Metallics Continue to Grow in Graphic Arts

By Bridget Klebaur, Associate Editor | 08.01.14

Metallic pigments and inks are used in consumer packaging, labels, gift wrap and publication and commercial printing.

Photo courtesy of FINAT.
With estimated annual sales of $1 billion, the metallic pigment market is sizable. While automotive coatings are the largest end use for metallics, graphic arts are an important segment for metallic pigments and inks. The use of metallic pigments continues to grow in graphic arts in 2014, and despite economic challenges, companies are optimistic about further growth.

“Graphic arts are one of the most important market segments for metallic pigments, where inks are used in a variety of printing applications to produce consumer packaging such as cartons, pouches and flexible films; labels (glue applied, pressure sensitive and shrink sleeve); gift wrap and party goods, as well as for publication and commercial printing,” said Vashti Jagmohan, product manager/marketing communications, ECKART America. “Metallic pigments are also used in the paints and coatings, plastics, powder coatings and industrial markets.”

“Metallic pigments continue to be a growth area for Sun Chemical as we will continue to expand our Benda-Lutz brand of premium metallic pastes and preparations for printing inks,” said Aaron Hollman, global product manager, effect pigments, Sun Chemical Performance Pigments. “As a leading global pigment manufacturer, we are optimistic that Sun Chemical Performance Pigments will overcome ongoing global economic challenges and see continued growth for the balance of 2014 and beyond.”

BASF Corp. focuses on vacuum metallized pigments, which it found to have some growth this year.

“The largest part of the metallic pigment market would be for traditional aluminum metallics for automotive etc. and many print applications,” said Neil Forsythe, sales manager, Printing, Packaging & Adhesives, BASF Corp. “BASF does not participate in the larger market but restricts our focus to vacuum metallized pigments (VMPs), which are used primarily in packaging and label applications. This would be considered a relative niche.”

Part of the ALTANA Group, ECKART saw improvements in the market this year. Jagmohan said that 2013 was a stable year for metallic pigments and inks.

“It appears that the overall printing ink industry had a better year as well, although certain segments of the printing industry continue to face challenges and there is still quite a bit of economic uncertainty,” Jagmohan added.

New Brook saw volumes growing in sales while margins eroded a bit, mostly due to increases in freight, handling, regulatory and compliance costs. Ron Levi of New Brook International said that the automobile market is the largest  market for metallics, with China being the largest consumer.

“In the other global markets, we believe that the largest consumption of metallics is evenly divided among the printing inks, paints and masterbatch industries, with the multi-nationals consuming the largest share,” said Levi. “As to geographic volumes, China has taken over as the number one consumer of metallic pigments.”

Areas of Growth

Packaging, inkjet and energy curing have been the strongest area of growth in printing in recent years, but usage of metallic pigments and inks in other segments as well.
Jagmohan said that ECKART sees the label and packaging market segments as main opportunities for growth.

“Requests for energy curable metallic inks remain healthy, as newer technology (LED) and regulatory changes are creating demand,” Jagmohan added. “Requirements for metallic inks tend to follow the overall trends in the printing industry.”

Forsythe explained that for VMPs, the largest growth areas would be packaging and label applications.

“UV formulae are most definitely growing in the market but remain a relatively small percent of the total VMP market,” he said.
Challenges for Metallics

It is a significant technical challenge to produce the highest quality metallic effects while balancing cost and maintaining critical ink functional properties. Printing speed continues to be one of the major challenges the metallics industry faces.

“High speed presses offer printers significant cost savings but generally require anilox rollers with very tight tolerances,” Hollman said. “These small dimensions restrict the metallic flake geometries that can be used without issues with printability. Our process technologists are continuously developing finer, brighter metallic effects for our Benda-Lutz range of premium metallic pigments. At the same time, our applications team is optimizing the ease of use, formulation flexibility and functional requirements of the finished ink.”

“Environmental and safety concerns (especially for aluminum powders) play a role in all markets,” Levi said. “The time between new product introduction and acceptance is an all-around challenge.”
Metallic inks, unlike inks manufactured from conventional organic or inorganic pigments, have a much larger particle size that need to be transferred to the substrate, and there is also the orientation of these particles that influence the desired effect.

“Brilliance and coverage will always play an important role for metallic supplier,” Jagmohan said. “Working together with printers to determine the best chemistry and helping them understand and optimize the application process remains extremely important.”

The Future of the Market

In terms of the future of the market, sustainable growth as well as strong competition is predicted. ECKART found that the year started out a little soft for metallics but product inquiries and project activity remain very encouraging. The market should improve as these requests and opportunities begin to commercialize. BASF anticipates some growth this year, but the company is also aware that individual pieces of business are reliant on fashion and design changes.

“While competition remains strong in a shrinking market, we expect to see our sales remain steady and that our customer base will grow based on our new offerings,” Levi said.

“We see sustainable growth potential for metallics in packaging, energy curables and digital printing,” Hollman said. “Sun Chemical will continue to invest in new manufacturing capability and research and development to deliver quality, service and innovation to our clients worldwide.”

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