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HP latex ink, a new concept of water-based inks, a breakthrough against VOCs and solvent odor Print E-mail

More HP latex ink samples are all over my desk. Additional latex ink documentation is atop them. It's late at night and lots of news of HP's latex ink that HP states will replace solvent, and frankly may replace eco-solvent, mild-solvent, and lite-solvent inks too.


Great new inks also help printshops cope with the competition from increased use of LCD and LED for advertising panels. Even in Guatemala these are being installed at billboard size. Several huge electronic billboards were installed this year (2012) and several were already present two years ago.

Sepiax AquaRes ink was a wonderful concept when it was introduced. The downside was the need for a printer to handle it had to be designed from the ground up to provide even heating. Plus PVC viny was not an ideal material for drying. So Sepiax is best for other specific applications.

For the new Mimaki JV400-130LX, Mimaki JV400-160LX latex ink printers, one would assume they can also handle vinyl, and hence compete more directly with HP latex ink printers such as the HP Designjet L26500.

Now that the Mimaki JV400-130LX, Mimaki JV400-160LX latex ink printers are out, we still hope that a new formula for Sepiax AquaRes ink can be successful for appropriate applications.


HP Latex ink test samples

Recently Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth was at Sign Africa 2009. He could obtain a sample printed with the HP latex ink in this trade show (courtesy of MidComp, the main HP dealer). Here is the image from the HP Designjet L65500, at 6 pass mode. Frankly the quality is very nice for 6 passes

Nicholas is holding the sample in the garden of Mayan ethnobotanical plants at the FLAAR headquarters in Guatemala. The image is from the nearby museum of archaeology and glass in the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, Antigua Guatemala, and shows a ceramic statue of a 4th century Eagle Warrior from the Escuintla area of Guatemala that was impacted by Teotihuacan merchants and warriors from Mexico in that century.


What is HP latex ink? Is it water-based?

So far, anyone who has been brave enough to ask questions has asked to what degree latex ink can be classified as water-based? To me this is sort of a rhetorical question. I would rather know how it functions, how clients like the results, and how printshop owners and managers like the latex ink system. The ink formula is, to me, not the immediate problem. The fact that it does not smell badly like full solvent ink and has less VOCs is a positive beginning.

But when you speak with industry analysts, off the record, the first comment they make is whether or not it is acceptable to classify the ink within the world of water-based inks. However I would prefer to inspect the results in a beta-test site and not get bogged down in chemical nit picking. Besides, the printshop owners who decide which wide-format printer to select, these are the ones whose voice we respect here at FLAAR. But it is tough to decide about a latex ink printer when the information is incomplete.

Latex ink vs solvent ink printers

The good intentions for HP latex ink are nice, but there is a lot of industry politics at play. HP entered the mild-solvent lite-solvent ink market by rebranding Seiko ColorPainter 64s printers. But the popularity of those early models of Seiko solvent printers had already peaked under Seiko. So, unfortunately, sales of the HP Designjet 9000s and 10000s did not go as well as expected. So finally, by January 2009, HP and Seiko both phased out the relationship.

Ironic, as a result, sales of Mimaki, Mutoh, Roland, and now Seiko's newer ColorPainter H104s solvent printers has increased in January 2009 after HP announced it was pulling out of solvent ink. Today in summer 2010 eco-solvent and lite-solvent are still doing well. Plus there is a completely new contender, Sepiax ink from Austria. This is a water-based resin ink.

Don't forget that HP was the water-based inkjet king for many years, after trouncing Encad (who had been market leader before). FLAAR evaluated HP Designjet printers for six years, especially the HP 5000 and 5500. It is estimated, unofficially, that HP sold more than 150,000 of these printers (some estimates suggest slightly more than 200,000 of this water-based printer series was sold). Based on feed-back from our readers, we know that the FLAAR Reports during 2003-2005 were a significant influence (we had three of these HP Designjet printers in-house in our own facilities for evaluation the entire several years). These were user-friendly printers, lasted “forever” and are still in use today. So it was an easy printer to evaluate. The FLAAR Reports on these HP printers impacked thousands of printshops around the world. Still today at trade shows printshop owners come up to introduce themselves and thank me for the FLAAR Reports during 2001 through 2006 that helped them recognize that the HP 5000 and 5500 were better than the Encad or Kodak versions of that competition. Encad finally could no longer compete and even Kodak could not compete against the well-made HP Designjet 5500. Many thousands of print shop owners and managers read those FLAAR Reports during those years.

