News / Digital Printing

Digital Printing and Packaging


Article by Dave Savastano, Ink World 

Digital printing continues to be a major growth area, with movement into new segments such as packaging coming along quickly. In its latest report, “Digital Inks Market by Formulation (Solvent-Based, Water-Based, UV-Cured), Application (Advertising & Promotion, Ceramic Tiles Printing, Clothing & Household Textiles, Packaging, Glass Printing), Substrate, and Region - Global Forecast to 2023,” http://www.marketsandmarkets.com estimates that the global digital inks market will grow from $2.71 billion in 2018 to $4.17 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 9.1% from 2018 to 2023.

“Packaging is the fastest-growing segment of the digital inks market, owing to the high demand for digital inks for label printing,” according to MarketsandMarkets analysts.

MarketsandMarkets also published “Digital Printing Market for Printers, Inks, and Print Heads by Ink Type (Aqueous, Solvent, UV-Curable, Latex, and Dye Sublimation), Print Head Type (Inkjet and Laser), Substrate Type (Glass, Textile, Paper), and Geography - Global Forecast to 2023,” in which it valued the digital printing market at $22.18 billion in 2017, estimating it at $28.85 billion by 2023. The analysts were particularly optimistic about UV-cured digital inks.

“UV-cured ink is expected to hold the largest share between 2017 and 2023,” analysts from MarketsandMarkets noted. “UV-cured ink for digital printing is the fastest-growing segment, which offers various advantages such as quick drying, environment-friendly, low price, and resistance to UV rays, which are very important for printing on plastics, textiles, and others. As a result, UV-cured ink is increasingly replacing solvent ink despite being more expensive.”

Smithers Pira sees growth in inkjet printing for packaging as well. According to its report, “The Future of Digital Print for Packaging to 2022,” Smithers Pira’s analysts estimated the value of digital print for packaging at $13.2 billion in 2017, expanding to $23.2 billion in 2022.

Ink companies are seeing similar opportunities in packaging.

Matthieu Carni, director Business Unit Inkjet at Siegwerk, noted that Siegwerk only investigates new market opportunities in the packaging and label printing segments.

“For UV inkjet we see great opportunity to become a mainstream printing technology for labels soon,” Carni said. “Besides, we expect some exciting long-term opportunities for UV inkjet especially in the direct-to-pack printing market, where we are still in an early stage of the adoption curve. Water-based inkjet inks are naturally offering great opportunities for corrugated printing applications. We expect this technology to also become the technology of choice for digital printing of flexible packaging, even if there are still some significant technology barriers that need to be overcome first.”

Jim Lambert, VP and GM for INX International Ink Co., said that INX sees direct object printing and packaging as the most interesting opportunities for digital.

“With direct object printing, custom machinery and custom inks to accomplish printing and decorating that wasn’t possible several years ago are now available,” Lambert said. “This is being heavily driven by the printhead manufacturers. They are coming up with some new heads that are faster and more robust to the demands of industrial printing markets.

“More importantly, big single pass machines are running at very respectable speeds,” Lambert observed. “We are seeing many new offerings in this space. The image quality is helping drive the adoption and acceptance, especially when it comes to corrugated applications. This is allowing brand owners to take advantage of new possibilities in packaging that were only achievable before using labels or by using preprinted liner board.”

Danny Mertens, corporate communications manager, Flint Group’s Digital Solutions Division, said that the packaging industry has a lot to offer to digital, but it happens step-by-step.

“Many packaging applications aren’t looking for transformation at the moment so the challenge is to find those that are,” Mertens observed. “One of those are products related to food services like carton drinking cups. This application seems to get more and more traction for mass customization as big suppliers are looking into the possibilities of digital. As print quality and food safety are critical requirements in this sector, dry-toner digital print is a preferable technology to use.”

Warren Catchpole, market manager – digital at Wikoff Color, said that Wikoff has certainly seen an increase in the use of digital technologies in packaging in the past year.

“Digital printing, especially used in conjunction with traditional print technologies, helps print providers respond to the increased demand for customization of short run print production,” Catchpole added.

Jay Roberts, product manager, UV printers at Roland DGA, reported that demand for Roland DGA’s printers and inks for packaging applications has been consistent over the last few years.

“Roland’s UV printer lines continue to attract users within a wide variety of venues and markets, including the packaging sector,” Roberts pointed out. “The ability to print high quality CMYK and white inks onto virtually any type of substrate continues to expand creative opportunities for the packaging community. In addition, Roland’s UV printers, such as those within our VersaUV LEC series, enable users to incorporate GLOSS ink to create eye-catching varnish and embossing effects. These Roland product capabilities give our packaging customers the ability to produce prototypes and short runs that truly ‘wow’ their customers.”

Lisa Cane, brand marketing manager, Mimaki USA, Inc. noted that Mimaki USA sees opportunities for specialization in packaging.

