20 Feb 2019

LFR looks at Inks: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Lfr Ink Article

If you  are considering using alternatives inks in your printer and are about to start talking to some suppliers, we’d suggest that you put your tin hat on.  You are about to about to enter a war zone!

You see, the alternative ink market is arguably the most difficult to navigate.  It is an ugly market absolutely rife with misinformation, hidden agendas and one where myth is often sold as fact.

The root of these problems is the highly competitive nature of this market. Manufacturers and their agents want to retain your ink business. Alternative ink suppliers want you to switch to their inks. And never the twain shall meet.

Let’s break the above problem down into bite-sized chunks and arm you with some information that will stand you in good stead while you try to separate seller fact from seller fiction.

Firstly, the divide that exists in this market is not between Good Ink vs. Bad Ink, as it rightly should be.  It is more typically between OEM-branded ink and alternative inks. This does neither side any good. 

This scenario does not exist in other sectors of the print market.  For example, buying media - branded or third-party - will not open you up to anywhere like the levels of near-hysteria you will have to deal with when considering an ink swap.

In fairness, it is not usually the printer manufacturers at fault here.  Very rarely will you hear a manufacturer rubbishing the competition.  More typically it is the agent or reseller - protecting their ongoing revenue stream - that will have a hatful of horror stories to tell you.

“Put alternative ink in your printer and it is going to explode into a million pieces and no one is going to help you, because it will be your own fault.”  Sounds dramatic? Well, if you don’t believe it, feel free to make a few phone calls to some resellers and you’re bound to hear some stories approaching that level of silliness.

It would be much better if both manufacturers and alternative ink suppliers could work together to rid the market of the rogue products that are clearly second-rate, clearly made of inferior ingredients and that  exist only to make a fast buck on the back of the customer’s desire to make some cost-savings. The recession has been great for the alternative ink market, but at the same time it has also opened up the market to some inks of questionable quality.

There are some very good alternative inks out there

Manufacturer ink is your default position. It’s usually more expensive, but high levels of competition between the various resellers help to keep the price competitive. Because the ink has been developed specifically for your printer, it is obviously covered by warranty and should be completely trouble-free.

However - and this an important point - very few printer manufacturers actually make their own ink.  So it’s fair to say that nearly all ink is alternative  ink.  In many cases, manufacturers buy their inks in from an outside source, with notable suppliers including DuPont, Nazdar, 3M, Toyo and Sun Chemical, to name a few.

Now the majority of those ink suppliers are huge operations, with huge R&D budgets and more scientists than you can shake a stick at – and they’re all beavering away to create reliable high-performance inks for your printer.

But – crucially – not all inks are created equal. Product X from supplier A might have an improved colour gamut; product Y from supplier B might have excellent compatibility with a broader range of media; and product Z from supplier C might have better outdoor durability.  Point being, it is not guaranteed that the ink carrying the same brand as the printer is superior.

There are good alternatives out there, and anyone that tells you otherwise is being a little conservative with the truth.  Further, given that inks can deliver different benefits for different applications, you might well find that an alternative ink product actually offers better performance for your particular application.

A good example of this is in the field of UV-curable inks.  There are some manufacturer-branded inks that do not lend themselves well to edge-to-edge printing or for use in graphics that are cut to shape, because the inks chip at the edges.  In this particular instance, there are definitely superior alternative inks available.

Ink choice is not as clear-cut as Manufacturer Ink vs. Alternative Ink.  It is about Good Ink vs. Bad ink and you can buy good ink from a number of different sources and under a number of different guises.

Think of it like petrol; you are comfortable buying your petrol from any one of a number of reputable petroleum companies and you do so without any concern whatsoever. The problems would only come if you started buying your petrol from a chap who was metaphorically mixing it up in a bucket in his garage from poor quality ingredients.

Reputable is the key word, buy from a reputable supplier, with a known pedigree, and you should avoid problems.

So what about the bad inks - and how do you avoid them?

The easiest way to avoid problems is to stick with the manufacturers branded ink. It’s your failsafe position. But - as detailed - some alternative inks are actually better for particular applications.

The first thing to avoid when sourcing a good ink for your printer is to buy on price alone.  If you buy with price as your only criteria, you are far more likely to end up with a costly printer repair job on your hands.   For every horror story you hear about alternative inks, the probability is high that you are being told about a problem caused by an ink that was purchased on the basis of price alone.

Nothing is for nothing, there are no free rides, and you get what you pay for. If you pay a ridiculously low price for your ink, you are probably going to be using an ink with lower grade ingredients, badly ground pigments, colours that fade more quickly and chemicals that are quite possibly dangerous.

