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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

What about possible third-party ink suppliers"?traditionally,
these companies have helped drive down ink prices. Most printer
OEMs don't see many third-party suppliers getting into the whiteink
game. For one, all current white inksets are UV-curable, which
are much more difficult and costly to produce. And, two, most UVcurable
inks (including white) are printer-specific"?making it less
likely that an ink producer can develop a single UV-curable white ink
that can be used on a variety of UV-curable printers.

"UV-cure ink is truly a systems approach that requires a finetuned
balance of the printhead, drive electronics, temperature control,
curing lamps, jetting, head-carriage speed, as well as the chemistry
in the ink," says DuPont's Maribel Rivera. "White is no different."

The new color of money

If you're considering adding a printer with white-ink capability, or
upgrading your current printer, the first question you need to ask is,
"Why do I need white?" Are there many jobs your company turns
away that demand white ink? Are there alternatives to needing
white-ink printers? What jobs could you bid on if you had white-ink
capabilities?

Backlits and printing on glass/clear substrates are the two most
popular reasons OEMs provide when asked about the need for
white-ink printers. Mimaki's Steve Urmano notes, "White-ink capability
is necessary when printing on clear substrates, but also when
printing on metal substrates. In addition, white is important for
overprints and underprints for special imaging effects."

But print providers that take the leap to purchase a white-ink
wide-format printer need new customers to pay for this big-ticket
item"?prices start at $100,000 and top out at the $750,000 mark.
Many OEMs seem to favor the "Field of Dreams" philosophy"?"If you
build it, they will come." But no one wants to bet their paycheck that
customers will indeed flock to their door just because they can now
print white in larger format. Of course, if a print provider already
owns a printer that now offers white-ink capability, the upgrade to
white is somewhat less painful to the pocketbook"?for example,
Durst charges $58,000 to $90,000 to upgrade existing Rho printers.

So, what new markets and applications exist for white? The
packaging and specialty applications are the future of white-ink
printing, says DuPont's Rivera. "The need to digitally print packaging
prototypes and very short runs is now emerging." Other
applications for digital white include window graphics, backlits,
corrugated stand-ups, P-O-P, print-for-pay, and colored plastic
fluted sign applications.

Plus, as indicated earlier, printing with white ink allows shops to
offer comparable and competitive alternatives to more costly, and
complex screenprinting, says Howard. In addition, he believes that
the successful completion of one white-ink project will create
demand for more: "People see the impact white-ink printing can
have, and they want it for their image-based campaigns."

In addition, Kerrie Mellott of Mutoh points out that Mutoh's
white-ink printers also have broken into a new market"?the printing
of circuit board, instrument panels, and semiconductors. Aellora,
in conjunction with its parent company Markem, is breaking
into the electronic, automotive, and medical component worlds; the
company also sees new opportunities in commercial signs,
awards, and promotional items.

A white future?
As with many other business decisions, whether you decide to
"go white" or not, will depend upon your particular operation"?
carefully weigh customer demand, potential new markets, and
competition, and evaluate the real need for new technology.
White-ink systems, says Nur's Todress, will help print
providers "develop new specialty applications, expand their market,
and secure higher margins."
And, says Laura Wilson of Roland DGA, "In the long run,
white inks will save a tremendous amount of time and money,
particularly in labor costs. People will want to use white ink in
combination with all the other benefits that wide-format digital
printing offers."
It certainly appears that many printer OEMs believe that
white ink for wide-format inkjets can become more than just a
niche market. Yes, printer manufacturers have an interest in
selling their wares and in "keeping up with the Joneses"?
Urmano of Mimaki says that white-ink printing "seems to be a
differentiator between many competing vendors"?but they
are aware that all the components that go into a white-ink
system have to work, or it will be all for naught. "When white
ink becomes practical to use and economically feasible, and
also becomes a standard feature for most or all inkjet printers,"
says Mutoh's Mellott, "white-ink printing will move from
niche to mainstream."
"

Peggy Middendorf is managing editor of The Big Picture magazine.


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