The Inkjet Ink Report

By David Savastano , Editor | 05.01.13

As digital printing expands into new applications and gains market share in existing segments, inkjet ink suppliers are enjoying growth

The digital printing sector continues to expand, as inkjet gains market share in areas it already is strong in, while moving into new printing segments. For inkjet ink manufacturers, business continues to grow as well.

EFI reached a major milestone in 2012, when the company surpassed the million liter sales mark.

“We had another record year for ink sales in 2012,” said Stephen Emery, vice president, ink business, EFI. “EFI hit a milestone when, for the first time, the company shipped more than a million liters of digital UV ink in less than 12 months. This represents a significant amount of the total market for ink in the industries we serve.”

Dr. Christophe Bulliard, commercial director for Sensient Imaging Technologies SA, said that Sensient is concentrating its developments in industrial inkjet printing applications.

“As a leader in sublimation inkjet inks, we are taking advantage of all the driving forces operating in this segment: the strong increase of the digital share of textile printing, the growth of polyester vs. cotton as a substrate and the increasing use of sublimation to print onto polyester as this technique brings very high color gamut with a process respective of natural resources (no use of water),” Dr. Bulliard said. “During the past year, we have launched sublimation solutions for very high productivity printers equipped with Kyocera printheads (MS Italy, Reggiani ReNOIR). These printers started to make their way into printing paper, and Sensient was again a pioneer in the development of suitable ink systems. Sensient also made interesting in-roads with coding and marking inks with a new set of high performance products.”

Ken Kisner, INX Digital’s vice president and chief technology officer, said that the printing industry saw inkjet technology take a big step forward.

“At drupa 2012, there was a strong inkjet presence, and everyone could see the growth of digital in areas that always were considered to be either offset or lithography in the past,” Mr. Kisner said. “Industrial markets such as ceramic and textile are showing steep increases in use. The signage market is continuing to display signs of maturity as local manufacturers are beginning to establish ground in price sensitive markets.”

“SunJet, the inkjet division of Sun Chemical, grew strongly in the past year, and widened its product and technology portfolio to meet the demands of existing and emerging markets,” said Peter Saunders, global sales and marketing manager, Sun Chemical.

“The industry as a whole experienced significant growth in 2012, and Nazdar made substantial contributions to the marketplace in all sectors,” said Rich Dunklee, digital market segment manager - Americas at Nazdar.

Kristin Adams, marketing manager for Collins Ink Corporation, said that Collins’ business continues to grow, as does the printing industry, particularly in the high-speed inkjet printing market.

“We’re seeing more and more customers from the traditional printing industry begin to integrate inkjet printheads into their production,” Ms. Adams added. “I think we’ve all learned that there is a certain threshold at which is doesn’t make sense to use inkjet because the cost per page is simply too expensive. However, for shorter runs with variable data, inkjet is the way to go. Printhead manufacturers like Kyocera, HP, Ricoh, Xaar, Spectra and others have nice systems that allow customers to easily integrate water-based and UV curable digital printing with traditional printing. A combination of the two seems to be working for a lot of customers who battle with the traditional/digital threshold.”

John Kaiser, product marketing manager - inkjet inks, FUJIFILM North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division, said that the inkjet printing industry as a whole continued to expand last year as printers replaced traditional analog equipment with digital inkjet technology, and more output was produced utilizing digital inkjet equipment.

“Fujifilm recorded significant sales of digital inkjet equipment this past year, and our inkjet ink business continues to grow significantly,” Mr. Kaiser said. “In the wide format segment, Fujifilm introduced new upgrades to the Onset series of UV flatbed printers with the introduction of the Onset S40i, introduced a new model of the Uvistar series with the Uvistar Pro-8 and expanded the Acuity series with the introduction of the Acuity Advance Select and the Acuity LED 1600. These platform introductions were accompanied by the launch of several new Uvijet ink ranges that delivered enhanced performance characteristics such as superior adhesion to substrates and increased ink flexibility.

