The shape of the inkjet ink market as it emerges from recession

Ink Glasses

As printing emerges from the recession, digital technologies are once again making inroads into conventional printing markets.

Prior to the global recession, digital printing was making significant gains throughout the printing industry. Now that the economy is improving somewhat, inkjet is once again poised to move into new technologies.

“The inkjet industry has seen some very interesting developments in late 2010 and so far in 2011,” Ken Kisner, president of INX Digital International, said. “Inkjet made strong surges into the screen printing industry in the last decade and specifically saw dramatic market share in the graphic arts markets. This was especially so in both outdoor and indoor graphics for wide format and superwide format printing.

“In the past year, we saw printers hit the market at reasonable costs for tag and label, and in other markets where a fixed array is necessary to compete with existing markets,” Mr. Kisner said. “Jettable fluid technologies have matured, adapting to high speed, variable drop technology as well as new formulations for corrugated, textile, glass, tile, paper label and plastic packaging. INX Digital continues to focus on many of these industrial markets in addition to graphic arts. We saw a strong adoption of new technologies leading to excellent growth and increased profitability in the fourth quarter of 2010, and it has continued into the first part of 2011.”

Peter Saunders, global sales and marketing manager, Sun Chemical, said that Sun Chemical’s SunJet business continued to move forward in terms of growth during the past year.

“We continue to innovate and be the market leader in fluid deposition technology for the global inkjet market,” said Mr. Saunders. “The continued growth and success of SunJet has depended largely on the wide and super-wide formats in the graphics market.

“Over the past year, we have seen significant growth in new and emerging markets and have launched new products to satisfy these needs,” Mr. Saunders added. “These include products for increased performance in the narrow web label market and products designed for use with LED curing systems in graphics and coding. We continue widening our product range for coding and marking applications, as the opportunity in this area increases in developing nations such as China. We have created inks to meet the demands of new printhead technologies, which will allow inkjet to further penetrate areas of traditional print coverage, such as transpromotional printing. DIC and Sun Chemical are able to offer a single coordinated global structure with a unified product range for both aqueous and non-aqueous inkjet applications that leverages the technical resources in pigments, dispersions, polymers and formulation chemistry of the two organizations.”

“The industry showed a steady slow growth, with Europe experiencing a more significant rebound in Q4 of 2010,” said Stephen Emery, senior director ink business for EFI. “Financing continues to hold back further growth even with companies having excellent credit. The ink business was up year over year for each quarter.”

“As a whole, we saw the inkjet printing industry grow at a faster rate during the past year,” said Mitch Bode, vice president, wide format and specialty ink systems, Graphic Systems Division, FUJIFILM North America Corporation. “Many printers – screen printers and offset – looked for ways to grow their businesses. As a result, Fujifilm saw its business grow as more and more printers added new inkjet technologies to their lines.”

The recession still had a major impact on inkjet printing, as overall growth and equipment purchases slowed.

“The worldwide inkjet printing industry has not been immune to the overall economic downturn experienced over the past two years,” said Chuck Payne, channel development manager – digital at Nazdar. “Print providers are seeing their customers running advertising campaigns longer than normal, thus reducing the frequency in which printed graphics are changed. The extended campaigns and general reduction in advertising results in fewer jobs for print providers.”

“The last year in the signage industry was still under the influence of the recession of the previous year,” said Ruth Zach, marketing coordinator, Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd. “The influence of the recession was manifested in stagnation, the reluctance to purchase new printers and efforts on maintaining existing business.”

Mr. Payne and Ms. Zach noted that their companies have seen aftermarket inks make significant gains due to its economic benefits.

“Nazdar has seen a huge spike in our alternative-to-OEM inks (also known as third-party or aftermarket inks) in the past 24 months,” Mr. Payne said. “The jump in demand can be explained in the need for end users to find more economical supplies and a wholesale change in attitude toward alternative inks. End users are becoming more comfortable using high-quality, domestically-manufactured alternative inks due to overall reliability and compatibility.”

“Unlike the general business climate, Bordeaux has enjoyed a tremendous growth during the past year,” Ms. Zach added. “Bordeaux is a quality third-party ink jet ink manufacturer and it is in dire straits that printers turn to alternative ink in order to save on their consumables. Bordeaux is welcoming the new customers with products which cover most of the wide and super wide printer market at competitive prices, but especially it has been a good opportunity to leverage Bordeaux products and to strengthen our market share over OEM and even over other alternative ink manufacturers.”

