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White ink draws white-hot interest for digital printing

White ink draws white-hot interest for digital printing
Why is white ink taking off for digital printing? Among others, popular uses include its application onto clear film and on metallized substrates.

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 ( “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.

Epson America, Inc.  digital presses include the standard edition L-6034V, which uses CMYK, black and multi-varnish inks, and the L-6034VW (above) which is the white ink edition that uses CMYK, black, multi-varnish, white ink and digital varnish. Each uses Epson’s PrecisionCore linehead inkjet technology with LED UV curing ink that optimizes both for high-speed printing for short- to mid-run jobs.

“We are currently seeing a large interest at a global level for the L-6034VW and are currently near production capacity,” says Mike Pruitt, Epson's SurePress product manager.  “Demand for clear and metallic films is the result of the overwhelming need for white ink. UV ink in particular offers a very bright saturated color, which is good for many branded products on coated films and papers.”

Are there any tradeoffs using white ink?
“There are many tradeoffs using white ink,” responds Pruitt. “White ink requires a more sophisticated ink handling system, which makes it thicker than other colors. White ink printing can be used for labels required in more discriminating areas such as health and beauty, nutraceuticals, and food and beverage, as well as standard consumer packaged goods such as car polish, lawn and garden care, and household cleaner labels. White ink extends the range of expression on clear and metalized films.”

INX International Ink Co. displayed an updated and improved version of its NW210 inkjet UV digital narrow web label press (above) with UV LED advanced curing technology for label converters and packaging printers. The press, which delivers single-pass output up to 80 feet per minute on any label stock, has been upgraded with the ability to handle precut labels as well as a skip-splice feature that speeds up make-ready times. It also offers Xaar-patented technology that provides multiple drop sizes and color ink channels.

"INX has had white ink capability in our NW 210 inkjet UV digital narrow web press since it was introduced in 2014,” Jim Lambert, INX vp and general manager, tells Packaging Digest. “The whole process market is predicated on a white substrate. Thus, if you have any other substrate color or metallic, it is absolutely critical to apply white as an underlying color. It's gaining in popularity and we are now seeing spot white being used more often in clear label substrates."

For more information visit the digital printing archives at


Want to assess digital options for packaging materials and machinery? Visit PackEx Montréal, November 30, 2016 to December 1, 2016. 


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