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Who (which company) first offered white ink for UV-curable inkjet printers? Print E-mail

Several companies have asked FLAAR for consulting on the history of white ink for UV printers. One reason is that the FLAAR photographic archives of trade shows is one of the most extensive, especially since 2001 and impressive coverage from 2003. From DRUPA 2004 onward our coverage of major international trade shows is unsurpassed. By 2009 we had teams of up to five people covering a single trade show (at FESPSA Digital 2009, for example). There were five from FLAAR at FESPA 2010 in Munich and for two days we brought in two more from our new FLAAR Europe office, for a total of seven staff from FLAAR at that international exposition. All the information that we gather is then put in the FLAAR TRENDs reports.

A patent search is only one part of the question. Because some countries' patent office personnel have no idea who has already been using white ink elsewhere: so they go ahead and issue patents. But in reality such a patent is potentially invalid if there are photographs or records of a UV-curing printer that could handle white ink in previous years.

I would also point out that merely having white ink does not mean the white ink in that printer actually functions.

The GRAPO Manta KMW-5/720UV printer reviews
This is the new GRAPO Manta KMW-5/720UV. The Manta WHITE was designed by a print shop owner for this own use. The innovate solution includes an ink circulation system which creates a much more stable printing environment and significantly reduce start up time. FESPA Amsterdam trade show 2009.

What about white ink for solvent inkjet printers?

What about white ink for solvent inkjet printers? There was one trade show several years ago where all of a sudden several multi-national solvent printer manufacturers offered white ink.

Did the early white solvent ink work? Hmmm, it was a challenge to understand whether a functional white ink was the goal in those early years. Sometimes a company will showcase a new ink or new printer feature merely to try to look innovative. They may show the product while it is still a prototype (meaning that the product works only in a lab).

In 2010 quality and attractive brands of white (eco) solvent ink started to appear (I find Mimaki the best so far).

So FLAAR gets asked to help patent issues on white ink for solvent ink, and patent priority questions for UV-curable ink. Thus we are constantly keeping track, past, present, and future.

White UV ink: all the profitable ways you can print

Each printer manufacturer uses slightly different terms: Durst calls the white UV flatbed ink modes:

  • Single hit white
  • Double hit white
  • Under spot
  • Over spot
  • Under print
  • Over print
  • Special effects white

Every printer manufacturer handles white ink a bit differently. Be wary of cheap UV-cured printers who offer white ink with only one printhead. These companies offer white ink only to lure you into considering their cheap printer over a more expensive white ink system that actually functions for more than a week or so. You probably need at least two printheads to handle the white ink, otherwise it is not opaque enough.

White UV ink for backlit/frontlit signage

For decades backlit signage has been printed best with a LightJet or Durst Lambda. The Durst Lambda is still manufactured (I have been to the factory in northern Italy three times in 2008). But Oce no longer makes the Cymbolic Sciences LightJet. And gradually wide-format inkjet printers are getting close in quality to these venerable photo lab printers. Now, with white ink, you can print backlit or backlit/frontlit signage (if your selection of printers has the heads for white ink in the appropriate position and sequence to achieve the different ways to print white that you need.

Why don't more inkjet printers have white ink?

Because the media itself is white there has not been a market for white ink in the past. But now you need white ink for printing on dark materials, metal foil, or other non-white materials. But now that UV-curable printers can print onto stone, wood, leather and other objects that are not white, it becomes imperative to develop a white ink.

Plus, many applications require translucent material and clear plastic material (which is definitely not white). So every year there is more demand for white ink.

It is ironic that two of the early achievers with white ink both went out of business: these were close to the time Durst was first showing its white ink. We cover this in a note on the history of white UV-curable ink in the FLAAR Reports on white ink. You can order this report from www.wide-format-printers.NET or you can get the information from FLAAR on a consulting basis. The situation of white ink is a bit complicated.

White ink for packaging proofing from Epson Stylus Pro WT7900

At Print '09 in Chicago the personnel in the Epson booth rudely told me I was not allowed to take any photos in their booth. I had no need or intention to take any photos, so their attitude was not an issue and was kind of stupid. Because if they had let me take photos then I would not have bothered to have tried to figure out what it was in their booth that they were nervous about.

Within 45 minutes I found out (from other sources) that what Epson did not want FLAAR to see was their prototype white ink system for their Epson Stylus Pro WT7900 printer. So, I figured if they did not want our million+ readers to learn about their white ink, this was great (since we are busy, it is a challenge to research everything).

Later someone wrote us saying that when they tried the white ink for their needs (which was slightly different than what the Epson WT7900 was made for) that they found the ink unsatisfactory. So avoid hoping for a general-use white ink: this white ink, when it works, is specifically limited for package proofing.

This Epson Stylus Pro WT7900 is for package proofing. It uses materials other than Titanium dioxide to create the illusion of white color.

But Mimaki already makes white ink available for years on its eco-solvent printers and white ink is readily available on UV-cured printers.

Aellora white UV-curable ink flatbed hybrid
Sample printed by the Aellora with white ink UV.

Why is it so hard to make white ink actually function in real life?

Titanium dioxide is not easy to keep properly mixed. So your printer needs effective technology to keep the pigments in suspension. A cheap printer might have a cheap method; a high-end printer would tend to have a more sophisticated solution.

Be a bit careful when manufacturers are claiming their white ink works: because when I visit printshops that have this ink, they are less than satisfied.

So if you are about to spend lots of money to buy a UV printer, surely it is worthwhile making an initial investment in the FLAAR Reports on UV-curable inkjet printers.

Dr Hellmuth spent 10 days at DRUPA trade show in Germany rooting out information and documentation on inkjet printers. Professor Hellmuth has attended the IMI technical conferences on UV-curable ink technology. Nicholas has been at every ISA, SGIA, PMA, GraphExpo, Graphics of the America and Photokina to check out the UV-curable inkjet printers.

If you wish a private discrete consultant to help your screen printing company or sign shop decide what UV-curable ink printer to select, you can arrange for Dr Hellmuth to come to your offices anywhere in the world. Plus you can hire Nicholas to accompany you to the next trade show and perhaps get access to full disclosure that you might not get as a regular visitor.

But first, be sure to acquite the information in the FLAAR Reports on UV-curable inkjet printing. We list which printers use white ink and provide tips on what to look for.

Which UV printer manufacturers really know how to handle white ink?

Merely having white ink in the spec sheet is not enough. Many Chinese companies simply add a tank for white ink and feature white ink in their advertising. I would want to visit several end-users and ask how this white ink actually functions.

It is essential to learn which manufacturers understand white ink, not just the chemicals, but the software needed to make the printer able to handle white ink.

And even the position of which printheads handles the white ink is crucial. These are why it helps to get an appointment with Nicholas at a trade show, and go with him, in person, to pertinent booths, and get the answers directly (separately from Dr Hellmuth and also from the key people of the manufacturers). Then you can compare notes and you will better understand which kind of printer is best.

Durst Rho white ink evaluations
Here is the Durst Rho printer at DRUPA trade show.



Most recently updated August 9, 2010.

Previously updated October 22, 2004, after Photokina ‘04, SGIA ‘04, and GraphExpo ‘04 trade shows. Updated May 5, 2008, in advance of DRUPA '08. Updated June 18, 2009.

First posted June 1, 2004 based on 10 days scrutiny of printers at DRUPA trade show in Germany.



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