Photo courtesy of EFI.
“In the sheetfed and web segment, Fujifilm recorded sales of both the J Press 720 and J Press 540W inkjet digital platforms,” Mr. Kaiser added. “These platforms utilize Fujifilm VIVIDIA inkjet inks for efficient production of high quality output primarily for shorter run length jobs. Along with the introduction of equipment and inks, the company dedicates much time and research to the development of innovative new inkjet platforms and inks for both existing markets and new markets, and expects to launch several new platforms and inks in 2013.”

Michael Andreottola, president, American Ink Jet Corporation, said that 2012 was a good year for American Ink Jet.

“We had modest gains in sales compared to 2011,” Mr. Andreottola said. “Our increase was due to new activity in third party cartridge remanufacturing and the development of inks for new applications for inkjet printing. The additional applications are in circuit board printing and printing on novel materials. Another part of our growth is in toll manufacturing for companies developing inkjet inks but not having the manufacturing facilities to do so. In the past, where we manufactured inks for DuPont, Rohm & Haas and Kodak, we are now producing inks for much smaller companies that require inks for specific applications.”

Moshe Zach, CEO of Bordeaux Digital Printink Ltd., said that Bordeaux is a global company offering high quality digital printing inks, coatings and solutions and operates within the realm of the global wide format and graphic arts printing niche.

“As such, Bordeaux has a strong presence worldwide, backed up by strong local distributors who claim to have a competitive edge over other brands and continue to introduce new Bordeaux products and increase their Bordeaux market share,” Mr. Zach said. “In the last year, Bordeaux enjoyed the deployment of new distributors in Western Europe and increased its market share and the introduction of new Bordeaux products in other European countries. Bordeaux is looking forward to the continued growth in the North and South American markets, where we have been able to leverage new products and increase the awareness to Bordeaux’s quality inks, coatings and ink feeding solutions.”

Strongest Market for Inkjet

Digital printing has developed opportunities in numerous areas previous held by conventional printing.

“Digital printing relates to many fields which until only a few years ago did not have anything in common,” Mr. Zach said. “Digital printing enables printing every digital image directly to a substrate and therefore yields the best printing quality compared with conventional printing. Digital printing was initially driven by the document printing and later extended to wide format printing and graphic arts. While these markets are still a major focus, the technology has already been implemented in packaging, labeling, textile, 3D printing, printed circuit boards and pharmaceuticals. It also enables high quality direct printing on such surfaces as glass, wood, ceramics and metal. Every industry or applications that can implement digital printing will benefit from this move and therefore every market can be potentially strong for digital printing.”

“To understand the magnitude of digital printing opportunities, it's best to look at the trends favoring digital printing: increased order frequency, small order quantities and faster turnaround demands,” Mr. Kaiser said. “We consider signage and display graphics to be a key growth area along with traditional print and packaging.”

“Commercial markets for transactional printing are showing good growth with new fixed array inkjet technology,” Mr. Kisner said. “Industrial markets that are targeting the stamp industry, gravure, lithography and rotary screen are evolving to inkjet. The advantages of short run and mass customization are leading the charge because today’s marketing and packaging needs make it possible for one to market to very small and niche demographics.”

“We have seen continued growth in wide and super-wide formats in the graphics market,” Mr. Saunders said. “Narrow web and label opportunities have increased as digital press capabilities are being realized. Imprinting and personalized print applications have grown in all geographies and we have seen deployment of systems designed for commercial print and publication markets using aqueous ink technology. We have been able to capitalize on our vertically integrated strengths in aqueous and non-aqueous inkjet applications that leverage our technical expertise in pigments, dispersions, polymers and formulation chemistry know-how, combined with our understanding of print applications.”

“General signage and display, including out-of-home and P-O-P advertising on flexible and rigid media, remain strong,” Mr. Emery said. “It is also a market where we anticipate further growth now that faster production machines like our HS100 Pro allow screen printers to economically switch to digital inkjet printing.

