Printing ink manufacturers are the backbone of graphic arts industry, and hence, carry far greater environmental responsibility than that of printer manufacturers.
The Wide Format Ink Industry
While planning to focus on the wide format signage/printed advertising industry, we, at Sign & POP World, explored quite a bit in order to know how Indian printing ink industry was trending in the recent past, and how it is doing now. It is a known fact that India is among one of the fastest growing printing ink markets globally, spurred by the rapid expansion of the domestic print markets.
In our way forward, we tried contacting quite a few renowned print manufacturers as well as suppliers to know how this printing ink is fairing in the graphic arts segment. In our industry, names like Fujifilm Sericol, A.T. Inks, InkTec, Sam Ink, Trinity Inks, etc. have created their own space when it comes to feeding and meeting the market demand for varied inks requirements. Based on their standing and experience, each of them claims to be the game changer.
Their claim is sustainable as the innovations taking place in the industry has given a makeover to the printing industry which had come under the scanner with the increasing popularity of online media over the past decade. The later had put forth many challenges for the former. Nevertheless, with the invention of digital printing, much has changed in recent years for the country’s graphic art industry which ultimately has got a new face with clearer, effective and durable printing options.
In the meantime, the textile market has attracted much of the attention wherein printing is rapidly gaining a strong foothold. Run for the comparatively Greener media has added bright colours with guaranteed longevity following the changing trends and tastes of the end-users. With increased preference for eco-friendly substrates, along with more efficient production equipment, environment-friendly digital printing inks have taken centre stage these days.
There shouldn’t be any doubt about the market for digitally printed signage, hoardings, billboards, etc. which is expected to get a boom during the upcoming elections – both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, due in around six months from now. Adding fuel to the fire is the continuously increasing activities in the textile industry. Going forward, the revolution in the fashion industry coupled with the rapid adoption of digital printing technology, is only aiding to the growth prospects of the printing ink market.
Fujifilm Sericol India
There is one that claims to lead the screen ink industry for decades i.e. Fujifilm Sericol, the Japanese technology giant. Over the years, the company has also carved out a leadership position in the wide format inkjet market, with avant grade wide format inkjet printers and world renowned Uvijet and Color+ inks. Being one of the top ten printing ink suppliers globally, Fujifilm Sericol is widely recognised for its strong service ethics, innovation and product quality.
Fujifilm Sericol India, a 100% subsidiary of UK-based Fujifilm Sericol International Limited UK, has ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015 certified advanced manufacturing facility at Pune in Maharashtra. It is equipped with a state-of-the-art colour management laboratory with spectrophotometer and formulation software along with a fully equipped technical training and demo center for screen printing and digital demo center for wide format digital printers.
“Fujifilm Sericol holds a very unique position in the printing ink industry in India. At our Pune plant, we manufacture inks for screen, UV flexo, UV sheet-fed offset and digital printing technologies. In other words, we are a multi-technology printing ink manufacturing company,” asserts Ganesh Krishnan, Executive Director – Sales & Marketing, Fujifilm Sericol India Pvt. Ltd. “We, Fujifilm Sericol India, are proudly living up to the group’s corporate business philosophy – More than Ink… Solutions.
Six sales and distribution offices spread across India along with the central warehouse at Sanaswadi, Pune, make the products easily available to customers. With the focus on Indian subcontinent, South-East Asia & East Asian markets, Fujifilm Sericol India has a dedicated R&D team to come up with tailor made, value added and environment friendly solutions for its customers.
Fujifilm Sericol does takes pride for setting the ‘standard for environmental control’ in the industry and got bestowed with the prestigious Queen’s Award for Environmental Achievement in the year 1993 which was the 4th of the five Queen’s Award amassed along with the award for technology in the year 1990 and for innovation in the year 2004.
Speaking about the competition, Krishnan states, “Since we are present in many market segments and sub-segments, we have different set of competitors in each of these. We face healthy competition from reputed ink brands in each of these segments. We always position ourselves as a solution provider, who adds immense value to our customers’ business.”
