|Sepiax Ink Technology, water-based yet for outdoor signage|
In late March about four years ago HP introduced its HP latex ink at a huge international event in Israel. Then at FESPA Digital 2008 in Geneva another water-based ink was introduced, by Sepiax, a company in Austria.
So all of a sudden, eco-solvent ink had two competitors: latex ink (from HP), and an independent Sepiax water-based ink.
Sepiax Ink Technology compared with HP latex ink
Checking their web site, "weather resistant, abrasion resistant" this sounds like qualities offered by the HP latex ink. I have also heard of an earlier DuPont ink that had similar qualities to latex ink (in addition to the unfortunate VinylJet ink (made by DuPont for Kodak VinylJet, but in part due to problems with Encad, this early non-solvent ink failed utterly).
Since HP has spent so many millions and millions of dollars building a printer to work with the unusual requirements of the latex ink chemistry, I was naturally curious to compare the pros and cons of Sepiax Ink Technology with those of HP latex ink. One fact is that Sepiax ink is formulated for piezo printheads (naturally since virtually all current signage printers use Epson, Xaar, KonicaMinolta, or Spectra printheads.
In distinction, the HP latex ink is not intended to be an after-market ink; the HP latex ink is exclusively for thermal printheads.
Sepiax compared with bio-solvent inks
First VUTEK InkWare produced a bio-solvent ink. Then Mutoh built a printer that used this bio-ink. Neither was successful (neither the printer nor the first generation(s) of the ink. So then that flatbed printer was replaced by a different Mutoh flatbed based on the ValueJet platform. The original ink formula was not successful but after three or four generations the current MuBIO ink is better than two years ago . Plus the Mutoh ValueJet was slightly tweaked to better handle the special requirements of MuBIO ink.
But both Sepiax and Kiian inks print on substantially more materials than any bio-solvent (and Sepiax is completely water-based).
New Sepiax and HP latex inks compared with Epson's new ink
The new HP latex ink and the new Sepiax ink will challenge Epson's new eco-solvent printer, GS6000. Solvent ink is gradually being replaced all over the world. Epson would have done better to have switched to an ink like Sepiax or tried to make a printer to handle Kiian of Lumocolor ink from Staedtler. But Epson policy is to not allow any outside ink to be successful with Epson printheads unless the ink company pays a hefty price to Epson. Most ink companies, naturally, refuse to be forced to pay this ink "tax" to Epson.
Sepiax ink compared with Kiian's alcohol-based magical ink
At SGIA 2008 there was an exhibit of samples from an ink that could "print on everything." The range of samples in the Manoukian booth was impressive, but there was almost no information.
The same Kiian ink, this time with a prototype printer, was exhibited at VISCOM Italy 2008. This time a brochure was available but it had no specific information on the ink: only normal specs on the modified Roland printer ( flatbed, modified with heaters). This ink has no specific name, and was conspicuously absent at the large Kiian booth at FESPA 2009.
In the US it is supposedly distributed by TW Graphics. But their booth at SGIA 2009 had zero information. The Kiian ink seems to have totally evaporated. What a change in one year: a huge booth at SGIA 2008 and then nothing whatsoever in 2009.
The complexity of which company does which in the Manoukian Argon conglomerate makes it a challenge to know who to speak with, and where to go to test the ink.
Sepiax ink company is easier to deal with. Their headquarters are in the most beautiful part of southern Austria, less than 2 hours drive from Ljubljana, Slovenia (where FLAAR does many of its lecture programs).
It was possible to spend two days testing the Sepiax ink on PVC, aluminum foil and diverse other materials. This page is being updated as soon as I get more feedback from beta-testing. But suffice it to say, Sepiax ink is worth looking at. During 2008 through 2011 the ink was available only for Epson printheads. You can use Sepiax ink in any Roland, Mutoh, or Mimaki printer: does not require any special additional heaters. The ink does not require primer or post treatment on most materials.
Ideally it would help to have a bit more uumph in the heaters (but you do not need a furnace as is required by latex ink). So you need to print at the high quality modes as the fast draft modes don't allow enough time to allow the water to evaporate (remember, this is not a solvent ink, and needs no curing by any UV lamp).
GraphicsOne is the master distributor in the USA; a very clever coup on their part, as Sepiax ink may do better than Kiian, Staedtler Lumocolor, "Magic Ink" of Eastech, and other inks that have claimed to print on everything. Just be realistic: no ink can print on absolutely everything. With AquaRes ink it is not intended for speedy printing on PVC.
FLAAR interest in inks in general
I have visited the Triangle ink company US headquarters in California. I have been hosted for a week's inspection of two ink labs in Israel: NUR (before they were bought by HP) and an unrelated after-market ink company. Earlier I had been guest of Sun LLC ink in Novosibirsk, Russia. In 2008 it was possible to visit Sensient ink in Switzerland, to inspect their water-based UV-cured ink for printing on fabrics. These visits tend to be hosted as an international consultant.
In 2010 I spent several days in India to learn about AT Inks and I have inspected SAM Ink in Singapore twice, starting in 2010. The way I learn about an ink is to visit the company and then visit end-users who actually use the ink.
