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Staedtler Lumocolor ink: alternatives to UV-cured ink, alternatives to HP latex ink, alternatives to solvent ink and VOCs Print E-mail

UV-cured ink in hybrid, combo, and flatbed printers first came out in the 1990's, became known at DRUPA and Photokina 2000, and UV-cured ink has been king of the hill for the last five years. Roll-to-roll UV-cured inkjet printers began to enter the market at DRUPA 2004 (in the NUR booth). Today, in 2010, probably over a billion dollars worth of R&D and manufacturing and purchase of UV-cured printers has happened around the world. There are new models of UV-cured printers every two months (over 45 companies have attempted to launch a UV printer since 1997).

In 2008-2009 more new UV-curable printers were launched than new water-based and solvent-based put together. That fact alone makes the point. But this does not mean that solvent-based ink printers will disappear. Not at all, indeed Seiko has introduced three new solvent printers in 2008 which will be the swansong of this venerable breed of mild-solvent machines: Seiko ColorPainter V-64s, H-74s, H-104s.

Solid inks: Tektronix, Xerox

Solid phase change ink has been successful for Tektronix and hence Xerox, but mostly at letter size for desktop laser printers. Yet the Mutoh-built wide-format printer that attempted to use these phase-change solid inks many years ago was a failure on the marketplace. Now Oce has innovative new inks (ColorWave 600 with CrystalPoint TonerPearls gel ink chemistry) but any ink that is utilized by only one single company has less chance: this is one of the weak points of HP latex ink: only HP uses it.

FLAAR is offering personalized consulting at each trade show. You can walk-the-floor with the Senior Editor of FLAAR and get his comments on any and all printers, inks, RIP software, color management, substrates, applications, etc.

So if you wish to learn about the difference between combo, hybrid, and dedicated UV printers, how latex ink compares, about textile printers, etc. contact FLAAR to obtain consulting.

You can also get consulting before ISA or FESPA anywhere in the world: Dubai, India, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, China, Korea, London and more.

But at DRUPA 2012 I predict that other inks will be in ascendency just as UV inks were at DRUPA 2000

At DRUPA 2012 solvent inkjet printers will still be exhibited (irrespective of REACH and everything else, in a world in recession the cheapest ink will always survive). UV cured ink will have reached its prime: LED-curing will function and other forms of curing (such as Gerber has already experimented with for their cationic ink) will also be visible.

So it is very much worthwhile to continue to invest in new and better UV-curable inks and especially in curing with less heat. FLAAR has been investing in R&D on UV-cured ink since 2000 and we really concentrated our resources from DRUPA 2004 onward (to the point where the FLAAR Reports are the de facto #1 reference worldwide on flatbed, hybrid, combo, roll-to-roll and other types of UV-cured inkjet printers). But starting at Photokina 2004 FLAAR also began to be curious about atypical inks “that could print on anything and everything.” By 2008 I was on-site in Thailand testing “Magic Ink” at the Eastech regional headquarters building. And for 2009 a major focus of FLAAR will be to visit and learn about all the other innovative alternative compatible inks that gradually became better known in 2008: Sepiax, Kiian, and others.

FLAAR is dedicated to the comparative study of wide-format inkjet printers, RIP software, inks, and materials but especially for printing on architectural materials and art materials (Nicholas Hellmuth's background is in architecture; look at www.HOK.com and you can see why he would logically be interested in architecture if his father, grandfather, two brothers and cousins were all architects. Inks are the crucial component to all this. It takes special inks and equally innovative curing or fixing methods to print directly onto architectural materials.

Staedtler Lumocolor ink for wide format inkjet printers

Since Lumocolor was a water-based ink we cover this on Wide-format-printers.org, but since this ink also prints on signage material used by print shops that tend to use eco-solvent, mild-solvent, full-solvent, or UV-curable inks, we will also including mention on our signage ink site (on this www.large-format-printers.org site we focus on UV and solvent inks; on the wide-format-printers.org site we focus on water-based inks, including textile inks).

Lumocolor is by far my absolute favorite ink back in 2004 (in theory, though in practice there are a few downsides, as is explained in the FLAAR Report). Unfortunately all major printer manufacturers already have such deep connections with printhead manufacturers, and printhead manufacturers are already tied up with favored ink manufacturers, so merely being a new and innovative ink is not enough. It's all politics and price (that decides which inks are used); not really which ink is best. The reason more printers don't use the Staedtler ink (besides politics and the ink-tithe tax system) is because the ink requires a heater for printing on non-absorbent materials. The only company that dared to try to produce a printer with this kind of heater was Encad with their VinylJet. And now HP has a new printer using unusual heating system for its latex ink.

But when an ink company attempts to be successful on its own (with no printer hardware partner), the inks fail in 90% of the cases, irrespective of whether the ink is good chemistry or bad chemistry. Actually bad chemistry can be successful if it has hardware partners, as was demonstrated painfully by the first two generations of ec-solvent ink by Roland and Mutoh. It took about four years to get a usable, viable, acceptable ink chemistry by painful and expensive trial and error. Today eco-solvent ink is quite nice (if you have to have any solvent at all, might as well have this rather than a harsher solvent).

