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White With Envy

(February 2005) posted on Mon Feb 07, 2005

Is white ink a business necessity, a niche market, or both?


By Peggy Middendorf

The topic of white ink is bandied about in just about
any conversation to do with wide-format printing these days.
Throughout the course of 2004, print providers heard OEMs and
suppliers, and more than a few publications, boast about white
ink developments on the way. But when these same print
providers arrived at trade shows throughout the year, they did
not see all that much white actually being printed, for one reason
or another.

All of which leads print providers to scratch their heads and
wonder, "What's up with white?" Does it exist or doesn't it? If so,
who really has it available now, and how soon can we get it? Why
has it been so hard to bring to market?

Why all the fuss over white ink in the first place? Primarily
because of what it can bring to the table. White can give colors an
added "pop" for packaging prototypes; it can add some bang to
backlits; and it helps expand media choices to include more clear
and dark substrates, as well as less-typical substrates such as
wood and metal. Further, and importantly, it allows digital printers
to compete with traditional screen printers, who have had
the capability of printing with white for some time now via
screen-printing technologies.

As of this writing, only a handful of wide-format printer manufacturers
seem to be currently offering white ink as a viable
option"?Azero, Durst, Eastech, and Mimaki. Of those, Durst
reports that they have more than 30 installed systems; in addition,
Aellora and Mutoh offer narrow-format white-ink inkjet
printers. Other printer manufacturers report that white ink is on
the drawing board or in some developmental planning stage.
We've charted those printer OEMs that have indicated they currently
have white-ink offerings or have something white in the
works on the next page.

Bringing it to market

Before delving into what applications might lend themselves to
white ink, and how additional profits can be made using it, you
may want first to understand why it has been so hard to bring
white ink to market. White ink carries with it a number of challenges
that printer OEMs and printhead manufacturers have had
to overcome, including: the ink's chemical structure; opaqueness,
workflow, and printer speed; and cost. Let's take a look at
each of these.


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