About White Ink In Black and White

Could white ink allow you to expand into new markets? Imagine the possibilities of expanding your services to include printing on leather, cardboard, wood, stone or some other non-traditional material.

Most ink jet printers don’t make room for white ink today, but that is bound to change in the future as printers and ink manufacturers continue researching this potentially white hot segment of the market.

These newfangled machines give signmakers the option to print on substrates never before thought possible. Imagine the possibilities of expanding your services to include printing on leather, cardboard, wood, stone or some other non-traditional material. It may take some time for printer manufacturers to make this more economically viable, but experts agree this is one direction the industry is headed.

“We are still early in the development of applications [for white ink], but it is becoming more popular,” says Rak Kumar, CEO of Raster Printers, Inc. “In two years all UV-curable ink systems will include white ink.”

The Promise of White Ink 
Maria Bragg, marketing development manager of 3M Commercial Graphics, sees a clear market need for white ink that has existed since the early days of digital printing. The promise of white ink is the ability to print on non-white substrates and clear media with vibrant images. “It potentially eliminates the need to print on a white substrate,” she explains.

Traditionally, white was achieved by leaving ink off white media. Today opaque white ink is becoming part of the basic color set. Opaque white inks let you color-correct prints on non-white substrates. The opaque white ink can serve as a base coat, with color inks printed on top layer.

“Some companies have eliminating a step and are actually doing side by side white colouring. So, white is really important to the industry,” says Xerox digital imaging spokesperson Sandra Mauceli. “White ink also allows sign makers to start pushing into the packaging industry as well. So they can start crossing their applications from just planning to the packaging and expanding the market out.”

White Ink In Action
Markley Enterprise, Inc. of Elkhart, Ind. has expanded its range of viable applications, streamlined production and explored new markets since upgrading to VuTek’s PressVu UV 200/600 printer last year. Markley Enterprise President and CEO Tim Markley says white ink capability has taken the limits off what he can do for his customers.

“By being able to print direct to end media, we have been able to reduce substrate mounting costs by over 80 percent ­ this is a significant saving,” says Markley, noting that he can now print on-demand and offer fully customizable products. He points to a job he produced for Mack Trucks as an example of how the white ink capability helped his company.

Markely produced more than 100 4ft x 1ft, bulldog logo signs, displayed in Mack Truck dealerships throughout America with his PressVu. He says the printer and its white ink capabilities helped him provide a quicker service, while increasing print quality.

“We previously used white 6mm Sintra for the Mack Truck logo signs. The logo accounts for only about 10 percent of the actual surface area, with the rest needing a black background color. As a result, we wasted a lot of ink and time spent printing,” he explains.

The PressVu allowed him to print white onto black Sintra. That meant he only needed to print the logo area and not any of the background, which significantly reduced the printed surface area while providing a superior product to the customer.

“This ability has reduced the possibility of scratching, increasing the durability of each graphic while also saving us time and money,” Markley says. He has used the Mack Truck graphics as a sample of what his shop can do and has sought work from new markets including furniture, giftware, exterior signage, digital wallpaper and various other interior design applications. Markley says his staff is coming up with new applications almost on a daily basis.

White Ink Obstacles
There is plenty of promise in white ink. But there are also two major concerns with using it, according to Bragg. The first is opacity, a high enough level of saturation to block underlying colors and/or light. The second is long-term UV stability in the context of the outdoor sign market.

“One mechanism for creating the required opacity is a greater amount of ink laydown. This commonly suggests ‘double printing’ in form or another, which can impact drying/curing and/or printer productivity,” Bragg says. “Development and testing [of long-term UV ink stability] is underway, but the historical test data is not yet available.”

There is plenty of upside potential to white ink, but there is also a downside. Since it’s difficult to keep titanium dioxide ­ a key ingredient in white ink ­ mixed up, the white ink can cause headaches if the printer does not have a mechanism to keep it stirred up.

“White ink is difficult to jet ­ it tends to settle ­ and it requires special ink delivery system design,” Kumar explains. What’s more, the stirring should be careful because shaking titanium dioxide can also cause problems with the integrity of white ink.

Making Room For White Ink
The challenges, though, will be overcome, according to industry experts. In fact, there are about a dozen companies that have white ink options on their flatbed printers today. Durst’s Rho lineup has a UV-curable ink flatbed printer with a white ink option. Inca Digital Printers offer the Spyder 320+ white flatbed printer. Mimaki has also added white ink capabilities to their offerings.

“White ink is going to be important for certain applications. This is where we take an applications approach to the marketplace, such as the need to print on clear or transparent media,” says Michael Flippin, President of Web Consulting, Inc., a global consultancy for the digital printing industry in Boston. “I also think white ink will be used to highlight images printed on non-white media. In many cases, white may be used as a spot color or a pre-coat color as a background for the graphics.”

In other words, the future looks…white.


As seen on signindustry.com