Recovering from the Recession

The recession had a major impact throughout the printing industry, even in growth areas such as digital. In the case of inkjet, the biggest problem was the lack of capital for printers who wanted to invest in new equipment. That logjam seems to be clearing.

“In 2010, INX Digital witnessed new optimism in the market and the beginning of new investment by print houses,” Mr. Kisner said. “In most areas, inkjet provides a market advantage of shorter print runs, no overruns and a remarkable decrease in waste. Companies evolving to inkjet technologies are proactively advancing in technology and seeing very short ROIs. While the outdoor graphic arts market is becoming more mature with higher volumes and very competitive prices, we also are seeing a new emergence of companies focused on evolving to digital in new industrial markets.”

“In 2010, there seems to have been a recognition that digital printing is one route to growth,” Mr. Saunders said. “As a result, companies that had previously invested in wide format equipment looked to increase their capability with faster and higher quality machines. The result was an increase in hardware sales. The investment in new areas of application for inkjet continue and SunJet been very active in supporting and developing these opportunities.”

“In our contract engineering business, we’re engaged in a few long-term (three to five year) development projects that have weathered this economy well, in terms of our customers continuing funding for ground-breaking technology,” Mr. Boeder said. “As a result, they will be positioned favorably when the products are introduced, especially against competitors who have reduced their development commitment.”

“The larger print for pay customers are investing in new technology; however, the smaller companies continue to struggle,” Mr. Emery said. “We see good growth in the developing countries where they are starting to transition more to the UV technologies.”

“Although print shops were hesitant to purchase new printers, we do see among our customers new purchases of UV, mild/eco solvent and the latest, Latex printers,” Ms. Zach said. “Although the innovation in the inkjet was limited compared to previous years, newly introduced printhead technologies such as the Epson DX6 are indeed faster than their predecessors, but do not exhibit a real breakthrough in terms of printer technology.”

Mr. Payne said that further economic improvement is needed for inkjet to return to its former growth.

“The general inkjet market is still in recovery mode from the recession,” Mr. Payne said. “Until the overall economy starts to gain positive momentum, this trend will continue. Print providers are being cautious about investing in new technology and are making due with current equipment. Higher-end hardware, with higher price tags, is likely the area that has suffered the most recently.”

Mr. Bode said that printers who invested in technology during the recession recovered much more quickly, and noted that expansion in the overall inkjet printing industry helped drive business growth in Fujifilm’s full line of inkjet inks, designed to serve a variety of platforms and applications, including their Uvijet inks and Color+ aftermarket inks,

“Many of the printers who invested in Fujifilm wide format inkjet printers did so to grow their business out of the recession, to capture the benefits of increasing inkjet business opportunities and the increased efficiencies and value that inkjet printing could provide,” Mr. Bode added. “Traditional print providers were feeling increased pressure on all fronts – price, volume, demand for higher quality and faster turnaround – and that’s where inkjet technology provided a profitable alternative.

“We saw a number of commercial printers invest in wide format inkjet as a way to expand their production capabilities and compensate for lost business by allowing them to expand into new businesses,” Mr. Bode said. “Adding inkjet gave them additional flexibility, to respond to new print demands, and gave them the capability to capture jobs they may have missed before.

Mr. Boeder said that concerns over spending capital on new technologies haven’t completely disappeared yet.

“On new projects and potential applications, there appears to be more hesitancy when it comes to exploring unknowns, and in funding inherently speculative developments and iterative processes; and some customers are needing more immediate or affordably incremental proofs of concept before they commit to a larger project,” Mr. Boeder added. “That has prompted us to work harder to lower the costs and risks involved in technology development, and to be very selective in the projects we entertain.”

New Digital Inks and Systems

With interest in digital technologies continuing to grow, ink manufacturers and their equipment partners continue to move inkjet in new directions.

Mr. Saunders noted that SunJet is developing ink chemistry for food and near food applications where low odor and low migration are key.

“Although challenging, this technology promises to radically change the labeling and food packaging market for inkjet applications,” Mr. Saunders said. “Key to this market is the combination of inkjet technology with media selection and other functional barriers and coatings. Sun Chemical is uniquely placed to lead in this area.”

