Also from Eckart is ROTOSTAR UV Shrink Silver. Based on new high-end silver dollar pigment, this latest technology offers a highly functional aluminum effect with premium added benefits of brilliance and reduced cost, according to the company. It has unique capabilities of maintaining metallic effect without going dark in shrink applications.

"Our latest UV Flexo Silver, ULTRASHINE UV FP 8253, is specifically designed for printers with front end coater capabilities for folding carton applications," Mr. Perdue continued. "The silver product offers extremely high reflective brilliance with exceptional ink trapping characteristics, engineered for printers and brand owners who are looking for alternative technologies as a replacement for metallized (foil) paperboard.This latest addition to Eckart’s ULTRASTAR family is press ready and ”user-friendly”, offering a superior printed metallic effect that is both environmentally acceptable and economically attractive.

Sun Chemical has introduced the new SunMetallics Collection for graphic arts. "We have expanded our product portfolio to include premium leafing grades for offset, aluminum dispersions and concentrates for flexo and gravure, stabilized aluminum powders for UV and new metallic preparations for water-based printing," said Mr. Holllman.

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