“Packaging is a segment we continue to monitor and develop solutions for, and the opportunities we see are for specialization,” Cane said. “Digital provides an opportunity for PSPs to offer unique packaging solutions without heavy overhead. Mimaki currently serves the packaging market across several printers and has specialized cutting and creasing devices such as the CF2, CFL, and CF22 series.”

Reed Hecht, product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America Inc., noted that Epson is are seeing some package proofing applications shift to non-aqueous ink technology.

“Epson has always been strong in proofing applications due to our color consistency and capability to accurately proof packages and offset. With the overall consumer market utilizing new variants of packaging types, there has been a stronger need to proof and produce mockups for different types of packaging to help brand owners make decisions on the final packaging for their products,” Hecht added.

Growth in Digital Printing

Inkjet ink manufacturers said that the past year was excellent.

“This past year we saw continued growth, and more importantly, continued investment from both our company and customers/end users,” Lambert observed.

“We are looking back on a good past year with significant commercial success for our inkjet business,” said Carni. “The recent acquisition of AGFA Graphics’ UV inkjet business for labels and packaging this year will definitively boost our business and bring it to the next level. Herewith, we clearly strengthened our footprint in digital printing and paved the way for a successful 2018.”

Daryl Collins, VP regional operations and marketing for Wikoff Color, noted that Wikoff Color’s digital market segment fared well in 2017.

“Our water-based inkjet business in particular saw significant growth with existing customers,” said Collins. “Wikoff Digital also capitalized on several new energy-cure opportunities that resulted from trade show exhibitions.”

In addition to its Cheetah dry toner technology, Mertens reported that Xeikon just started with beta testing its first UV inkjet label press based on Panther technology.

“With Cheetah technology, Xeikon has re-leveraged its toner technology to higher productivity and quality levels,” Mertens said. “Xeikon’s toner sales are up, mostly thanks to continuous growth in the label printing segment where the Xeikon customers typically grow stronger then the market.

“Panther technology is Xeikon’s first implementation for UV inkjet label printing. The product will go commercial in the course of 2018,” Mertens added. “Our move to inkjet is highly customer-driven since many see complementary opportunities to dry-toner printing. Through Xeikon’s market experience and unique servicing possibilities around the globe, our customers are best able to get maximum productivity out of their digital production set-up.”

Hecht reported that Epson is constantly expanding applications and solutions for digital inkjet printing.

“In January we launched the SureColor F2100 Direct-to-Garment printer, a successor to the renowned SureColor F2000, for producing and printing directly onto t-shirts and other cotton garments and accessories,” said Hecht. “Five years ago, the market was dominated by screen printing, and inkjet printing was practically unheard of. Now, thanks to the introduction of inkjet direct-to-garment printing, new photo applications and more efficient production methods are available to our customers.”

“All of Roland ink sales (eco-solvent, UV, and dye-sublimation) have been consistent in sales year-over-year,” Roberts said. “In the past, we have seen spikes and valleys in ink sales, but in the last several years we have seen consistent incremental growth. Most impressively, we saw over 108% growth in our ECO-UV inks last year.”

New Opportunities for Inkjet Printing

Outside of packaging, digital printing is making gains due to its ability to personalize items. Ink and printer suppliers continue to see this as a growth area.

“Personalization and customization are still the hottest growth areas for all of our printers, specifically our UV printers and inks,” said Roberts. “Roland has seen a great increase in specialized use of our VersaUV LEF series flatbeds, which use our specially formulated ECO-UV inks. End users have found that having the ability to print directly onto either pre-manufactured, blank, or post-manufactured dimensional products has increased the deliverable value to their customers. Being able to personalize products with vibrant, detailed graphics and unique textural effects significantly increases the perceived value to the end user. This allows the print service provider or company to charge more for the finished product, increasing margins and overall profits.”

“The flexibility and unique capabilities of digital printing makes it an attractive and versatile way to add variable data, inexpensive color or other customization options to production printing, as well as pursue new market applications like industrial printing,” Catchpole added.

Carni said that UV and water-based inkjet are expanding in usage.

“From our perspective, the most promising technologies are UV and water-based inkjet, two areas we are already focusing our activities on since our move into digital printing a few years ago,” Carni continued. “UV inkjet is suitable for narrow web printing on thick material such as labels and direct-to-shape while water-based inkjet is appropriate for single pass large width printing for flexible packaging and paper and board applications.”

Cane said that Mimaki continues to innovate based on the demands of the market and customers.

“The ‘industrial’ space and the traditional printing space are beginning to converge,” Cane observed. “Mimaki has been on the forefront of this movement and has committed to provide solutions that will help customers develop more manufacturing opportunities through the Mimaki Microfactory. For true manufacturing facilities that have a need for printing,

Mimaki is developing new technologies to create cross connectivity. As part of the IoT movement, manufacturing facilities can now enjoy connectivity to Mimaki solutions with other products they rely on for industrial applications. This approach is customizable based on the individual needs, and Mimaki is committed to enabling our customers to be involved with a unique approach. By offering an SDK for connectivity, Mimaki customers can create a specific work-flow to meet their needs instead of trying to incorporate a sandboxed workflow.