Mr. Emery said that EFI VUTEk is moving forward with its new LED curable GS3250LX with Cool Cure as well as its TX3250r dye sublimation fabric printer.

“The GS3250LX with Cool Cure along with our TX3250r dye sublimation printer are the key printers/inks we have just introduced,” Mr. Emery said.

Mr. Kisner said that inkjet inks are now performing well in area such as tile and glass, which brings forward new applications.

“UV inkjet inks continue to be more robust in a variety of applications,” Mr. Kisner said. “There are now inkjet inks that perform well directly to glass and tile, as well as a variety of inkjet inks for textile and new inks that stick to a wide range of common uncoated label stocks.In the next 18 months, we expect to see a new focus on water-based technologies with integrated polymers. These inks will replace some products of the current ECO solvent market.INX Digital is utilizing our long history of water-based traditional inks to leverage our water-based inkjet technology.”

Mr. Payne said that Nazdar is having success in the water-based ink market for outdoor signage.

“Nazdar recently previewed an innovative new water-based, outdoor ink at Fespa Digital in Hamburg,” Mr. Payne said. “This new ink uses Hydro Color Technology, a process unique to Nazdar. The amount of interest generated at the show was quite overwhelming. Additionally, Nazdar recently launched the Lyson 7470 series UV-curable inks specifically designed for greater adhesion to polypropylene-based substrates. This ink has excellent resistance to edge chipping on styrene, foamboard and fluted polypropylene materials when used with a knife or router cutter.”

Mr. Bode noted how Fujifilm has built a reputation around introducing new products and technologies designed to promote sustainability and reduced environmental impact. On the equipment side, Fujifilm introduced the J Press 720, which combining the best features of offset and digital printing and is ideal for printers looking for a product that has the quality of an offset press with the versatility to handle the shortest of press runs. For inks, Fujifilm is developing new eco-efficient products.

“Fujifilm continues to develop and refine its ink products to help our customers improve their eco-efficiency and reduce their impact on the environment. We’ve taken our existing ink technologies and made them better,” Mr. Bode said. “By reducing hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic chemicals, we’ve made our inks easier to work with. Our Color+ WU ink is one example; a solvent ink produced using more sustainable resources, it’s safer and easier to use, and has a reduced odor, which is a big benefit.”

Ms. Zach said that Bordeaux is a dedicated ink manufacturer who must always keep track with the newest technologies and trends of the printer manufacturers, which requires an in-depth knowledge of printing technologies as well as with the interaction between the equipment and the ink.

“Manufacturing and marketing of ink isn’t only about supplying of the ink itself, but requires a full solution, including the packaging and chips,” Ms. Zach added. “Bordeaux provides its ink solution in compatible bags and cartridges equipped with the appropriate chip for every printer, and recently also a Bordeaux proprietary Bulk ink system for continuous use without the plastic waste.

“Bordeaux’s great advantage is its R&D team, who has extensive knowledge in inkjet capable of developing inkjet inks for virtually all types of digital printers,” Ms. Zach added. “Bordeaux products provide print shops with a single source for all their printers’ requirements. All Bordeaux products are of prime quality, which is a result of years of investment and research in inkjet inks. Bordeaux’s newest products for inkjet include primers and liquid coatings based on UV or solvent. These products are an enhancement to Bordeaux ink products which comprise the bulk of Bordeaux products for the wide format digital printing.”

Opportunities for LED Technology

One of the most intriguing areas in energy curing, LED, or light emitting diodes, made its debut at drupa 2008, and has made significant inroads in inkjet. LED curing has numerous advantages: curing occurs at lower temperature, and there is no release of ozone. The equipment takes up a smaller footprint, and the bulbs have a longer lifetime.

Due to the environmental and performance benefits of LED curing, there is much interest in LED curing among digital printers, and inkjet ink manufacturers are developing products for the LED marketplace.

“SunJet was one of the first ink companies to recognize the potential benefits to customers of inks which have the ability to cure with UV LED lamp exposure in scanning head systems,” Mr. Saunders said. “As lamp and ink technology have advanced, SunJet has developed a series of graphic inks which fully cure with LED UV exposure.

