Searching for the Best Solvents
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Sign China 2017 - Shanghai, China - September 19-22, 2017


Searching for the Best Solvents

One solvent ink does not fit all outdoor printers. Find out the pros and cons of lite, full and eco-solvent inks.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Quality ink is critical to your finished products. Sign shops need to explore all the ink options before choosing compatible printer technology.

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  • So you are venturing into digital printing…

    Well, there is no lack of outdoor digital printers on the market today, from entry-level machines that get the job done to super industrial strength equipment with lots of bells and whistles. Encad, Vutek, Mimaki, Mutoh, Gerber and Oce ­ and a slew of up and coming Asian companies ­ all present compelling reasons why their technologies would meet the needs of your growing shop.

    Smart sign shops take the time to fully explore ink options before making major investments in digital imaging technology. What you find out may surprise you.

    All About Inks
    Despite the high cost of many of today’s machines, printer technology alone does not guarantee color crispness and print-to-print consistency. Indeed, ink quality is a major consideration in today’s competitive market because vivid, durable inks are essential to producing attractive products.

    Your clients want brilliant colors, long-lived pigments and the ability to duplicate the same custom colors on all their marketing collateral. Your bottom line wants production-friendly inks. With that in mind, there are three factors to consider when looking at inksets: purity, consistency and compatibility. This trio makes up the most important performance characteristics of quality inks and adhering to these standards should keep your customers coming back again and again.

    Purity ensures that no contaminates penetrate the ink manufacturing process. This is important because impurities could cause several problems for your new, costly inkjet printer. According to Vutek, the leading worldwide supplier of superwide format digital inkjet printers, impurities could lead to clogging in your imaging system, damage to the ink and print head systems, and sub-par imaging performance on the finished product. These are not problems that you can afford. Consistency is also important. Keep in mind that it only takes one inferior batch of ink to bring your production line to a halt and cause you to miss deadlines with customers.

    A Caution About Off-Brand Inks
    Compatibility is also key, and using off-brand ink supplies could throw a kink in your works. For best results, always use the inks that are specifically recommended by the printer manufacturer. While you may save hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on off-brand inks and supplies, you could be buying trouble in the long run.

    That’s because inferior or incompatible inks could cause internal metal corrosion and deterioration of plastic/rubber parts in any inkjet printer. And mismatched fluids could adversely affect application performance, such as adhesion, dry time, maintenance intervals or other parameters that are critical to reliable printer operation. The end result could be your system to go down and lost production time means lost revenues.

    Now that we understand the vital role that quality inks play in production, let’s take a look at some of the ink options available in the digital imaging world.

    Water-based versus Solvent-based Inks
    Before we explore the different types of solvent inks, let’s clarify between water-based and solvent-based inks. All inks are made up of a base carrier ­ water or solvent ­ a dye or pigment, and some chemical additives.

    Many of today’s entry-level wide-format inkjet printers use water-based inks. While water-based inks are well known for their broad color gamut, their downfall is in their durability. They tend to fade quickly. The second generation of water-based inks is more fade-resistant, but trades some of the vividness of its dye-based predecessors.

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    Solvent-based inks allow you to print on uncoated media. This significantly lowers the cost of production. The solvents eat into the vinyl and therefore offer long-term durability and fade resistance that large scale printing jobs demand. Solvents also tend to dry faster than water-based inks. The drawback to solvent inks is environmental and health issues.

    Looking at Lite Solvents
    There are a few different types of solvent inks: lite solvents, ecological solvents (eco-solvents) and full solvents. There are also new water-based innovations coming to the market.

    What’s the deal with lite solvents? Like everything, there are pros and cons to these inks. There are two main advantages to lite solvents: machines that use lite solvents require less maintenance and there is no need to ventilate the fumes from the ink. However, because the material is treated, lite solvent printers also have a higher media cost than true solvent printers.

    Exploring Eco-Solvent
    Eco-solvents are practically odor free and do not require special ventilation or environmental equipment, either. Currently, eco-solvents are available in six colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, black, light cyan and light magenta.

    These inks are ultraviolet durable ­ an important distinction in today’s market ­ and offer the widest color gamut in their ink class. Printing with eco-solvent inks also offers outdoor water resistance for up to three years, but lamination is recommended for applications that require abrasion resistance.

    Eco-solvent inks are far less aggressive than their full solvent counterparts, yet these inks are very popular today. Major printer manufacturers are catering to the demand with new machines. (Read part two of this series to learn more about “Choosing an Eco-Solvent Printer.”)

    Focus on Full Solvent Inks
    Before lite solvents and eco-solvents came along, the only option was full solvent inks. There are a couple of options within the category of full solvent inks: longer lasting and brighter. Longer lasting pigments most often have darker primary colors and offer a more narrow color gamut. Brighter inks, on the other hand, have a better color range, but offer less fade resistance.

    Full solvent inks require an investment in additional equipment, specifically an air purification system and carbon filters to effectively absorb potentially harmful odors. The filters have to be changed once a year. Solvent inkjet printers are also typically less reliable and much more expensive to maintain because they pump their own solvent flush through the print heads on a regular basis and require constant cleaning. Solvent inkjet printers maintained manually are typically more reliable.

    Introducing AquaVinyl Technology
    As innovation pushes the industry ahead, forward-thinking printer manufacturers like Encad are developing altogether different inks. Encad has optimized its AquaVinyl Ink with infrared curing technology to print directly to a wide variety of inexpensive vinyl with a water-based ink.

    Encad’s new technology preheats the vinyl for optimal ink reception. Once the ink is printed onto the vinyl substrate, an infrared curing system creates an impermeable bond for colorful, long-lasting outdoor signage. With this option, there are no solvents and no vents.

    At the end of the day, there is no perfect ink. The best ink for you will depend on the application for which it is being used. Understanding the various options on the market will help you complete an intelligent analysis of your printer technology options.

    Stay tuned for the next article in this three-part series entitled “Choosing Eco-Solvent Printer Technology” where we’ll review the latest machines on the market from the industry leaders.

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