“We are very excited to be able to offer our customers choices across many technologies such as solvent, UV curable, latex, and sublimation,” added Cane. “Many of our customers are looking for a way to expand offerings or bring in production that they may have outsourced. We recognize that this need combined with more connectivity has created more demand for just in time production, and our customers need to be able to confidently deliver a solution or lose business. We believe our Mimaki Microfactory concept provides this opportunity.”

Direct-to-Shape Printing

Direct-to-shape printing is also of increasing interest, as it allows printers to produce customized products such as cans. For INX, which is heavily involved in the metal deco market, this is proving to be an excellent opportunity.

“I would say that we have focused on this market because our roots are definitely in metal decorating in both 2-piece and 3-piece markets,” Lambert said. “We have installed several machines that decorate and proof beverage cans and do so in a very precise way with regard to color. The CP800 UV Digital Cylindrical Printer, our newest machine, is designed to proof cans by approximating conventional spot colors using White, CMYK, Orange, Green and Clear digital inks. This provides a very interesting alternative to can makers and graphic service providers who would typically proof using a pilot line or taking down a production line. It is much quicker and much more economical.”

Roberts said that Roland DGA is seeing a very large increase in direct-to-shape products.

“With the growth of personalization and customization, Roland has seen a tremendous increase in the specialized use of our VersaUV LEF series flatbeds for printing onto blank and post-manufactured dimensional products.

“Being able to personalize a vast array of direct-to-shape products has significantly increased consumer demand for Roland LEF printer users,” Roberts continued. “In the past, everyone wanted to have their purchased items monogramed. Now, consumers want to personalize or customize their purchased products. Whether it’s high-end bags and shoes, or toys, headphone and cell phone covers, consumers want to add their own ‘flair’ to products and accessories. Roland’s UV flatbed printers, such as our LEF series and larger LEJ series models, are helping to grow this market by making product personalization quick, easy and cost-effective.”

“3D technology is an exciting front, and the market is still discovering ways to utilize it,” Cane said. “The Mimaki 3DUJ-553 is an opportunity to showcase our innovative spirit and offer a unique perspective to this new frontier.”

Outlook for Digital Printing

There is little doubt that digital printing will continue to grow quickly, and inkjet ink industry leaders anticipate even more opportunities in the coming years.

“It sounds a little silly to say but we are really at the beginning,” Lambert observed. “I think the next five years will be amazing to people when they see all the items that are shifting or migrating to digital printing. I can say with confidence that our work has increased significantly. People are coming to us asking to print on everything. No exceptions.”

“Our outlook is very positive,” Hecht said. “As one of the world leaders in inkjet printheads and ink technology, we see a large amount of opportunity to improve the process throughout a variety of market segments. Digital printing will continue to evolve, and markets will continue to adopt the latest and most efficient technologies.”

Carni believes that going forward, digital printing will see a continuously increasing demand for short-runs, regionalization, personalization and special finishing of packaging, which will further drive the growth of digital printing technologies, including both electrophotography and UV inkjet solutions.

“The need for brand differentiation and lean production cycles will also drive the digital trend in the future printing industry,” Carni added. “Digital printing inks for labels will gain strong traction while digital inks for packaging will further progress going forward.

Carni also sees UV inkjet making gains in numerous areas,  such as labels and direct-to-shape printing, with water-based inkjet ink technologies finding opportunities in corrugated and other packaging segments.

“We strongly believe that UV inkjet will become a mainstream printing technology for label applications,” observed Carni. “We will also see a development of UV inkjet inks for direct-to-shape printing, but as this area partly addresses customers from the packaging object manufacturing field and not from the printing industry, the adoption speed will be driven by the learning and acceptance curve of these new customers. Besides, we expect water-based inkjet technology to make its way into corrugated post print and to some extent also into preprint. We expect the announcements of new developments on water-based inkjet inks for flexible packaging around the next drupa and Interpack exhibitions in 2020.”

“We see demand for all of Roland’s digital printers and inks growing over the coming years,” Roberts said. “This increased demand should be especially evident when it comes to our VersaUV lineup, which should grow significantly along with the popularity of personalized and customized products among consumers.”

“We see growth opportunities across all segments we serve,” said Mertens. “For some we have developed a clear technology development program to make greater headway in the market, such as in flexible packaging and corrugated. For others, we have mature technology available which can be used as the basis for further application development, like wallpaper printing.”

Wikoff Color’s Catchpole said that digital printing will continue to evolve as new technologies and inks allow print providers to offer a greater array of solutions.

“Digital printing will expand in scope as commercial and customer driven demands result in a wider application of digital print solutions into markets never conceived of even three years ago. Industrial printing applications are a prime example of this growth,” Catchpole concluded. 

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