If you want to put a good ink in your printer and be safe going forward, then due diligence is necessary.  Ask the would-be supplier for customer testimonials and talk to the customer cited in the testimonial. It will only take you a few minutes and you’ll get genuine hype-free feedback.

Secondly, ask about the levels of warranty available. Is the ink manufacturer prepared to stand fully behind their ink with a warranty that will match or even exceed the warranty provided by the printer manufacturer? If not, why not? Reliable ink does not cause breakdowns or printer failures and therefore can be safely backed up with a comprehensive warranty. Honestly, if you take one piece of advice only from this feature let it be this: No Warranty, No Sale.

And make sure you get that warranty in writing, because the inane witterings of a pushy salesman are meaningless and indeed worthless if you have not got written confirmation.

What ink should you buy?

In a nutshell, there is no easy, catch-all answer. It depends on the printer you have and the types of applications you are using it for.  With some printers, you’d definitely want to stick with the manufacturers’ ink to achieve optimum results.  However, there are other printers within which you could happily use alternatives ink solutions and would – as well as save money – even improve performance in certain areas.  The point is, the good ink is out there - and it comes wearing a variety of labels...

LFR argues the case for using LED lamps on your UV printer


The development of affordable LED technology for UV-curable printing systems has continued apace for more than a decade, with few manufacturers now denying its benefits over mercury vapour lamps. With more and more customers demanding more environmentally friendly output together with lower prices, any investment in the printroom this year should be with LEDs in mind.

Just the somewhat Victorian words 'mercury vapour' may be enough to put off eco-conscious print customers when the clean-sounding 'LED' is available elsewhere. But the numbers stack up too: thanks to LEDs' ability to direct energy more efficiently into curing rather than heat, the overall power consumption is significantly less than that used by mercury lamps.

Comparing its own systems, EFI VUTEk states that switching to LEDs could reduce a wide-format printer's energy use by 75 per cent – the LED technology used in the VUTEk GS3250LX gets through around 3.6kW per hour, while the VUTEk GS3200's four mercury vapour lamps consume around 15kW per hour, or 9,000 kilowatt hours of energy each year for LED versus 46,800 for mercury vapour for those businesses running a two-shift, five day week - with an average cost of £0.15 per kilowatt hour at UK standard rate, that is an annual saving of nearly £6000 in electricity alone. Comparing the exposure system of metal halide lamps (mercury vapour lamps with added metal halogens), Mimaki estimates that MH can use as much as 15 times more than its standard UV-LED curing unit.

Moreover, Mimaki – creators of the first LED UV printer, the UJV-160 and maker of UV-LED systems including the JFX-1631 and UJF-3042 – also points out that LEDs offer lower energy consumption due to their instant-access approach; MH lamps must cool down before they can be switched on then heat up again before use, and therefore tend to be left on semi-permanently, while UV-LEDs can be turned off between jobs and reactivated almost instantly when needed. This level of 50 per cent use equates to consumption of more than 30 times as much energy by the MV system compared to UV-LED.

Among the chief benefits of the latest breed of UV-LED printers promoted by their manufacturers is versatility. Belgium-based digital print business Triakon adopted UV-LED curing in the form of an EFI VUTEk GS3250LX and found heat-sensitive and thinner materials were suitable for printing without head strikes or buckling with the 'cool cure' technology. Fellow VUTEk user BCF Digitaldruck und Mediengestaltung of Remscheid, Germany found that hard PVC of thicknesses as low as 0.2 to 0.5mm were now printable, while fewer stable panels like hard foam PVC panels were subject to shrinking or expanding due to heat exposure. The latter company also claims to achieve good results with laminated corrugated board, due in part to losing the need for a strong vacuum; a lower heat means the printheads can be lowered onto the substrate.

Using thinner, and therefore more lightweight, materials also reduces costs – EFI VUTEk user PVS In-Store Graphics reports savings its customers 30 per cent on the lower cost of materials plus an additional 30 per cent on shipping, as the business can roll up its work rather than transporting it in flat boxes. EFI adds that recycled materials can be used more readily too, again appealing to environmentally conscious consumers, while Mimaki highlights the business advantages in adding more unusual substrates to printers' portfolios, such as wood, plastic and 3D objects.

LEDs also last longer than mercury vapour lamps, to the tune of a 20,000-hour lifetime compared to under 2,000 hours, meaning less downtime and lower costs. BCF Digitaldruck und Mediengestaltung reports changing the mercury lamps on its previous VUTEk GS3200 up to five times a year at a cost of $4,000.