“LED lamps do not heat media during the process in the same way as conventional lamp technology, and offer instant on/off for reduced system complexity in engineering as well as energy savings,” Mr. Saunders added. “As a result, the use of LED technology is interesting for integrators and end users alike. Fespa Digital presented the opportunity for SunJet to showcase the printing and curing of process color inks with high post-cure flexibility on a wide format platform. Popular ink sets from SunJet, such as UFE flexible and URG unique wide adhesion profile inks, can be used with the new LED lamp technology if correctly integrated into the printer.”

“Having just introduced our new Cool Cure technology at Fespa in Hamburg, Germany, we realized a high level of interest in the technology,” Mr. Emery said. “The benefits of longer lamp life, consistent performance of the lamps over their life, the ability to print on thinner media along with less energy usage and the green aspect of LED is of great interest to our customers.”

“LED (light emitting diode) technology has found interest in two areas of our industry,” Mr. Kisner said. “One is the new LED billboards you see alongside the interstates. These new billboards require no ink and quick upload of new campaigns. We view this as a threat to ink consumption for the outdoor inkjet market. The second LED technology is the use of LED lights that emit in the UV range and can be used for curing UV curable inkjet inks. These lights have become more powerful and can cure inkjet inks readily.

“Although LED curing lights are expensive, they emit a constant amount of energy over a very long lifespan, whereas other technologies tend to have a shorter life cycle,” Mr. Kisner added. “This advantage has caused many integrators and OEMs to adopt the technology. INX Digital has a strong selection of LED curable inks for a variety of different applications.”

“Our UV/LED inks have experienced significant growth, and there appears to be an expanding list of applications and new end users for this technology,” Mr. Boeder said. “Non-contact printing on non-porous substrates is a huge market, and UV/LED is appropriate for it.”

Mr. Bode sees additional business growth ahead with the introduction of new Fujifilm technologies, such as LED.

“Existing UV curing technologies have been around for a long time, with an impressive performance record,” Mr. Bode said. “Our commitment to our customers continues to drive us to seek new technologies and production improvements. Fujifilm as a global entity is committed to innovation, research and development, and meeting our customers’ needs. As advancements in technologies emerge, such as LED curing, and make their way into one of our markets, you can be certain Fujifilm will be on the leading edge of that technology.”

“The only significant advancement of the past year is actually UV LED printers,” Ms. Zach added. “UV LED is a major improvement over UV printers since they exhibit all the printing advantages of UV yet are more environmentally friendly and use less energy for curing. UV LED printers also require compatible inks and Bordeaux is the one of the few third-party inkjet ink manufacturer to date to offer UV LED ink. Bordeaux’s Plasma PLFD for these next generation UV LED printers, is one in a series of LED inks which Bordeaux is developing since Bordeaux believes that this will be one of the leading printing technology to prevail in coming years.”

Growth Opportunities for Inkjet

There can be little doubt that digital technologies are growing. One clear sign is the emergence of digital at major printing shows such as Ipex, Graph Expo and drupa, where digital printing is rising to prominence.

“Exhibitions such as Ipex 2010 sent a very clear message to the industry about the increased level of investment in inkjet technology for applications in transpromotional printing, labels and décor,” Mr. Saunders said. “The adoption of inkjet as an alternative to traditional printing processes in these new emerging markets will be as much a function of the market evolution as it is of the development of the inkjet technology itself. Companies in Asia will continue to increase their activities in the development of equipment to meet an ever increasing demand in the region while at the same time expanding their reach on a global basis.”

Inkjet has made major inroads in areas that were traditionally screen printed. Now digital is taking aim at other print processes.

“Inkjet in various forms is starting to penetrate into other traditional markets such as offset, litho and gravure,” Mr. Kisner said. “We believe companies that invest in digital in these markets will also see growth in traditional technologies; they will be able to offer competitive short run and medium run print jobs using their digital technologies as well as continued competitive offers for long runs using their existing machinery, which may very well already be paid off. Other areas that are seeing quick adoption of inkjet technologies are from companies holding larger inventories such as the tile and textiles industries.”