An ISO 9001 certified company, A.T. Inks with its vast and varied experience of over 50 years in various areas of colour technology runs its entire operations on SAP. According to the company, its highly qualified and experienced team has greatly been involved in multiple aspects of the colour business and eventually acquired in-depth knowledge and experience in both impact and non-impact printing on various substrates like paper, textile, flex, PVC, vinyl, backlit, front-lit, clear vinyl, reflective media, wet on wet printing on ceramic glaze tiles and so on. “This knowledge and experience is clearly reflected in the quality of our products that we offer,” assets Neerav Goswamy, Director, A.T. Inks.
Going forward, A.T. Inks has a lot of tie-ups with printhead manufacturers. “This shows that a pretty closed system is getting developed where the printhead manufacturers approve the ink-manufacturers, and give it to the OEMs. This is a much better environment as everybody’s selling with protection for each other within the system thus bringing the best value to the end customers i.e. PSPs. Our inks are already approved by Zaar and Spectra for their OEMs. Meanwhile, we are also working with other printhead manufacturers such as KM, Ricoh, etc.”
He stresses that the company looks forward to these kinds of strategic partnerships. “In this effort, our focus is always to ensure that we are capable of giving them (our customers) the benefits of local quality manufacturers and the support that they need for a successful venture. It is very clearly moving in that direction as with technology development, not only the drop sizes have squeezed but also the speed has increased with which the inks are to be tuned. This is the beginning of a mature market.”
Sam Ink Inkjet Systems Pvt. Ltd.
Established in 2001, Singapore-based Sam Ink Inkjet Systems Pvt. Ltd. is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of eco & mild solvent, latex, & sublimation inks. In the span of around two decades, the company has made a formidable network with presence in not less than 100 countries wherein it is represented by over 100 dealers, catering to more than 50,000 customers who according to the company are consuming 4,000 liters of inks every day.
“We, at Sam Ink, have been instrumental in shaping the wide-format inkjet printing industry from the very beginning. Our customers across the world tell us that they enjoy our 512i mild-solvent inks, DX5 eco-friendly eco-solvent inks, latex inks, and sublimation inks. They say that our DX5 eco-friendly inks are both environmentally and ecologically friendly with no odour. They literally print in their bedrooms,” asserts Sam Leong, Founder Director, Sam Ink Inkjet Systems Pvt. Ltd.
Sam believes that love and kindness from its valuable customers have been the source for the brand recognition and that the ink trade has been mutually beneficial. “My friends tell me to position and price Sam Ink for the mass market. It is true that initially it was positioned for the pantone intensive and outdoor durability specifications, but the same inks are now available for every budget.”
According to him, India is the future growth market for Sam Ink. “We are delighted for the kind of acceptance & support we are getting from our valuable customers in India, which encouraged us to setup a local Private Limited company here. I am blessed to see business partners becoming friends and this is so very rare and precious,” appreciates Sam adding that it is also the genuine love that brings us new friends and new network. “30 years from now, I see a meaningful contribution of Sam Ink touching every lives and every society it lives in.”
InkTec Co., Ltd.
Another name in the row is the Korean giant InkTec Co., Ltd. that was founded in 1992 with the company’s motto, “Today’s Technology is Never Good Enough for Us”. Started with Ink for desktop printer, InkTec went on to expand its business area into the large format printer ink market through continuous research & development. Furthermore, InkTec has entered UV printer market by introducing its own state-of-the-art products as a strategic diversification.
“With these kinds of endless innovations, InkTec positioned itself as a true inventor in the field of inkjet-applications,” says Danny Moon, Regional Sales Manager, InkTec Business Division/Inkjet Sales Team 2, InkTec Co., Ltd. The company has been selling inks to India for more than a decade and a half so far. “Initially, we sold refill kits and inks for desktop printers through partners who were interested and inclined towards InkTec products. In India, we are mainly selling OA inks for desktop printers as well as inks for dye sublimation technology,” Moon informs.
InkTec is a manufacturer of Inks as well as UV printers. InkTec had launched UV printer named Jetrix more than a decade back in 2008. Jetrix has mainly been sold in European markets. More than 100 units are installed in UK. Recently, the company has extended its Jetrix product range from true flatbed printer to include UV RTR printer.