Triakon Led
Triakon are one of a number of EFI VUTEk users who are realising significant commercial and financial gains from the switch to LED UV curing. Read ourTriakon case study here.

Time savings also apply when wait-time for prints to dry following mercury vapour curing is eliminated; LED-cured work is touch-dry on completion as well as insoluble, meaning it can be rolled up straight off the bed to save space, or can be printed on again – for instance in layers for tactile printing.

Whilst UV printing is not without its disadvantages - operators can suffer skin conditions such as dermatitis if in direct contact with UV ink before it is cured, and UV light can cause damage to eyes - manufacturers have eliminated dangerous ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and therefore the necessity for major ventilation, which is perhaps another perfectly viable reason to consider the upgrade to current and safer LED UV print technology.

In all, the benefits of LED curing compared to mercury vapour or metal halide lamp technology are too numerous to ignore. Healthier and simpler to use for operators, with cost savings and environmental pluses that can be passed on to the customer, the equipment currently on the market is definitely worth investigating.

Further reading...

1. LED curing and high productivity makes VUTEk GS3250LX the 'obvious choice' for Triakon

2. Mimaki White Paper - Why UV-LEDs are revolutionising ink jet printing



Sihl's Ian Turnbull discusses media options for roll up and pop up displays

Sihl Frog And Logo

Ian Turnbull, Operations Director at Sihl Direct UK, discusses the importance of selecting the right media for the right application.  In this article, his focus is on roll up and pop up displays...

"You would be right in thinking that there is very little difference between roll up and pop up displays. They are virtually the same, except that with roll ups the retraction is normally done by rolling the media away, whereas with a pop up, it is usually folded down.  Both types of advertising are a must for companies wanting to be permanently present in the market.

To get the best out of either version - roll up or pop up - the display needs to be printed on the right material.

The opacity factor

Simply put, the higher the opacity the better, when it comes to roll up and pop up banners. A banner with 100 per cent opacity allows absolutely no light through, which means customers get a much clearer look at the display than one which is letting in light. This is why Sihl‘s products are usually equipped with a grey back which blocks out almost all backlighting.  However, Sihl does offer alternatives to the grey back. The Mirano POS Photo Paper PE 220 satin 3674 has a white back, but contains an opaque film in its composite structure, which also enhances the paper‘s edge tearing resistance. This means that despite the thinness of the paper, an almost perfect opacity of 99.8 per cent is achieved.

Colour consistency

When using roll up and pop up media for an exhibition stand or something similar, a combination of stiff and flexible print media is often required. 170-220 μm thick films are usually used in roll up systems. For pop ups, a more rigid 300-450-μm material is needed in order to guarantee enough stability. Different media usually produce different whites and colour rendering in the printed picture. Even when colours are properly managed, an inconsistent overall picture is unavoidable. For this reason Sihl offers product groups with identical coatings in a variety of thicknesses.


No one wants their pop ups and roll ups to curl.  Ideally, the edges of a print remain absolutely flat and neither curls forwards or backwards. The way the material has been stored and transported can affect whether it curls or not, as can the structure of the material. For example if the components react differently to changes in temperature and humidity. Polyester or rigid PVC based Sihl media barely react to environmental influences and usually remain perfectly flat.

Scratch resistant

These kinds of displays are often used several times and in different places so inevitably they are exposed to a certain amount of wear and tear. Ideally, a pressure sensitive lamination is applied to these products for protection against damage, but this not only means additional expense, it can also cause one sided tension on the front. Sihl media, especially films developed for solvent inks, are extremely scratch resistant and are therefore suitable for use without additional protection. The SuperDry Roll-up Film 190 satin 3471 and Mirano POS Photo Paper PE 220 satin 3674 in combination with pigment inks, are also highly scratch resistant thanks to their satin surface texture. Therefore they are suitable for use without additional protection.

Something all these films have in common is that with or without lamination, they are significantly less expensive than the products which combine a laminate layer, print medium and reverse side light barrier. Above all, ply bond strength and printing quality are significantly better with Sihl’s products.

Whether the display needed is a roll up or pop up, Sihl Direct UK can offer the most suitable media for the right use."

About Sihl Direct

Sihl Direct UK is part of the global Diatec group. The company is a leading coated media provider for the large format printing industry. In addition to media for the latest generation of digital printers, Sihl Direct sells a wide range of media for photo, office and large format applications.

For more information, please visit www.sihl-direct.co.uk