Getting Better with Time

It wasn't too long ago water-based inks were thought of more as a solution to protecting the environment than a choice for high quality printing.

But time marches on, and water-based inks aren't just for the environmentally conscious converter anymore. “Today's water-based inks are stronger, more stable, and have lower viscosities than in the past,” says John Signet, marketing manager at Water Ink Technologies, Lincolnton, NC, USA ( Signet contends there's a new industry emphasis toward increasing press utilization, decreasing downtime, and reducing make-ready scrap related to ink and coating adjustments. “The on-press stability, high strength, and low viscosity of today's water-based products help converters achieve these goals,” he says.

Steve D'Angelo, director of marketing at Flint Ink North America's Packaging Div. in Ann Arbor, MI, USA (, agrees that water-based inks have made major strides. “Historically, as ink strength was increased, ink viscosity also increased, while press speeds and print quality suffered. Thanks to advancements in dispersion technologies…converters can have it both ways: They can enjoy high-strength inks with strong, vibrant colors that meet density requirements for process printing, while being metered from very fine anilox rolls.”

Adds Michael Impastato, VP of market development at Flint Ink, “Today, we can provide inks that remain stable in the press for long periods of time with minimal attention from the press operator.”

When moving to water-based inks, Impastato explains the standards used in purchasing any ink still apply. “Ink [in general] has an impact on everything: press speeds, downtime, total cost to produce, print quality, and package performance. The key is ensuring the construction of the ink is compatible and functional in the converting process and for its intended end use.”

Signet says converters must ask: “Will a water-based product meet the end-user's need for graphic quality, durability, moisture resistance, chemical resistance, imprintability, and fade resistance?”

According to Zubair Khan, technical business manager at Environmental Inks & Coatings, Cincinnati, OH, USA (, converters also must consider whether they are running on paper or film, if the printed job requires any resistance properies, or if the printed material will be exposed to the outdoor environment.

As for the environment, it's no secret water-based inks have been a top alternative to solvent inks. “The evolution in print quality capability allows a converter to enjoy the historic benefits of clean air compliance that water inks offer,” D'Angelo says. “Water inks provide a cost-effective alternative for complying with clean air regulations, particularly when compared to the cost of capture and incineration of solvents and the cost of radiation-cured ink technologies.”

“Advancements in print quality have widened the opportunities for using water inks,” says Impastato. “While they still may not be the optimal choice in some areas, they are an option for most end-use applications today.”

D'Angelo adds, “Advancements in color strength, which are critical to the overall converting process, will continue to have an impact on the industry. In fact, color strength is so important that even slight improvements in strength are valuable.”

Khan says converters are running water-based inks for flexible packaging with the quality of solvent inks at 1,200 fpm and water-based inks for adhesive lamination jobs with in-line adhesive lamination speeds of 800 fpm. Not only are water-based inks producing results comparable to solvent inks, they are competing effectively in the still-growing market of UV inks. “Water-based inks are competing with UV for high-end paper printing,” says Khan. “We'll see continued growth of water-based ink used in adhesive laminations for flexible packaging,” he adds.

Looking forward, experts agree enhancements in ink stability, strength, and viscosity will be key to the still-evolving market of water-based inks. D'Angelo concludes, “We expect the chemistry of water inks to continue to evolve, yielding resistance more closely approaching that of solvent or energy-curable inks.”

Restrictions of time and space limit the number of companies, products, and trends that we can discuss in these reports. For additional information, see PFFC's features and departments each month, consult the June Buyers Guide, and check

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