“Labels and packaging is another hot market, albeit one that is growing from a smaller base,” Mr. Emery added. “In label converting specifically, we expect to see significant growth with our Jetrion product line. We’ve built a top-selling inkjet label press offering by giving label converters a modular offering that can include in-line finishing. This is a big advantage that makes a big difference: Automation features and in-line finishing can mean the difference between having up to three people manning a digital label press operation and running the entire production line with a single operator.

“At the same time, digital label printing fits well with overall trends in the label converting industry,” Mr. Emery concluded. “Brand owners that order labels want to move toward just-in-time inventories with shorter runs, which of course is an ideal situation for digital printing. As that trend accelerates, we expect to see the growth in digital label converting continue. Because of the level of convenience, and the quality, value and substrate selection Jetrion offers, label converters are running a larger percentage of their work to digital printing. In fact, Jetrion is one of the fastest-growing parts of EFI. Jetrion has corresponding increases in ink volumes ink based on the uptick in press activity.”

“In-store signage and point-of-purchase graphics are still the major markets for digital printing,” Mr. Dunklee said. “Digital textile production is also a growing market for both transfer and direct-to-fabric dye sublimation. One of the fastest growing emerging markets is the decoration of cell phone, tablet, and lap-top covers. We are seeing a wide variety of small-format UV machines emerging from the Asian market to service this emerging segment.”

“Transpromo and transactional printing continue to be strong markets for digital printing for a couple of reasons,” Ms. Adams said. “We, as consumers, want to be communicated with in the channel that we’re most comfortable in. Right now, the channels that consumers are most comfortable are digital communication and print communication. It’s either, or, but rather a marriage of the two. It was just reported that web sites supported by a printed catalog yield 163% greater revenue than those that are not. What this means for the printing industry is that printed communication needs to convey specific, targeted information that partners with digital mediums. For example, Jane, mother of three from Nebraska and Jack, the recent college graduate from Chicago, can no longer receive the same coupon offer in the mail. In order to remain competitive, companies have to know who their customers are and their marketing communication needs to reflect this. This is where digital inkjet printing thrives. By doing things offset, you’re wasting time and energy by including unnecessary information that doesn’t apply to the recipient. Collins’ HP business, which consists mostly of mailing/addressing customers, continues to steadily increase. We’ve experienced significant growth coming out of Asia over the past few years, which is exciting. High-speed card printing, package printing (including pharmaceutical packages), tickets, medical devices, ceramic/glass decoration, book printing, and security applications are also strong markets for digital printing.”

“In my mind, the strongest market for inkjet printing is not necessarily in new printers but in inks,” Mr. Andreottola said. “Latex inks which were introduced several years ago by HP are really taking of. Although they are water-based inks, they are able to print on many substrates that traditional aqueous inks could not adhere to. There were other printer manufacturers at ISA that were showcasing Latex inks. These inks will soon replace the conventional solvent and eco solvent inks and compete with UV curable inks.”

“In terms of volume, the established digital printing applications (home & office, documents, wide format,...) are very strong,” Dr. Bulliard said. “In terms of growth, digital printing is making strong progress into industrial applications.”





Inkjet Becomes More Competitive

Inkjet ink manufacturers noted that advances being made in inkjet printing technology are making it more cost effective to run digital printing at larger runs than it used to be.

“As the speeds of new equipment are increased and the prices of consumables (ink and media) get more competitive, the threshold which a job becomes profitable to run on a digital printer versus a screen (or offset) printer is moving higher,” Mr. Dunklee said.

“EFI has just started shipping its VUTEk HS100 Pro UV inkjet press, and it really is a high-end, production level device that is meant at making digital printing more cost-effective at higher volumes,” Mr. Emery said. “For our customers that only do digital printing, it represents a chance to get into higher-volume work that they could not profitably do before. For businesses with analog screen print capacity, the HS100 Pro presents an opportunity to offer the benefits of digital printing – including fast changeover, targeted production with multiple versions of a job – with quality that approaches offset.”