I look forward to visiting additional ink companies in Taiwan, Korea, Japan and China
as soon as opportunties present themselves in 2012.
FLAAR special interest in innovative inks that will change our world
Most current FLAAR research is dedicated to UV-cured printers, inks, and related substrates. We also study textile printing and the at least five inks that are specially made to print on fabrics.
But a primary interest in recent and current years is to find the inks that will revolutionize the inkjet printing industry. Offset, flexo, and screen printing are stuck with printing processes of the past century: they will not disappear, but clearly are not expanding and much of their previous output is moving to digital in general and to inkjet in particular.
UV-cured inkjet ink was in beta stage by the late 1990's and was viable several years later. Since DRUPA 2004, UV-cured inkjet printers have been king. Eco-solvent and mild-/lite-solvent ink came out after UV and also took several years before they were usable: the third generation eco-solvent ink was significantly better and current eco-solvent ink is increasingly popular (until HP latex ink came out). Actually mild-solvent ink of Seiko is one of the most colorful, highly-pigmented ink available today (and is still popular).
But clearly there is a rising interest in inks that are significantly different: less odor and more adhesion to diverse surfaces. So FLAAR has an inherent interest in new inks such as Sepiax. Mimaki, Mutoh, and Roland were caught totally unprepared for Sepiax and were still in shock from the launch of 42" and 60" latex ink printers in 2009. Plus, there are presently several additional new inks in Asia that show possible potential. So 2012 will be a good year for new inks.
Challenge to more than latex ink: challenge to all UV-cured printers
The one thing that will save UV-cured flatbeds is that Epson corporate politics will never allow a successful non-Epson ink to be used officially. Epson politics (the demand for an ink "tithe" for any ink that flows through an Epson printhead) has stifled printer and ink development for years. This policy is short-sighted and doomed to continue to cause Epson lost revenue: ink companies either stop making their inks or switch to other printheads. If Epson had cooperated with Staedtler and worked with them to build a printer specifically for the needs of that ink, then Lumocolor would still be selling Epson printhead machines today. But no, so now Epson is selling close to zero heads for that ink. A rather backward manner of doing business.
Thus we hope that the Sepiax ink can be developed for Ricoh and Spectra printheads in the future. Water-based ink does not work in most Xaar printheads, and KonicaMinilta has its own Japanese ink sources so will not tend to develop printers for other competing ink companies.
But whichever clever printer manufacturer develops special heating and drying for Sepiax ink with Epson printheads will produce the most successful printer of 2012, one that will be still selling well for years and years (UV-cured printers have been sold now for over a decade!). Imagine how improved a Sepiax printer will be once an innovative manufacturer breaks the mold and does something more innovative than merely to produce another UV-cured printer.
As more feedback comes from end-users, you can look forward to more to come from FLAAR Reports. Just realize that any new ink has surprises. FLAAR is gathering information and will have supdated publications on Sepiax ink and on HP latex ink during after FESPA and again after DRUPA.
Corporate PR from Sepiax is more realistic than PR fluff and puff from other companies
Sepiax is aware that their ink is not for mass signage using PVC. AquaRes ink works better on other substances. If you ask the Sepiax managers directly, they will clearly indicate that this ink is not for vinyl.
Sepiax is also aware that AquaRes is not an after-market ink. You can't simply pour it into a Mimaki, Mutoh, Roland or Epson printer (their heating strips are not warm enough for resin ink, and their heating strips are not accurate enough to provide even temperature across the full width of the printer). The heating strips are okay for eco-solvent ink, but were never made for resin ink since such an ink was not readily available when these Mimaki, Mutoh, Roland, or Epson printers were originally engineered.
The potential for Sepiax will be achieved only if printers are made from the ground up to handle this ink (and I mean more than retrofitting a printer with a heating strip; that's ok for some materials but is not the perfect solution).
And the potential for Sepiax will be achieved if Ricoh and Spectra (Dimatix) printheads are engineered into a printer, from the ground up, to handle AquaRes ink.
Epson's corporate policy not to license Sepiax ink in any of their printers was the same issue that caused Staedtler Lumocolor ink to fail in the market place. At least Sepiax did several things more adeptly, most specifically, Sepiax kept improving their formula. And if a formula for Ricoh and Spectra printheads is launched at FESPA Digital Barcelona then this ink has a chance in the marketplace. Otherwise, by DRUPA in May there will be too many other non-HP latex-like and resin-like inks via other multinational competitors.
We hoped Sepiax ink could succeed in 2012
Once Sepiax ink was out in the real world one continued issue was that it required that the heating (curing/drying) unit be totally the same temperature from the left side, middle, and right side. Cheap low-bid add-on units often failed to provide the same temperature over every bit of the surface of the printed material.
Although the ink company did try to make it for additional printheads, no printer manufacturer was interested in spending the money to make it work. And most “add on” heating strips were not fully adequate. Some print shops had issues and gradually it was not realistic to keep trying.
So unfortunately Sepiax ink faded from the landscape and is an excellent example of a great idea (an ink with fewer harmful chemicals) but which was unrealistic. It was an educational experience following the ups and downs of both the ink and the printer manufacturers not being willing to handle it. Even when Sepiax partnered with a company to try to create a printer to make it work, this printer was not successful with distributors.
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