Print expert Jon Harper Smith, author of Smithers’ latest report The Future of Water-based vs Solvent Printing to 2027
, shares his insights into the transition between solvent- and water-based inks. Jon has nearly 40 years’ experience in industrial and package printing with particular focus on industrial inkjet and flexo processes.
What are the major industry trends driving water- and solvent-based printing?
There are a range of factors driving the use of water- and solvent-based printing systems, and influencing any change is technology. A key factor is the drive towards sustainability and greater environmental awareness amongst leading brands and other print buyers. This is driving the increased use of water-based inks that are replacing solvent-based inks for some products where the technical properties of print can adequately be met. Examples include flexible packaging, where the use of solvent-based inks dominates and the use of water-based inks is growing, as well as some wide format graphic printing for applications including signs, displays and vehicle wraps where solvent inks have also been widely used.
In addition to a transition between ink technologies in some sectors, there is also a drive towards the adoption of water-based products for new markets that are developing. This includes on-demand book printing that is enabled by digital printing using water-based inks, a technology that is being adopted by companies including Amazon. In addition, new high volume inkjet systems for applications such as corrugated, folding carton and flexible packaging are all being developed using water-based inks.
What do you see as future challenges for the industry?
One of the main challenges for water-based inks is the issue in drying the inks, an issue that is particularly acute on heat sensitive stock. Water-based inks typically require significantly more energy to dry relative to solvent-based inks in a like for like comparison. Although new drying technology is being developed with water-based products in mind, the drying implications can limit the uptake of water-based technology in some instances. Solvent-based inks also have challenges, mainly centred around management of the solvent in terms of flammability and emissions, which are governed by local and national legislation. However, solvent-based inks are widely used and converters and print service providers that do so are adept at managing these issues.
What can readers expect from the latest report?
Readers of the report can expect to learn where water-based inks and solvent-based inks are currently used and why they have been selected for a particular print process or end use application. They will also learn how any transition between ink technologies is taking place, the speed of transition and the barriers to adoption.