The Chinese Ink Market

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 09.24.12

The Chinese printing ink industry continues to enjoy growth, driven by packaging and increased opportunities for environmentally friendly products.

The Chinese Ink Market

The Chinese printing ink industry continues to enjoy growth, driven by packaging and increased opportunities for environmentally friendly products.

Hangzhou Toka Ink’s headquarters. (Photo courtesy of Hangzhou Toka Ink)

The Chinese printing industry continued to enjoy strong growth in 2011, although the sales increase was not quite as large as in recent years. Still, domestic and international ink manufacturers reported solid sales growth during the year.
“The Chinese printing market last year has grown,” said Akihiro Takamizawa, president of Hangzhou Toka Ink. “However, the size of the growth has been weaker than previous years. Chinese economic growth is forecasted to be the same level from this year to next year. Because of the world’s largest population and big batch manufacturing required, the gravure market has increased.”

“In China, sales were on a par as the expanded sales of news inks, particularly colored inks, offset a slight dip in sales of offset inks and packaging inks,” said Hiroshi Nagai, general manager, corporate communications for DIC Corporation. “This is a consequence of flagging economic growth.

“DIC plays mainly in the middle and high-end markets in China, so we can’t speak for the entire market,” Mr. Nagai added. “From what we observed, the economy of China has been flagging since the spring, probably triggered by tight money policy enforced by the government. In that situation, sales remained level. Sales of news inks increased, particularly colored inks, and sales of offset inks and packaging inks decreased.”

Bauhinia Variegata Ink & Chemicals, a wholly owned subsidiary company of Yip’s Chemical Holdings, has three production bases in Southern, Eastern and Northern China, respectively. Ma Jing, communication manager of Yip Chemicals, noted that the growth of digital printing and electronic media limited the growth of the traditional printing industry in 2011.

The Chinese ink industry was also affected,” Ms. Jing added. “Compared with annual increases of 10% over the past years, the growth rate dropped for the first time, and profits had a negative growth.

Meanwhile, raw material and manpower costs continue to rise. All of these factors have influenced the industry deeply and led to more fierce competition and declining profits.”

“The Chinese printing and printing ink industry is still growing, but not on the level of previous years,” said Jack Baarends of Bloit Printing Ink. “A growth of at least 10% could be reached every year; however the growth will be now around 6%. Business is more and more focused on economics and competition is becoming harder. The Chinese market is still dominated by the foreign, mainly Japanese ink producers, and local ink makers have to offer some extras over these foreign companies to be able to gain more business.”

“The Chinese economy continues to grow,” said Kotaro Morita, managing director of Sakata INX Corp. “Our offset and metal decorating inks saw increased sales.”

Toyo Ink officials noted that both the liquid and offset ink industries experienced a high rate of growth, while environmentally conscious products, such as toluene-free and MEK-free inks, achieved a significant growth in the liquid ink market.

“Toyo Ink is aggressively extending our business in China,” Toyo Ink officials added. “There are three production bases, and this year we plan to streamline the sales bases in inland region.”

As a result of the growth of printing in China, ink manufacturers are building new manufacturing facilities.

Mr. Nagai said that DIC has announced the plan to build an environmentally friendly mother plant for packaging inks in the city of Nantong, Jiangsu Province, China.

“This will strengthen our business regarding packaging inks in the Chinese market,” noted Mr. Nagai.

“The plant is scheduled to start manufacturing in December 2012. Upon completion, DIC’s production capacity of packaging inks in China will rise from our current 25,000 tons per year to 70,000 tons per year. We aim to raise our market share of packaging inks in China from our current 10% holding to 20% by 2020.”

Bloit Printing Ink’s headquarters. (Photo courtesy of Bloit Printing Ink)
Mr. Baarends said that Bloit Printing Ink is starting to build a fully automated plant in Nantong to produce 30,000 MT of sheetfed inks.

“The idea is to be backward integrated as much as possible, with state-of-the-art equipment to produce raw materials, varnish and inks,” Mr. Baarends added.

Growth Markets in China

The packaging printing industry in China has enjoyed particularly robust growth in recent years. Chinese ink industry leaders noted that gravure and flexo inks are picking up shares in the marketplace, with digital and UV inks also poised to grow as well.

“Traditional offset printing ink in the ink industry structure still occupies an unshakable position, but with the development and growth of the packaging printing, offset printing inks’ proportion is gradually shrinking,” Ms. Jing reported. “Gravure inks and flexographic inks show significant growth. In the future, UV inks and the inkjet market will also be improved to a certain extent.”

