The Flexo Ink Market

The Flexo Ink Market
For flexo ink manufacturers, 2007 was a good year, as packaging
continues to show growth and the interest in the environment draws
attention to water-based and UV flexo inks.
By David Savastano
Flexo ink manufacturers reported that 2007 was a good year, as the industry enjoyed continued growth
Marque Kleenex Tissue Display Box, printed
by Wellpappe Auerswalde GmbH, received
2007 FTA Best of Show honors in Combined
in packaging.
“The flexo market did well in 2007,” said Michael Impastato, vice president business development,
Packaging Division, North America for Flint Group. “Flexo grew at a rate similar to the market, not
significantly gaining, or losing, share to the other printing applications. Flexo is a very strong competitor
in the North American marketplace. While gravure may dominate some forms of packaging in other
parts of the world, flexo is the main form of printing for most packaging in North America. We don’t see
this as changing any time soon.”
George Sickinger, chairman, president and CEO of Color Resolutions International (CRI), said that CRI
enjoyed growth in 2007, as did the vast majority of its customers. “However, the main concern has been
and continues to be rising costs,” Mr. Sickinger added.
Kenneth Keathley, Environmental Inks & Coatings’ director of marketing, said the flexo market was
challenging, but there were some bright spots, particularly in UV.
“We made some headway in the UV flexo market,” Mr. Keathley said. “We’ve noticed that the niche
markets such as security and metallics are growing much faster than the conventional segments. We
anticipate that 2008 will be a good year to launch new products.”
“The flexo market continues to grow on pace with industry standards,” said Bob Davison, director of
sales Flexible Packaging NAFTA for Siegwerk. "The biggest growth opportunity for flexo in the coming
years is extended gamut printing. All aspects of the flexo industry are aligned to deliver exceptional
quality. Pre-press, plate, ink, anilox and press technologies have advanced to the point that flexo can
clearly compete rotogravure and offset quality levels.”
David Callif, president of BCM Inks U.S.A., has seen good opportunities emerge in Latin America.
“We feel very good about the Latin American market,” said Mr. Callif. “We’ve seen growth there, but the
U.S. market is stagnant at best. We’re seeing growth in Central and South America, where there is
investment in new plants and equipment.”
Flexo Inks and
The Environment
There is little doubt that interest in sustainability and the environment are becoming very important
drivers in the market, and packaging is among the areas drawing scrutiny.
Mr. Sickinger believes that the sustainability movement will be the impetus for change.
“Sustainability is good for the environment and can result in lowering energy costs and conserving a lot
of natural resources,” Mr. Sickinger said. “It is the patriotic thing to do given our current energy crisis and
has little downside. Sustainability is one of our core values; we have a Sustainability Action Plan and we
will be keeping an annual score card of our progress.
“Solvent-based flexo inks have had the best growth rate for years,” Mr. Sickinger said. “I believe this will
begin to change in favor of water-based and UV inks. Both offer sustainability advantages, and I believe
we will see the growth of mid to narrow web presses because of their quick change capability and the
shortening of press runs, and water-based and UV formulations will be the chemistries of choice.
“Water-based inks in time will have much higher plant-based resin content and will become the new
water-base formulation standard,” Mr. Sickinger added. “I’m not referring to soy oil. The technology will
go far beyond this and offer superior performance as well. UV inks require less energy to dry and ink
waste is minimal, especially if process colors are mainly used. Also, print quality is enhanced as well.
However, formulation will need to be made safer for food packaging.”
“CRI has made great progress in formulating both UV and water-based systems that will have a much
great sustainability component while offering the printer superior press performance,” Mr. Sickinger
As its name indicates, Environmental Inks and Coatings emphasizes water- and UV-based
technologies, and they are well positioned to provide environmentally-friendly solutions to customers.
“We are seeing more of an interest in shifting toward water-based technologies,” Mr. Keathley said.
“Customers are more aware of the ‘green’ push, and they want more information.”
Mr. Impastato noted that environmental issues have impacted inks in the past, and noted that waterbased inks also have petrochemical-based ingredients.
“We saw a significant move from solvent-based inks to water-based inks when the Clean Air Act first
went into effect years ago,” Mr. Impastato said. “Since then, most applications which could utilize water
inks have moved to water ink technology. Further moves to water technology are limited due to
performance issues with water technology, therefore, I don’t see any significant additional movement in
that direction.
“It’s true that water inks may appear to be more ‘green,’ but the truth of the matter is, other than the
water, all the other ingredients in water inks are petrochemical-based,” Mr. Impastato added. “Once this
is understood, most people will not see enough of a green advantage to water inks to expend resources
and risk performance problems by making a move to water technology.
“This doesn’t mean water inks are deficient in performance in general,” Mr. Impastato noted. “There are
many applications where water inks work well and can provide a high level of performance and
improved sustainability. We just need to understand the fit and make sure we are using the most
appropriate technology. We may see that as solvent and energy continue to increase in cost, there will
be some printers who may look at water inks due to cost reasons. Radiation-cured inks will continue to
grow share, taking some volume from both water and solvent inks.”