“SunJet is working with its OEM partners to increase the speed of output in wide format printing to compete with offset at higher run lengths,” Mr. Saunders said. “The equipment is running faster and inks need to cure on the wide range of substrates used at production speeds which are now achieving up to 1000 sM/hr.”

“Inkjet printing technology continues to evolve and improve,” Mr. Kaiser said. “Larger runs are becoming more cost effective as print speed continues to increase. These speed increases allow more print to be produced per hour by the same labor cost. New printer load and unload automation systems also allow for increased print output. The Onset S40i is a good example. The recent introduction of the Accelerator upgrade increased output from 94 beds per hour to 110 beds per hour. This has a profound impact on the cost effectiveness of larger runs on digital inkjet equipment compared to traditional analog print methods.”

“As competition heats up, we’re seeing the price of four color DOD printheads come down and their speed capabilities increase, both of which help to make inkjet printing more cost effective.” Ms. Adams noted. “There are certain printhead manufacturers that are flexible in allowing customers to choose their own ink suppliers and then there are others who lock customers into supplies agreements. When customers can adopt new inkjet technology without being forced into paying inflated ink costs, then we see more adopters of the technology because it is more cost effective. The cost per liter determines the cost per page or impression, and in the end, the market will dictate what the ink price needs to be; the sooner that we all get to that point, the better. This is why Collins has taken a preemptive position in the marketplace to keep margins low and ink prices low as opposed to starting high and bringing them down over time. Customers tend to remember what you charged them yesterday. The least expensive way to print high volume variable data is still with the Kodak Versamark systems. Prosper shows some promise, but it doesn’t appear to be there quite yet.”

“The cost of equipment such as printheads and the inkjet inks themselves become more competitively priced,” Mr. Kisner said. “This is due to more competition entering the market and ever increasing volumes.”

“Today, a good part of the conversion from traditional to digital printing is geared by the availability of very high productivity printers making use of the latest printhead technologies,” Dr. Bulliard said. “These machines are able to print sizeable quantities every day, so that they are considered as ‘serious tools’ by the manufacturers of industrial goods, who now prepare all their samples and some production runs using inkjet printing. In terms of cost effectiveness, inkjet is advantadgeous through the intrinsical advantage of digital printing versus traditional: saving of the printing plates or rolls, easier pre-press and make-ready; no overstock of printed goods, which improves cash flow and reduces the risk of unsold inventories; possibility to add value by personalized design.”

“Digital printing is the ultimate solution for short run jobs and alongside its quality, this is another main advantage,” Mr. Zach said. “This is true today and will probably remain so in the future. However, development of high frequency printheads and supporting peripheral print technology such as the stacking and feeding systems in the new printers enables much greater speed. To complete the picture, compatible inkjet chemistry such as inks, primers and coatings that support high speed printing and enable faster drying is essential. Bordeaux is cooperating with printing machine developers and designers in developing inks and coatings that are customized to the printers' specifications. Already today there are trends of developing in-line digital printing machines that simulate the speeds of conventional printing but these are still limited in their printing capacity.”

New Inkjet Technologies

Inkjet ink manufacturers are developing new technologies to go with the new markets and requirements for digital printing.

“SunJet is working with print head manufacturers and OEM system integrators to optimize performance on porous and coated paper stocks to develop the speed of print and output quality in markets dominated by offset printing,” Mr. Saunders said. “It is also seen as vital that the development of low migration inks and systems continue in order to maximize the opportunity for inkjet printing in the label market and into the packaging markets. SunJet has used the vast experience gained over many years in Sun Chemical, with inks for traditional print processes, to bring market leading technology and expertise to inkjet formulations.”

