One colorful trend seen during September’s Labelexpo centered on the growing use of white ink on digital presses for labels and packaging. What’s the big deal? And what does this mean for brand owners? We present insights from four industry experts.
On the surface, white seems to be the least colorful, most “vanilla” of all the ink hues. Yet at Labelexpo white ink seemed a white-hot ticket for digital printing of labels and flexible packaging.
Why is interest in white ink heating up?
“For the label and the flexible packaging market white ink is imperative,” says printing expert and industry consultant Mike Ferrari (http://mike-ferrari.com). “It is not as much about the color white as it is about the opacity capability. This is needed when using a clear label or clear film for a bag. White high opacity ink is necessary to block the contents from the print. When white ink is not so opaque the printed graphics look dull or gray.
“Analog presses could deal with opaque white ink because they have the ability to deposit a very heavy layer. By definition digital presses deposit a thin layer of ink. Many of the new releases are technical improvements to the white ink to be more opaque. In the past, there has been a big gap between digital and analog capability in this area. Now the gap is starting to close.
“In the case of the new HP ‘premium white ink' more opacity can be achieved with a single hit versus before requiring multiple hits. This is a big speed improvement and therefore productivity gain.”
We chatted with Mark Sullivan, label systems manager vertical markets, Allen Datagraph Systems Inc. (ADSI) both during Labelexpo and after when he responded to our questions.
What’s the big deal with white ink digital printing and why is it on-trend?
Sullivan: White ink allows a label to offer a “no label look.”
Before, if you wanted to offer this type of look for your product, you would need to screen-print the package itself. Screen printing (and screen print ink) offers an ink film that is thick enough so the colors remain true and are unaffected by the product color of the packaging. It was also quite expensive, so you found this look only on premium brands
White ink allowed other methods of print to be used to achieve this effect. If you printed on a clear substrate and put down a base of white, your colors could be unaffected by the color of the product or the color of its packaging.
What does it do for brand owners’ labels and packaging?
Sullivan: White ink allows a user to enjoy the look of expensive screen printed product packaging for a fraction of the cost of screen printing. Now, almost any product can have a perceived, premium look.
What substrates and applications are center-of-target for this technique?
Sullivan: The substrates we are getting the most reaction from are clear and foil. Clear labels offer a “no label look.” By printing white first, and underneath other inks, foils can be utilized. The white is used to prevent the underlying substrate color from affecting the graphic colors.
We’re getting feedback on using white as a graphic element on other unique substrates like white print on kraft paper. Customers now have the ability to print white on dark face stocks, giving brand owners another way to stand out on the shelf.
Is white an ink breakthrough or a press breakthrough?
Sullivan: White ink has been around for a while in both traditional and digital printing. For us, white is a platform breakthrough, offering a combination of printer, toner and price. Our 5-color W+CMYK product configurations (as seen above) will start at $50,000. Previously this feature was only available on devices costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. We think we will be able to bring this kind of high value printing to a much broader segment than has previously been available.
What kind of interest are you seeing with this capability?
Sullivan: We’re seeing tremendous opportunity. There are converters considering our technology that we have never spoken to before, strictly because of our white capabilities.
Next: An interview with 2 more vendor managers about white ink developments and tradeoffs.