A well-known and well established brand of Kinjal Digital Imaging Solution Pvt. Ltd. was incorporated in the year 2003 at Ahmedabad in Gujarat. The company manufactures and markets its range of printing ink, solvent ink and print head cleaning solutions in the brand name of Trinity. The company that has recently launched odourless ink for solvent printers is known in the industry owing to its genuine quality, strict quality control, wide distribution network and budget-friendly price structure. With its wide network of sales & distribution offices across India and US, the company firmly believes that the expertise gained over the years keeps contributing in the design and development of inks.
The convergence of technologies and the evolution of new equipment is the most significant change affecting the industry today. Its state-of-the-art laboratory and highly skilled technical staff is continually improvising the advancement of ink technology and the colour palette critical to the user industry. Cost-effective print production continues to challenge printers as more customers demand quality at a competitive price. The company boasts of its fully-equipped R&D centre and believes that it will help Trinity to remain in the forefront of this industry.
All the brands whom we came in contact with are the major players when it comes to inks manufacturing and catering to the needs of their respective customers based in varied markets across the geographies. These manufacturers are not resting with what they have at present but keep on adding further strength so as to prepare themselves for a greater challenge that may come in the wake of growth potentials that a country like, India posses.
While explaining the strength, Krishnan syas, “At our Pune facility, we are well invested in plant, equipment & machineries for manufacture, quality assurance and R&D of screen, digital, UV flexo and UV sheet-fed offset printing inks. We have sufficient capacity to manufacture all these inks, to cater to the domestic and overseas markets. Our R&D Centre is certified by the Department of Scientific & Industrial Research (DSIR), Government of India. Our manufacturing plants are ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001: 2015 & BS OHSAS 18001: 2007 certified.”
He further informs that in the Digital Plant, the company manufactures solvent/eco-solvent inks for all the widely used printhead platforms. “We have six-month to two-year outdoor durable inks series for KM, Spectra, Ricoh, Xaar, Seiko and Epson printheads. In the Analogue Plants, we manufacture UV, Solvent & Water-based Screen inks, UV Flexo inks and UV Sheet-fed Offset inks for a wide gamut of applications in graphics, industrial, packaging and textiles segments.”
According to Krishnan, Fujifilm Sericol has been one of the pioneers in the global ink industry for more than six decades. “We always endeavour to develop best-in-class products that are difficult to emulate by our competitors and that add great value to our customers. Our customers vouch for consistency in quality and performance of our inks over the past many years of usage. We do not just sell cans or bottles of inks, but offer solutions to problems of our customers and contribute to their success and prosperity.”
On the other hand, A.T. Inks boasts of its five decades of experience. “With ISO 9001 certified facility in Gujarat’s Por, our real strength is the robust R&D setup and continued focus on innovations to meet out the requirements of new technology in terms of machines, heads, substrates, etc. This keeps us up to date to cater to the contemporary as well as future needs of the industry. As of now, we are in to UV and dye sublimation inks, but soon we are coming up with reactive inks. With all this, we are making sure to provide full gamut of products to the rapidly expanding clientele of our esteemed customers,” says Goswamy.
As technological advances gaining acceptance, colour management across the industry becomes a critical requirement to which Goswamy asserts that our inks have been developed to offer the most eye-catching and appealing colours. “The colour gamut of our inks is at par with or exceeds that of the industry leaders. Difficult colours like gold or silver are also easily achieved using our products. Extreme conditions, weather and dust can impact the ink on an outdoor application. Our inks come with strong fastness properties with the medium it is applied on. We offer inks with light fastness of 1 year, under standard conditions. We also offer specially formulated inks for specific weather fastness requirements.”
“For testing purposes, we have several of our own large format and industrial printers to check the final output of the products. Each batch of Ink undergoes detailed and a thorough testing such as nozzle blockage, nozzle loss, decap time and continuous printing to ensure that the product being shipped in the market is tested at length. Further, to ensure no clogging or blocking of print heads, we use the best raw material and manufacture our ink under very strict parameters. The pigment particle size that we use is specially milled to the submicron level, to ensure the smooth passage of particles through the printheads. This is controlled for batch-to-batch consistency,” explained Goswamy.
According to him, A.T. inks are manufactured using a strong stability resin with very high purity solvent and digital process controls to ensure consistent batch to batch physical stability. “Shelf life of most of our products is 12 months, which has been achieved through innovative production techniques that allow pigments to stay in suspension for longer periods. Our inks are suitable for Xaar, Spectra, Konica Minolta and Seiko printheads 35pl and higher with good scratch and smudge resistance which is up to 18 month to UV rays outdoors.”