“Recent advances in available raw materials has allowed Collins to formulate less expensive dye-based inkjet inks that perform similarly to that of more expensive pigment-based inks, making inkjet more appealing and affordable,” Ms. Adams said. “We’re always asked by customers to target offset print quality (high gloss finish) and it used to be only achievable with pigments. This is not the case anymore. Dye-based inks are capable of doing more today than yesterday, at a lower price than pigment-based inks.”

“We will launch a new range of pigmented inks for cotton printing at FESPA in June 2013,” said Dr. Bulliard. “We are also working on a new technology, which will allow to save a lot of water in the process of direct printing onto polyester textiles. Patent application has been filed.”

“Nazdar has focused a good deal of our time on LED/UV curing technologies for both the screen print and digital print market segments; 2012 witnessed the introduction of new product lines in both segments,” Mr. Dunklee said. “We also released a dye sublimation product for transfer printing that is gaining traction in the market.”

“At this time we are developing inks for various printheads such as Konica, Epson and Spectra,” Mr. Andreottola said. “The applications vary in materials to be printed on, temperatures and physical parameters of the inks. It is still a very dynamic industry.”

“INX Digital continues to be a leader in UV inkjet technology,” Mr. Kisner said. “Our UV hybrid and new low migration UV inkjet inks are helping to penetrate new markets. And our new water based technology has an integrated polymer that gives you the ability to print to a variety of coated and uncoated paper medias.”

“Innovation is part of Fujifilm's DNA, so we are always developing new ink and systems technologies to better serve our customers,” Mr. Kaiser said. “In the past year we showed off the superior output of our specialized Uvijet inks, for example. They were designed exclusively for Inca, Acuity and Uvistar printers, and formulated with a unique Micro-V dispersion technology to maximize pigment loading. The Uvijet digital UV inks offer superb dot reproduction, bright vivid colors, a wide adhesion range, and flexible inks for increased efficiency in post print finishing. More specifically, the Acuity LED printer (mentioned above) uses new Fujifilm Dimatix Q-Series printheads. The new Q-Series features exceptional jetting speed, and enables jetting of both smaller and larger ink droplets. This provides optimum coverage for areas of solid color as well as optimizes image quality for fine text and gradients. A proprietary design, patent-pending UV-LED ink curing system on the Acuity LED printer provides many benefits, including lower energy consumption and longer lamp life when compared to traditional metal halide UV curing technology. The Acuity LED features an 8-color Fujifilm Uvijet ink set, including CMYK plus light cyan, light magenta, white and clear, and the LED ink curing system allows printing white or clear ink in a single pass for even greater productivity."

Mr. Kaiser noted that Fujifilm launched VIVIDIA high performance inks at drupa 2102.W

“With performance characteristics tailored to the commercial and packaging print segments, this range of state-of-the-art inks has been developed specifically to complement the company’s growing range of J Press series single pass digital inkjet presses,” Mr. Kaiser added. “The J Press 720 utilizes the high performance VIVIDIA AQ ink and SAMBA printhead, while the J Press F (provisional name) utilizes the high performance VIVIDIA UV ink and a different implementation of the SAMBA printhead technology. VIVIDIA UV ink has been developed to meet the specific needs of the folding carton industry in terms of print stock and finishing requirements. There are more inkjet equipment, ink and curing systems technologies in development that we expect to bring to market in 2013 and beyond.”

“Bordeaux’s business model and philosophy is to provide solutions that overcome printing barriers,” Mr. Zach said. “Bordeaux partnered with InkonDemand.com, a printing solutions manufacturer, for the purpose of developing ink feeding systems that enable maximum exploitation of the ink while bypassing the printer manufacturer's limitations such as irregular cartridges, or electronic specifications planted by the manufacturer that restrict some of the printer's features. One such development is an independent bulk ink feeding system that can be mounted and installed on every wide format printer and provides an independent ink storage containers and feeding of the ink to the machine through separate tubing bypassing the original printer's ink feeing system. The system is totally modular, easy to install and suitable for all printers. This bulk ink system improves the printer performance and throughput since it is equipped with ink sensors that indicate the ink level accurately and enable the users to do accurate ink consumption and other calculations, which cannot be provided the printer and to closely monitor the printing procedure.