But this epoch-making water-based evaluation program of FLAAR was phased out by 2006 and then FLAAR switched to evaluating UV-cured printers. HP had none (until they bought NUR and ColorSpan). The former ColorSpan has been a slow market though NUR sales increased under the HP Scitex mantle. But sign makers still wanted solvent printers (especially in a recession).

So now, HP is putting considerable energy into innovating with latex ink. Downside is there is not yet an entry-level version: the first generation is $120,000 and media is a bit pricey too. Plus at the same time Mutoh, Mimaki, and Roland all came out with really low cost solvent printers to protect their market share from cheap Chinese solvent printers.

But as of summer 2009 the HP Designjet L65500 has sold literally around the world, especially well in Northern Europe. What is interesting is that printshop owners from Mexico, Brazil and other countries are writing FLAAR to ask our opinion on whether they should consider a latex printer. When you fill out our Inquiry-Survey form we send you are initial photo essay on the HP Designjet L65500 printer. Now, in 2010, printshop owners are beginning to be more aware of the potential issues of latex ink and are gradually switching to asking about Sepiax ink.

HP wide-scan thermal printheads combine with latex ink
HP wide-scan thermal printheads are the ones made for HP latex ink.


HP wide-scan thermal printheads

But there are good features to the HP latex ink system besides the ink chemistry. The first time I had time to appreciate the details of the HP wide scan thermal printheads was at the pre-DRUPA 2008 event in Israel, March 10th. Since the wide scan thermal printheads are associated with delivering the new latex ink, I will be updating this page as soon as there is time. So much is going on because both DRUPA and FESPA Digital are being held this same year.

HP latex ink is totally different than any current ink, though I did find an after-market latex ink already in 2008. There will be third-party latex inks by FESPA 2010 or at least by SGIA 2010. FLAAR is not working with those companies but obviously we know what is going on in ink labs everywhere.

The composition of the HP latex ink has been likened to jetting liquid cement, which is probably one reason the printheads are at 12 picoliter and not less. However the quality comes out nicely.

Other innovative inks, including non-solvent signage inks that require heating.

What I am curious about is to what degree it will be possible to learn the full pros and cons of this ink, and to compare HP latex ink with other unusual water-based inks, namely Lumocolor from Staedtler and “ Magic Ink” from Eastech (Japan, Taiwan, Thailand).

The Lumocolor ink requires heating for some materials but the Magic Ink from Eastech does not. FLAAR has been taking notes on Magic Ink at the Thai factory of Eastech last summer. But Sepiax, Lumocolor, and Magic Ink are different than HP latex ink: HP latex ink is primarily for traditional signage. Magic ink is primarily for interior decoration.

The only other water-based ink that required IR heating was the unique DuPont ink used by the Encad VinylJet. Several hundred of these Encad VinylJet printers were sold, but they had so many issues that Kodak had to absorb millions of dollars in losses and jettison this line of printers quickly and with as little fanfare as possible.

Part of my upcoming research will be to learn all the features of the new HP latex ink that distinguish it from all these other inks. Since I was a professor of inkjet printing in earlier years, I have an intrinsic and deeply rooted interest in learning all this, and then helping our readers (printshop owners, printshop managers, printer operators and students) learn so they can make an educated decision of which ink chemistry, which printhead technology, and which printer platform to purchase this year and next year.

Another ink that is raising interest is the even newer water-based ink from Sepiax Ink Technology. The Sepiax ink prints on a wide range of materials and seems to have several advantages over Lumocolor ink from Staedtler, such as brighter colors. In the last several months I have found two other new inks that I am studying further.

Samples of the HP latex ink
HP latex ink printing samples.