For Sam Ink, strength lies in the love and appreciation that it has been receiving from its valued customers. Sam points out that whatever position Sam Ink has achieved today is all because of its customers who for the last two decades have consistently been maintaining their faith in the brand. “I have a lot of respect for my friends and appreciate friendly competitors. We are actually the best of friends because we draw on each other’s strengths to find partnerships to address challenges together. It’s funny, but we share birthday greetings and exchange warm wishes with each other because we have a vested interest to advance a healthy market place.
This overseas ink technology giant, Sam Ink Inkjet Systems Pvt. Ltd. that caters to wide-format sign, display, advertising, apparel, and printing industries; started on a kitchen table in a small apartment. Today, it is a well-known brand across the printing fraternity, and is vertically integrated from research & development to manufacturing. Being one of the world’s leading eco-solvent, mild-solvent, latex, & dye-sublimation ink manufacturers, it possesses deep knowledge of nanotechnology to which the company presumes that it will remain relevant for the next five decades.
The range of eco-solvent inks from Sam Ink can be used by any eco-solvent printer sporting Epson DX4/DX5/DX6/DX7 printheads irrespective of it being manufactured by Roland, Mimaki, Mutoh or any other brand. Owing to its effectiveness, purity, enhanced shelf life and compositional accuracy, Sam Ink is extensively demanded in the market for the processing which the company makes use of latest tools and advanced technology.
“Our 512i-1 series digital inks are designed to facilitate excellent print cost performance across a range of high-resolution print head technology in the wide and superwide format mild-solvent market sector. This promotes excellent cost performance on Konica Minolta 512i, 1024i, Seiko SPT 255, 510, 1020, Spectra Polaris, & Spectra Skywalker print heads,” asserts Sam.
Meanwhile, no different is the claim from the Korean giant, InkTec Co., Ltd., which is present in India through its partners for not less than 15 years and yet there’s no plan for setting up a local manufacturing unit. Moon feels that India is a very big market for its inks in time to come and there won’t be any compromise while feeding the requirements here under the typical Indian conditions. The company has a very strong R&D back there in its home country where it keeps experimenting and bringing in latest solutions to meet the specific needs of various printing technologies.
According to the company, based on the know-how in the fine chemistry of nano-particle level and technology for inkjet applications, InkTec finished the development of silver conductive inks, TEC (Transparent Electronic Conductive) more than a decade ago in 2005 with unlimited potentials for applying it to all industries such as touch screen panel, display, EMI shielding, printed memory, lighting and so on. The company promises to keep providing not only printer consumables but also parts materials and total solutions as a world-class leading company in inkjet applications & printed electronics.
Eco-Friendly Ink Soon Becoming the Trend
Now the focus is shifting towards eco-friendly products where UV-printing and water-based inks are attracting lot of attention while the industry is also vying for replacing the non-eco substrates to an eco-friendly ones. It is also forced by the legislations from few of the state governments, following which quite a few states banned flex to be used as the media for printed advertising. Many industry stakeholders feel that the misuse and wastage of flex must not be accepted. The solution is to get the flex recollected, and then recycled. This would be a responsible way of addressing the environmental issues by understanding the requirements of the market.
“I see a big transformation as UV and water-based both are coming in a big way. The movement has just started. In 2003-04, when we started with solvent inks, I can say that what UV is today was what solvent then. And then we experienced an absolute explosive road from 2004 till 2015. Last two years, however, are a bit depressed or a no growth market, almost stagnant. UV and water-based are taking this industry to the next level. And in any business, there is always a flat curve, when there is an absolute transition,” says Goswamy.
He suggests that for now UV is not appropriate for all the applications. “For other applications, UV inks are too costly. So, for glass printing, there comes the need for pre-coat for perfect printing. Ceramic is also bringing in new opportunity and is pushing more for personalisation wherein UV ink is rapidly making a way in. Nevertheless, fabric is also getting printed with solvent inks i.e. it is not primarily an opening or rather dependent on UV inks. The fabric is here to stay and with time, the price would come down for sure,” says Goswamy.