“Bordeaux also offers Latex water based ink, which combines the environmental advantages of water based inks with the performance of solvent based inks,” Mr. Zach added. “Bordeaux Latex ink is designed for printers equipped with Epson DX printheads without requiring changes in the heating/drying zones in most printers. Bordeaux is also offering complementary products such as pre-printing primers and post-printing coatings for a wide variety of applications for improved print durability and added gloss or matte look. “

Good Opportunities for Inkjet

Inkjet has made significant inroads into a wide variety of markets, such as wide format and narrow web. As brand owners and printers look to produce shorter runs, inkjet will continue to make gains. For example, Ms. Adams noted that flexible UV inkjet inks and inks for food packaging and pharma applications are good opportunities for inkjet.

“Inkjet is growing in all markets, even in well-established sectors such as wide format graphics,” Mr. Saunders said. “Variable data markets in China, for instance, are seeing tremendous growth due to the need for supply chain traceability. If we talk about future opportunities, packaging applications and commercial print markets are a real focus for us in ink technology and for our partners in hardware development. Both of these areas require UV inks and aqueous inks, depending on the end applications, and maybe even hybrids of the two in some cases.”

“Inkjet technology
has done a terrific job providing an alternative to traditional print processes,” Mr. Kaiser said. “The key growth areas in the future will be packaging and industrial applications. This will be especially true for industrial applications, which can benefit from the digital ‘sweet spot’ of small order quantities, increased customization and quick turnaround.”

“The packaging industry is primed for growth,” said Mr. Kisner. “Regardless if it’s for corrugated, folding carton, metal decoration or flexible packaging purposes, inkjet technology gives marketers the chance to keep current with new packaging regulations, languages or more target-specific marketing.”

Mr. Dunklee said that LED curable UV inks are going to be much more relevant in the next couple of years.

“As more printer manufacturers adopt the technology, the prices of the LED lamp units will start to normalize and become competitive with conventional UV curing units,” Mr. Dunklee added. “We are already seeing quite a few printers who are either 100% LED curing or are using a hybrid solution.”

Mr. Emery said that EFI made some strategic technical advances in the past year that open the door to new markets for its customers.

“The first is a thermoformable ink suitable for deep-draw applications,” Mr. Emery said. “The ink does not crack, fade or otherwise degrade under thermoforming applications, so it brings inkjet into an area that is really dominated by airbrush applications. It is a big time saver and presents a great example of how digital printing can make some processes much easier.

“Similarly, decorated tile is often produced by analog or manual decoration methods,” Mr. Emery added. “Last year, we acquired Cretaprint, a leading provider of inkjet-based tile decorating systems because it presents a great growth opportunity. The market is not as pronounced here in the U.S., but it is the type of business that can have a tremendous impact in Asia and other regions. We have also developed an ink for printing on corrugated plastics. Corrugated plastic is a large market overall in the sign and graphics market, but digital printing on corrugated has been limited in the past because inkjet traditionally has adhesion problems on the substrate. Fixing that issue with the new inks we have coming to market has the potential to being even more print into the digital space.”

“One very interesting area for inkjet is in textile printing,” Mr. Andreottola said. “Although inkjet has been used in this market for many years for printing carpets, wall covering and other durable goods, there has been an increase in using inkjet printers in short run textile printing, such as overnight printing of patterns on various materials. Someone can find a pattern on a website and order so many yards of the material, and within a few days can have a unique garment or furniture upholstery.”

“It seems that many OEMs are moving the battlefield to industrial printing now that the applications of digital printing to personal (SOHO, office) and commercial (wide format, documents...) printing are mature,” Dr. Bulliard noted. “This offers very good opportunities to develop unique solutions for the manufacturers. We anticipate that digital printing will also grow very fast in packaging applications.”

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