Staedtler Lumocolor water-based inks
Lumocolor ink from Staedtler; Photokina trade show, 2004. Staedtler Mars is the largest company that has produced an innovative alternative ink but size, shape, and other aspects were not enough to have it the success that was desired.

Why did all innovative alternative inks fail in the marketplace?

Encad VinylJet ink failed.

“Magic Ink” showed a lot of promise, but has not been successful outside niche markets and limited to Asia, via Eastech.

None of the new European inks has been successful other than in fascinating booth displays at trade shows or available on single-brand specialized printers.

A recent article in SIP magazine there was a polite comment that indicated clearly that Staedtler Lumocolor was a great ink, but “it had not caught on” in the real world.

I am not sure that bio-solvent ink is even seriously considered any more (other than in PR releases). I was really impressed by the concept of bio-solvent ink (from EFI VUTEk InkWare) when it first came out, but the initial chemistry reportedly had abrasion and/or adhesion issues and the last time I saw it exhibited the ink scratched off some materials (but to be fair, most freshly printed other inks also scratch off when just out of the printer; several hours or a day later, that same ink may be quite fixed and unscratchable).

Windex (ammonia) and alcohol or tape-lift-up scratch test with an X-acto knife have also been unpleasant surprises on most of the innovative inks.

There are complex inter-related reasons why any product fails. Encad VinylJet failed because it had uninspiring Lexmark printheads, lacked innovative technology, and was owned by Kodak. Kodak even bungled digital photography so badly it lost to both Sony, Canon and Nikon. So the Encad VinylJet ink system failed for reasons only partially related to DuPont chemistry. What causes the failure is normally industry politics (your own style, plus the companies that are set against you or your product).

Staedtler Lumocolor ink lack of acceptance by the world has a number of very specific reasons. Indeed for an MBA program this ink and the company that developed it, would be an ideal test case for any MBA program or thesis, of why products sometimes fail utterly (even when the product itself, Lumocolor ink, is inherently an excellent product).

FLAAR has a complete history of what factors caused this ink not to be accepted (culminated in a recent magazine statement by another totally unrelated analyst who also gently admitted that the ink was not successful in the market). Of course my question is, whether Lumocolor can be, or should be, revived. Of course by now this ink may no longer be a product on the cutting edge compared with newer inks, and Staedtler itself may have other priorities today.

We are obviously not able to, or interested in, revealing any data under NDA, so our published comments on why these inks failed are based on basic common sense, on what we see and hear around the world, on analysis of their trade show booths, and on what other analysts say about these inks (often the most polite thing said by others in the industry is simply not mentioning them).

What other new inks will face the same problems as Lumocolor ink? What other new inks will implode in collapsing sales like Encad VinylJet?

Since 2008 there are several interesting new inks that first came to notice last year: water-based Sepiax and an alcohol-based ink from Kiian (Manoukian), plus two other inks I am keeping my eye on.

Previously I was curious about “Magic Ink” from Eastech, but this ink did not appear at SGIA '08 and has not been exhibited anywhere except by Eastech (Taiwan and Thailand). There are two other inks very similar in chemical formula used by other companies and neither of these is more than a minor niche player. And none of these inks have a fast production printer available to take advantage of their benefits. All are table-top or desktop size and relatively slow (and not wide either).

Eastech Magic Ink, consulting on inks
Testing Eastech Magic Ink in Thailand. Interesting ink; a lot of effort has been put into it, but so far has not become a mainstream phenomenon. What is worth noting is that several of the same reasons are causing the slow reception to this ink as caused the slow and then less reception to all flavors of solvent ink for flatbed printers. And Lumocolor ink was not acceptable for some of the same reasons as impinge on Magic Ink.

The Eastech Magic ink formulas were still being worked on. It was an interesting curiosity, and I am glad that I tested Magic Ink at Eastech headquarters in Thailand , but there was no follow-up whatsoever from the manufacturer. And this ink was not exhibited other than at DRUPA 2008. When I was at SGIA '08, and did not find Eastech, I did find a booth with an even more impressive ink. So for 2009 most international interest will be on the newer inks that are offered by companies with a wider perspective and have an international presence.

Magic Ink, alternatives to UV-cured ink
Magic Ink in Eastech booth at FESPA trade show, 2007.

Consulting in Inks

FLAAR is consultant on wide-format inkjet inks for printshops that wish to know and understand which inks they should be considering, and which inks are not worth them wasting time and effort on.

Increasingly FLAAR is asked to be a consultant by ink companies or components (chemical components) or ink processing equipment manufacturers. To make an appointment, e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or telephone FLAAR, 1 419 823-9218.

This e-mail and telephone number is not a way to ask general questions; general questions is handled exclusively via the Survey Inquiry Form and answered with pertinent FLAAR Reports. The contact information here is exclusively for rquesting professional consulting services. We provide consulting for individuals and for corporations, at standard international rates and Dr Nicholas Hellmuth is available in any country in the world.

 

 

Most recently updated May 17, 2010.

First posted Feb. 8, 2009. Updated May 21, 2009.

 
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