Moon also agrees to the recent transformation when he says, “It is certain that eco-friendly inks are a global mega-trend. This is an important part not only in developed markets but also in developing countries like India.” According to him, textile products based on dye sublimation technology contact the human skin directly. “InkTec are supplying inks which are harmless to human body. We, at InkTec, have obtained ECO Passport certification for dye sublimation inks, one of main selling items, from OEKO-TEX, a world-famous certification company.”
Moon feels that the Indian government’s restrictions over solvent inks would change the picture of the country’s printing ink industry. “As the government has started restricting the use of solvent inks, the trend is changing over to UV technology. India is one of the biggest markets in the world, and I believe that UV business will boost up enormously.” He is of the opinion that the market sharing of UV printers is continuously on the up. “Based on our experience in UV technology, we started to supply UV ink as an alternative of UV printer. InkTec UV inks are most compatible with Ricoh Gen5 and Konica Minolta 1024i head.”
InkTec offers UvioNova AUKA, a UV LED curable ink designed to be compatible with UV LED roll-to-roll printers using Ricoh Gen5 and Konica printheads. Suitable for a wide range of flexible and roll-to-roll applications with superior quailty and vivid colours, this ink has many benefits for both outdoor and indoor applications due to its excellent durability and high colour concentration. With no harmful chemical (NVC free and zero VOC’s), it is compatible to PVC, Self-adhesive Vinyl, PET, Flex, Poster Paper, and Fabric.
Further, InkTec has been providing high quality of water-based inks on the basis of InkTec’s own dispersed technology. InkTec’s water based inks provide high intensity colors because the particles are spread evenly. To make clear on InkTec water based inks, we try to evaluate the key factors of ink – durability, colour and light fastness – by using objective technical methods.
Factors Contributing to the Growth
There are always a few key factors, which contribute to the growth irrespective of the industry type or class, which the manufacturers or suppliers make good use of while securing their future for longevity and sustainability.
“At Fujifilm Sericol, it is our professional and ethical management which being intensely customer-centric is the lead contributor while there are other factors too. Our dynamic R&D enables us to bring innovation and lead the technological developments. This also helps us in keeping consistent product quality & performance. The most important factor is that we believe thatour customers are our brand ambassadors,” avers Krishnan.
Moon explains it otherwise. “First of all, InkTec has been present in the Indian market through partners, whose efforts have made it a top tier brand in the inkjet market. Second, InkTec operates own quality management system and maintains excellent ink quality. We are confident that ink quality, such as printability and colour is comparable to other competitors. Together these factors are pushing us up on the curve,” he elaborates.
Shape of Indian Ink Industry
According to Goswamy, 15 years back when A.T. Inks started manufacturing inks, people did not believe. “However, they are now getting it right that Made in India is a good move and is also logical. With the number of manufacturers increasing, we observe that the stakeholders have started showing their faith in us. This change has certainly given a setback to sub standard stuff baring few importers who are still in practice.”
He is confident that importers will not stay for long. “Having so developed, India is not an organised market yet, but better organised than what it was 15 years back. Eventually, the situation would be such that manufacturers would be getting stronger; while importers will not be able to face the heat owing to their limitations which they always have.
Krishnan, playing safe, chooses to go with reference. “Recent economy surveys of India by domestic and international organisations have forecast that our country’s GDP is expected to grow in the range of 8% to 10% over the next three years. I personally believe this prediction will come true. Hence, I am very positive on the growth of the printing ink industry at a minimum CAGR of 10% over the next three years.”
Moon, however, feels that since market prices have been falling quickly due to the impact of low-priced substance such as Chinese and local brands, it doesn’t seem going very smooth for InkTec. “It has already started adversely affecting our profit structure. Still, we believe in ourselves and are continuously striving to secure the cost competitiveness,” he clarifies.
With so many players of repute in the printing ink industry, it is going to be very interesting. As of now, industry experts believe that India is a price sensitive which is not letting the quality prevail whereas for a market to move towards maturity, the actual motto should be the results and the quality of the products. To meet this objective, greater correction is needed which, of course, is not an individual’s game. The industry as whole should come forward to ensure best practices so that the right product is made available to the market.
