Think the Ink You're Using Is A No-Brainer? Think Again.

Well, here we are inside the new millennium and things certainly are complicated, aren't they? Though we entered Y2K without the many catastrophes predicted for the event, 2000 wasn't without complexity; just listening to the coverage of the recent US presidential election was enough to make one's head spin!

Over the last two years, I have learned that complexity is also the standard modus operandi of this industry. Thus, it was no surprise in doing research on ink trends that these materials are no exception.

According to John Samony, division president of Braden Sutphin Ink Co.-Flexo Div., North Wales, PA, it's important for converters to realize the ink they use is not a commodity item, at least in this industry. "In my opinion," he notes, "ink in certain applications is a commodity product—for instance, ink used by newspaper printers. But on the converting side, it's a very technical product to deal with; there are innumerable applications, and the press operators have to understand all the little nuances. For example, they have to comprehend the technological differences between a water-based ink and a UV ink—how each is handled, how each is stored, and so on."

Tom Jay, VP of sales and marketing, Sicpa Securink Corp., Springfield, VA, explains that security inks (for use in such applications as currency production and pharmaceutical labeling) suffer from the same misperception. "Security inks are more expensive, but the question that you have to ask yourself is: `How much of that return am I getting by spending more in ink cost?' In the point-of-sale market, retailers just hammer the converters on price, price, price. It's very difficult for converters to offer security if it's going to just get beat up as a commodity product, when, really, it's value added."

As if it isn't complicated enough to make sure you're getting maximum performance from your inks, converters also should be aware that there is one particular ink type—water-based, solvent-based, ultraviolet—that will best suit each application.

Today's increased use of "clear" applications (printing on clear plastic substrates) has helped expand the usage of UV inks, says George Damroth, VP, UVitec Printing Ink Inc., Lodi, NJ. He reports that the properties of UV ink, which include higher strengths and lower viscosities, provide excellent adhesion, a factor that is very important when you consider the extreme conditions to which many of today's products are exposed.

"Personal care products, ones that are used in the bathroom, for instance, are subjected to steam, water immersion, conditions such as that. And in food packaging, what about freeze-thaw cycles? How well does the ink perform? I think you'll find that UV inks tend to perform better [under these type of conditions]," Damroth asserts.

The issue of ink performance was addressed in a paper by the Environmental Protection Agency's Karen Chu at the National Printing Ink Research Institute's technical conference last October. "Flexographic Ink Options: A Cleaner Technologies Substitute Assessment" offered results of a study that compared solvent-based, water-based, and UV-curable inks (wide web). One of the findings: "While cost is mainly driven by press equal speeds, water-based inks had the best economics followed by solvent-based inks, followed by UV inks." For further information about Chu's study and to see where digital printing fits into the ink picture, check out Dr. Richard Podhajny's Material Science column this month (pg. 24 in the print issue), "Assessing Inks, Dealing with Digital—The NPIRI Conference."

Pretty simple, huh? All you have to do is figure out which ink works bes—which will adhere to the substrate best, is the most cost-effective, is the most environmentally friendly, etc.—in each of your applications. Piece of cake! Well, maybe not, but it's probably easier than deciding whether or not a hanging chad should be counted.

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