“In general, there are growth opportunities for all three types of ink chemistry: UV flexo, solvent, and
water,” said Lothar Schaeffeler, director of technology Flexible Packaging NAFTA for Siegwerk. “Solvent
has the widest appeal. Most solvent printers are already using reclaim or incineration of the solvents
removed after drying. The print quality, press speed, easy clean up, and color strength of solvent based
make it a very appealing chemistry option. Solvent-based ink offers printers a wider choice of
substrates as well. Press speed, color strength, and economy seem to be the greatest strengths of
solvent-based ink chemistry.
Willow Brook Buffalo Style
Wings, printed by Sealed Air
Cryovac, above, received the
Flexographic Technical
Association’s 2007 Excellence in
Flexography Awards Best of
Show in the Mid Web category.
“Water-based chemistries are attractive due to their lower VOC content,” Mr. Schaeffeler added.
“Water-based inks also offer a degree of economy based on the resins used in their manufacture versus
similar solvent-based inks. However, water usually requires a higher, applied solids to achieve similar
color strength versus solvent based. Water-based inks also slightly restrict the types of substrates that
can be printed. Water-based inks are not as universal for printing on non-porous substrates as their
solvent-based brethren. Additionally, water-based inks run at slightly lower press speeds than solvenbased inks. It just takes a longer drier exposure to drive off water than the typical flexo printing solvent
blends. Water also employs surfactants to wet low treatment level films, and amines to dissolve the
resin chemistries. These materials increase the volatile component of water-based inks.
“UV flexo is gaining a lot of recognition for its environmental advantages,” Mr. Schaeffeler continued.
“There are not volatile solvents driven off in the drying of the inks. The UV inks have similar strength to
water-based inks, but are usually lower in color development than solvent-based inks. They print on
similar substrates as solvent-based inks, however their press speeds are slightly lower than solventbased inks. The biggest disadvantage to this chemistry still is the capital expenditure to get equipment
capable of running UV curable chemistries. They require a UV curing station between each printing
location. The cost of the inks themselves has slowed their growth to some extent. UV inks are generally
lower in color strength and gloss versus their solvent and water counterparts, even though they are
applied at higher solids.
“We see all three chemistries growing in the future,” Mr. Schaeffeler concluded. “They each have appeal
to specific printers. Depending on substrate selection, press capability and reclaim or incineration
capability, printers will use the chemistry that best fits their needs. The opportunities for all chemistry
types are there, it is a matter of exploiting the strengths of each type of chemistry. Siegwerk strives to
find the best fit for its customers based on capabilities, end-use, properties and economics.”
New Press Technologies
One of the key drivers for flexo’s growth is the improvement in productivity.
“The most significant development in flexo is speed,” Mr. Impastato noted. “The new presses being
installed can run at much higher speeds than flexo presses installed just a few years ago. We see
presses which will run at well over 2000 fpm. It was only a few years ago when printers said they were
printing at high speed, they meant 1300 fpm. The new presses allow productivity gains that make older
presses obsolete and could put them at a competitive disadvantage.”
Mr. Keathley noted that press improvements are helping to drive growth in flexo. “We have seen press
technology improve, to the point where press operators are running inks that aren’t as press specific as
they used to be,” Mr. Keathley noted.
Mr. Sickinger said that flexographic print quality can now rival the other processes and enjoys some
Kung Pao Chicken, produced by Belmark
Inc., earned Best of Show honors in Folding
Carton during the Flexographic Technical
Association’s 2007 Excellence in
Flexography Awards.
cost advantages, so it seems only natural that flexo should outpace the others. “Quick change features
and the flexibility to run different chemistries (water and UV), and, perhaps, include digital and rotary
screen, allows the flexo press platform to offer the packaging printer and his customers almost limitless
options to produce packaging that will command the consumer’s attention,” Mr. Sickinger said. “Ink
companies will need to focus much more technical expertise at the customer interface to deal with the
To meet the needs of their customers, ink manufacturers have developed new products.
“We have developed a NC based lamination system with a very wide application window,” Mr.
Schaeffeler noted. “It delivers excellent lamination bonds under extrusion lamination conditions and a
great variety of solvent-, water- borne or solvent-less adhesives. The product it currently introduced to
“Flint Group has had two key new developments,” Mr. Impastato said. “First, we have developed high
strength inks in both water-based and solvent-based systems. These high strength inks allow our
customers to print with finer aniloxes and still maintain strong vibrant colors. These stronger inks also
support cost reduction programs, and sustainability programs. The second development has been
Sterling, our new generation of solvent-based laminating inks. Sterling is a high performance ink which
works well over a number of different substrates. Because of its board application capability, Sterling
can potentially replace multiple other inks systems. This take complexity out of our customers’
All in all, Mr. Impastato sees excellent opportunities for flexo in the coming years as consistency
“As flexo standardizes its process and makes high quality graphics a more predictable outcome, it will
take share from gravure and potentially from litho,” Mr. Impastato said. “There is great upside for flexo
print, but only if we can improve predictability and consistency. Flexo must eliminate some of the
variability we see during the run to compete effectively with gravure. We need to change the mentality
from ‘this is a great flexo print’ to a mentality of ‘this is a great print.’ To make the next jump in share,
flexo printers need to compete with the other print applications, not each other.”