Further, a move towards eco-friendliness is not only the need of the hour but has become a must to ensure a secure environment. In the meantime, experts are also of the opinion that a lot of people in the industry are using unscrupulous methods. For instance, the standard measure of the bottle is 930 ml, while many suppliers are selling it as 1 liter. These are dirty competitions that the leaders would never opt to be a part thereof. We hope to have a more colourful yet transparent trade practices in time to come so as to let the quality prevail.
Types of Ink for Wide Format
When it comes to printing, there are various types of ink that are being used nowadays. Each of these inks has their own characteristics offering certain benefits in some areas but at the same time lacking in some other areas. In wide format printing, following are five of the most common types of inks that are used to create desired design.
These are water-based inks that have two varieties called Dye and UV. The dye inks are mixed with water when applied and then the water evaporates leaving the ink on the substrates. The advantage is the bright colours that it can deliver. However, these types of inks will fade rather quickly under the ultraviolet rays of the Sun, which makes them most appropriate for indoors.
The dye inks, which are not waterproof, are best used for short terms promotions. UV inks are similar to chalk dust that is suspended in the water. When the water evaporates, it leaves the chalk like little dots on the substrates which then form the image. Being resistant to UV rays, it lasts longer when compared with dye inks.
Dye Sublimation Inks
One can choose between the aqueous type which is used for desktop and wide format printing and the solvent type which is used from Spectra, XAAR and Konica wide format printing devices. It is not quite inkjet printing, but it is a type often confused with.
These are generally pigment inks which contain dyes. These inks do not use water, but volatile organic compounds which is why these inks are relatively inexpensive and quite flexible on certain types of surfaces. Solvent inks are waterproof, UV resistant and offer brilliant colours. However, the main benefit is the durability of the ink itself which holds up quite well in all types of conditions. Nevertheless, the drawback is the toxic chemicals used in their creation. For consumers, it matters little, but when it comes to production, extra care is taken.
Eco solvent is the green alternative to those traditional solvent based inks. One major benefit is that it is not required to have a huge ventilation system to recycle the air in and out of the department to diffuse the fumes. Using eco solvent inks can have valuable impacts not only on the environment but also upon human health. Not only do these inks print incredibly well onto recycled paper, but there is a greater ease of removal of these inks from wastepaper during de-inking in the recycling process of paper.
UV Cured Inks
These are the inks which are cured by being exposed to strong UV-light. They dry quickly which makes them quite appealing to printers and can be used on a number of different surfaces. For now, these inks are expensive which makes a costlier proposition for those who want to use such inks. However, with enhanced production followed by growing demand, it is expected that these inks would soon become affordable.
These inks are used on many different surfaces including vinyl. The type of inks acts much like solvent inks but without the dangerous toxic chemicals. However, when it comes to production of these types of inks, certain chemicals are used which are not totally environmentally friendly. For many of the wide format printing fraternities, these types of inks are still new, but offer a lot of promise.
These inks are the most commonly known type of digital textile inks, and this is what is used in the dye-sublimation ink process. Dispersed inks infuse into and actually dye the fabric, becoming part of the textile itself. Disperse inks are broken down into low-energy, medium-energy and high-energy dispersion. The commonly used dye sublimation inks are actually low-energy dye dispersion, which are typically used for transfer printing from paper to fabric.
These inks contain dyes that create chemical bonds with cellulose when applied to pretreated fabric and then fixated. Reactive dye inks are used for decorating cotton and cellulose fabrics such as viscose, rayon, linen plus silk and wool. Reactive dye printing produces intense colour combined with outstanding production reliability and excellent application, and has fastness for fashion, home textiles and signage industry. It does have compliance to textile standards.
These inks require pretreated fabric for fixation and are printed directly to the textile then steamed to set the ink. The dyes that make up acid ink create ionic or electrostatic bonds with textiles such as silk, wool, and nylon. Fabric with reactive and acid ink must be washed after the transfer to remove any residue. Like reactive, acid-based inks also have to be set into the fabrics with a post-processing heating procedure to permanently set the dyes.
These inks are finely ground powders suspended in liquid carriers with binders. Where sublimation creates permanency when the dye is encapsulated into a polymer, pigments are bonded to natural fabrics using binders and a heat cylender process. Digitally printed natural fabrics are in high demand, so this is an area we expect to see significant growth in in coming years.