“There is an overall growth in all printing segments, but the most growth is in the packaging market, in gravure as well as in sheetfed as in flexography, ” Mr. Baarends said. “More and more print work is made in China and exported to many other countries, such as in Europe.”

“We consider China to be a very important market, and the key to growth in this country will be to increase packaging sales,” Mr. Morita said.

“The most important trend is inkjet, which was also paid attention at drupa, with newer and more sophisticated technologies,” Mr. Takamizawa said. “Inkjet is the important technology now and in the future, and we have to develop a strong strategy for this market.”

“China has a huge population and the economy is expected to grow,” Mr. Nagai said. “For that reason, DIC is placing heavy emphasis on China. However, the whole market is too large and too varied to cover all of it. DIC has been concentrating on middle- to high-end markets, where our expertise can be utilized the most. Geographically, DIC has been targeting the most demanding districts such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. We believe packaging inks are the keys to growth as the standard of life in the country increases and awareness of food safety increases.”

Emphasis on the Environment

Environmentally friendly products are an important goal in China, and ink manufacturers are focusing their efforts on new inks for the market.

“‘Environmentally conscious’ has consistently adhered to the principle of Bauhinia Variegata’s development,” Ms. Jing said. “Supplying environmentally products is our unwavering responsibility. In the future, we will stick to it constantly and manufacture efficient, energy saving and environmentally friendly ink products for the Chinese market.

“We will continue to intensify efforts for research and development of environmentally friendly products while maintaining our stable existing market advantage,” Ms. Jing added. “Green innovation will be a top priority as we can combine with the different characteristics of the various ink types, from the selection of raw materials to the finished product processing. ‘Safety and environmental protection’ is the premise of our development. In the next step, we will take use of more green, healthy and high-performance products and technology to gain a broader marketing share.”

“We will introduce environmentally friendly inks to meet market requirements, especially on the food packaging side,” Mr. Morita said.

Mr. Baarends said that Bloit Printing Ink has started to become the green pioneer of China, and still focuses on being the supplier of choice for “green” and “the greenest” inks in China and worldwide.

“During drupa in May, the interest of printers, distributors, advisors for sustainability, competitors, suppliers, press, environmental groups and co-suppliers (paper, fountain solutions, printing plates, cleaning solvents, etc.) for green and sustainability was overwhelming,” Mr. Baarends said.

“It seems that ‘Green’ and ‘Sustainability’ are a myth, as companies advertise they have green inks, bio inks, more green than before, but talk only about bio-based, vegetable and solvent-free,” Mr. Baarends continued. “Bloit will be successful, because they are open to the printing industry and tell how green their inks are.

“The ‘green’ inks from Bloit Printing Ink are not only the highest in bio-renewable content, but Bloit Printing Ink also eliminated all suspect, hazardous, toxic raw materials used in inks, such as cobalt carboxylates, anti-oxidant and other additives as well as raw materials used in resins such as phenols, formaldehyde and tin,” Mr. Baarends added. “Bloit Printing ink has the opinion that full elimination of suspect materials is always better than to keep the quantities just below allowed limits of these hazardous materials, so no labeling problems will occur.”

Serving the Market

All in all, providing excellent technology and service are critical for ink manufacturers.

“Cooperation and understanding are the biggest keys for a company growing up,” said Mr. Takamizawa “Therefore, we always think of the development of local company and region first. We should not think that China is just a place to manufacture.”

“In July, Bloit Printing Ink was invited by the Ministry of Science and Technology to present their ‘green inks,’ as being unique in composition and unique in production,” Mr. Baarends said. “The experts concluded that Bloit Printing Ink indeed has unique sheetfed offset inks, which are unique in green composition, production and green properties and technical performance. Bloit Printing Ink received an award for the development of these unique inks in China. These inks meet three elements of China’s new 5 Year plan, being High Quality, Environmentally Friendly (Green) and Innovation.”

“Dedication breeds professionalism,” Ms. Jing said. “We have always firmly believed that science and technology are primary productive forces to keep up with the Chinese market trends and the actual customer demand, and that the research and development of marketable products is the right way of the development. The company has a professional R&D team composed of renowned experts in the ink industry, accumulated investment of RMB 30 million for technical innovation and the development of a special fund for 10 consecutive years.

“In addition, strict quality control is another important part of production management. We can consistently rely on using product quality to win the market, and CNAS national laboratories provide a strong guarantee for the company’s product control,” Ms. Jing added. “We still strive to incessantly serve, quickly respond, provide and receive active feedback and gradually improve. In a word, providing customers with satisfactory service is our relentless pursuit of the goal.”