Mr. Boeder listed four areas of growth for inkjet printing:

1. Packaging that can benefit from variable data and non-impact printing vs. traditional mass production printing methods:“Brand promotion and awareness in packaging are becoming key differentiators in consumer products,” Mr. Boeder said. “If your product doesn’t stand out and connect with the consumer on the shelf on a very personal and emotional level, it may not matter how much money is ‘saved’ in the printing and labeling process. And, in many instances, inkjet has now become more cost-effective than traditional printing and labeling, even on a large print-run scale.”

2. Track and trace: “Anti-counterfeiting and food marking customers are embracing variable data printing and marking on a variety of substrates requiring specialized inks, for example invisible UV- and solvent-based thermal inks,” Mr. Boeder said.

3. High resolution industrial marking and coding: “Since ImTech works exclusively in drop-on-demand inkjet, we’re seeing new business coming from industrial marking and coding end-users now seeking higher resolution than their existing systems can deliver,” Mr. Boeder noted. “Customers are wanting to promote their brand more effectively, and are responding to regulations for inspection and verification image quality.”

4. Pre-press proofing: “Some customers are wanting to add inkjet as a pre-press or ‘sample-generating’ application that will provide more choices and customization for end-users – e.g., making samples or inkjet printing systems available to retailers – then, if the orders are sufficient, producing large quantities of these ‘custom’ selections on a traditional and existing printing system,” Mr. Boeder said.

Mr. Bode expects Fujifilm’s inkjet business to continue on a growth track as many applications that had been traditionally produced using “analog” technologies are ripe for the transition to inkjet.

“We’ve seen inkjet printing explode as printers discover new ways to take advantage of the technology. We have also seen tremendous interest in G7 print methods for screen, offset and digital print applications,” Mr. Bode said. “Our consulting and technical support teams work closely with customers to achieve color accuracy and consistency, especially the demand for unique corporate colors.

“Another area of interest and growth is folding carton and packaging,” Mr. Bode reported. “These applications are naturals for inkjet printing as they can now accept shorter run jobs such as ‘one-offs’ and prototype packages customized to a specific demographic or geographic area. Inkjet also allows them to print directly onto a variety of surfaces and materials “In point-of-purchase and retail marketing, inkjet provides the capability to test market a campaign before committing to longer runs. Printers serving these customers can now produce sample campaigns and demographic/geographic-specific messages and graphics on signs and displays, applications that were cost-prohibitive previously. We’ve seen Ad Specialty printers take advantage of inkjet’s shorter make-ready time and reduced cost as they bring in more short run jobs. They’re taking on jobs printing on surfaces and items they couldn’t do before,” Mr. Bode said.

Mr. Bode added that Fujifilm has seen industrial applications expand as well. “The ability to print directly onto metal, plastic, and uneven surfaces has allowed industrial printers to produce custom operator interfaces and touch panels,” Mr. Bode noted. “The list of inkjet applications our customers are expanding into continues to grow.”

Ms. Zach noted that inkjet is the one of the fastest expanding technologies in the world, and added that consequently, all form of digital printing will continue to expand in volume over traditional types of printing and will incorporate new applications.

“This is an inevitable process, which is a result of continuing cost reduction of digital printing as well as improved quality and speed,” Ms. Zach added. “In terms of applications, we see a growth in inkjet in a variety of applications, such as the packing industry used in tags and labels, the textile industry, electronics, ceramics and glass and even improvement in fleet graphics and vehicle wrapping. Specifically in the signage industry, we see a shift toward higher quality point of purchase applications with the introduction of silver by Roland and orange and green by Epson and the wider use of textile not just for the garment industry but also for banners.”

Mr. Emery said that UV is an excellent opportunity for growth.

“We believe UV ink technologies will continue to grow, especially driven by new applications,” Mr. Emery said. “Also, we expect textile applications and adoption of digital printing will show good growth over the next few years.”

“Nazdar continues to invest significant resources in the development of UV-curable and water-based outdoor ink for the graphics market,” Mr. Payne said. “Nazdar also recently launched a new dye-sublimation transfer ink and will be launching a direct-to-fabric sublimation ink this fall. Nazdar will continue to grow our core solvent inkjet business while looking for significant growth in the areas mentioned above.”

“The inkjet ink market is an exciting place at the moment,” Mr. Gamblin concluded. “The market appears poised for significant change. Those changes present terrific opportunities. The trick will be trying to anticipate how the market, and in particular, the sales channels for ink development.”