HP Optical Media Advance Sensor

This sensor is something not available for any Roland or Mimaki printer. Mutoh has Intelligent Interweaving but nothing like this optical recognition system of the media advance sensor. I will try to obtain some graphics to help explain the optical media advance sensor in future updates. But the result is less banding.

Roland has now copied the Mutoh interweaving, and now Seiko is adding their version of interweaving to their new 104-inch solvent printer, the Seiko ColorPainter H104S.

Irrespective of whether HP latex ink is the direction you are thinking of moving into, it is impressive how much effort and technology they devote to their products. I have had several helpful discussions with HP's Dr Ross Allen, both in Israel and elsewhere that I have seen him, including briefly in South Africa.

Latex ink, HP wide-scan thermal printheads, solvent ink
Dr Ross Allen, senior HP scientist, shows the HP wide-scan thermal printheads that are used with the latex ink. These photos are from the three-day HP launch event at HP Scitex in Israel, attended by Professor Nicholas Hellmuth and a other industry analysts and over a hundred trade magazine editors from around the world.

HP introduced their HP Designjet L65500 to handle latex inks at DRUPA 2008.

I cover the HP Designjet L65500 latex ink printer on a separate page and there is a completely new FLAAR Report about to appear. This is presently the only printer in the world that can handle the HP latex ink. I did find, however, another kind of latex ink in summer 2008, when I was inspecting several wide-format inkjet printers in a large screen printing company. One of these printers turned out to be a beta test machine for a third-party after-market latex-like ink.

What counts, though, is what new printer technologies and what new inks will be introduced at SGIA in 2010. there was no follow-up from HP on their latex inks (I was told there would be a beta test site in the US to visit, but that was never actually arranged), and since I am very interested in learning about new inks so I can provide information to the over 411,000 people who read this web site, I have begun to work with other companies who have innovative inks which are completely different than HP latex inks, with fewer of the downsides (massive heaters are required for latex ink printers with resulting electricity costs).

The other question is which substrates can handle the extreme heat needed to handle the latex in chemistry. This is a question (raised by others), not a complaint by me. The only way I will know is by visiting a beta test site for a site-visit case study. I do not trust “Success Stories” since they are often a sham review or a pseudo review.

But if more access is available to latex ink beta test sites, or actual end-users, I will consider returning to expand FLAAR coverage of latex ink. After all, the FLAAR page appears as high in Google when you search for HP latex ink. So naturally we would like to update this, but in the meantime, our primary update is that after-market third-party latex ink already exists since last year. And there are now three significant inks in Europe that have most of the benefits of HP latex ink, plus, plus they can print on thick rigid materials, both signage materials and also materials for interior decoration. You can't print on thick or flat material with the HP latex ink.

The sad part of HP latex ink is that there is no independent outside discussion of this latex ink. 99% of what is on the Internet is either a direct publicity release, or a secondary PR blitz started by HP. Thus it is essential that printshops (end-users) have access to a true outside evaluation or review. For this reason we look forward to updating this page as more information becomes available on HP latex ink.

The future of HP latex ink

HP latex ink, water-based ink reviews
Sample printed with the HP latex ink at Sign Africa trade show 2009.

The primary benefits of HP latex ink are that you do not have to wait 24 hours before it is fully dry. With solvent inks, they may be dry to the touch but are not completely dry until 24 hours. If you roll-up a solvent print for shipping, it will outgas and stink with a wretched odor once you install it even weeks later (since the pent-up smell of the solvents do not dissipate if the material is rolled up tight).

HP latex ink are stated to be fully dry once they leave the printer. In theory you could laminate the prints immediately.

Next benefit is the HP latex inks do not cause your printer operator and co-workers to suffer from the chemicals that are in solvent ink.

Third, the HP latex inks can be “packaged” as green inks. You can also get PVC-free material, and substrates that can be recycled.


Most recently updated April 22, 2010.

First posted March 10, 2008. Updated March 18, 2008, Jan. 29, 2009, Feb. 2, 2009, Feb. 20, 2009, July 23, 2009, October 15, 2009.



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