25 Apr 2024

Developing market-leading wide format inks

Gemma Osborne, Research Development Section Head at Fujifilm Ink Solutions Group.

In a world of raw materials shortages, as well as rapidly developing printing technologies, Gemma Osborne, Research Development Section Head at Fujifilm Ink Solutions Group, explains what it takes to continue to produce wide format inks of the highest quality.

Fujifilm combines a breadth and depth of in-house expertise few can rival, with an international network of collaborative partners. The end result is a wide format ink range to meet the highest standards of quality, performance and compliance.

The best ink developers and manufacturers combine expertise and experience with a freedom and licence to experiment in order to develop inks in accordance with emerging printing technologies, applications, regulations and market demand.

Utilising a global infrastructure

Fujifilm’s inks development and testing centre is located on the same site as its award-winning inks manufacturing plant, and its Wide Format Inkjet Systems Headquarters in Broadstairs in the UK. There, our large team of skilled technicians, scientists, and analytical chemists use state-of-the-art equipment to analyse raw materials, develop ink tests and diagnose problems if and when they arise.

Creating our inks in-house means we have control over our formulations and manufacturing processes, and constant testing enables us to anticipate and adapt to market requirements and developments as they arise. We also evaluate novel curing methods, including the latest LED UV lamps, and everything we manufacture is subject to rigorous quality assurance processes to ensure the quality and consistency of our inks.

The best inks start with the best raw materials and Fujifilm has excellent relationships with world class raw material suppliers all around the world. These relationships mean that we are amongst the first to evaluate emerging materials and we can secure consistent supplies for large scale manufacture, even during global crises.

 

Fujifilm ink dispersions and raw materials

 

Sometimes, the combined demands of compliance and performance mean there is a need for a raw material solution which does not yet even exist. In these scenarios we work with the Fujifilm Synthetic Organic Chemistry Laboratory (SOCL) based in Japan, who have the capability to design and manufacture bespoke materials for many applications, including inkjet – all exclusively for Fujifilm use.

Being able to tap into this resource is a massive advantage for Fujifilm and ensures we are able to continue to formulate compliant, high performance inks no matter what challenges we face in terms of potential raw material supply issues, compliance and functionality demands. Additionally, our connection with Japan, also provides us with great communication lines to the best printhead and lamp manufacturers, and our global presence means that we also have strong links with leading manufacturers in Europe, the US and China.

Despite the multiple processes we undertake to develop the highest quality inks from the best materials, sustainability is also at the forefront of our minds, so we have managed to significantly reduce our R&D ink usage by using smaller volumes of ink, ultimately reducing waste by almost a half over the last 10 years.

In depth printhead understanding

Developing inkjet inks requires a deep understanding of printhead technology and here Fujifilm’s proprietary knowledge and expertise gives us a massive advantage. As well as having an excellent global network of printhead manufacturers, we also work very closely with Fujifilm Dimatix and this relationship gives us unrivalled access to considerable resources when it comes to printhead and ink compatibility and functionality.

Our ongoing research and ink development for a wide range of leading modern printheads means that our understanding can be employed in a uniquely impactful and effective way. Our deep understanding of both ink and printhead, and how they work together, gives us the ability to deliver the ultimate in integration, compatibility and performance.

Barberán partnership and the single pass challenge

LED UV cured inks demand considerably more engineering than regular mercury UV cured inks due to the narrower light spectrum. So, when we were given the task of developing an LED UV ink that would cure on a single pass press at 50m per minute that would also need to adhere to a wide range of rigid and flexible media, including polypropylene, we faced a considerable challenge. Yet, that was the project set for us as Fujifilm embarked on its joint development project with Spain-based, single pass, industrial print experts, Barberán, in late 2022.

To create this specialised ink, we identified a patented base formulation that could achieve superb material wetting and jetting performance. We then optimised it for the HS6000 single pass inkjet press. The optimisation process included enhancing the curing and pigment dispersion development to achieve vibrant colour and dense black, and compatibility testing to ensure excellent jetting reliability in the precision printhead.

 

Fujifilm ink and dispersion testing equipment



Our R&D facility boasts equipment that enables offline curing tests at speeds in excess of 100m/min, single pass printing platforms to evaluate complex printing parameters, and both small and large ink making capabilities to evaluate and screen multiple formulae at once to rapidly identify the best formulations. In addition, the knowledge and expertise we have in the team means we can adapt the test parameters quickly to effectively emulate the end application. This process means we can quickly develop robust, high quality inks that perform as required in the printer.

While working closely with our integration team based in Cambridge, as well as the printhead manufacturer, emphasis has been placed on ensuring that the formulation would enable reliable jetting performance for the lifetime of the printhead as well as the functional aspects of the ink. The end result are prints with exceptional image quality with great adhesion to a range of materials on a machine with proven reliability.

Conclusion

Our state-of-the-art research and development facilities enable us to develop inks for widely used, emerging and bespoke applications. Additionally, our close work with our suppliers enables us to meet the demands of our customers while staying on top of changes when it comes to compliance. We’re committed to maintaining our inks’ reliability, quality and reproducibility, so our customers can always trust our supply and remain focused on their printing services, assured that our inks are consistent. They know what they’re getting, every time.

For further information on Fujifilm inks, dispersions and contract manufacturing for OEM partners, click here