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Ink Isn't Just Ink . . .

May 1999
There's more to this critical printing ingredient than what comes in the can—tons of trust, good communication, lots of technical support, a competitive price and, of course, quality.


BY CHERYL A. ADAMS


Ink isn't just ink. One size doesn't fit all. Otherwise, there wouldn't be thousands of formulations—each with its own set of requirements, which may vary depending on the type of press, printing process, product and substrate used, as well as the product's end use and the environment in which it will be used.

With so many applications and different ink formulations, how does a printer know which ink to buy? Which is the right ink for his presses, his processes, his products? What about service and support after the purchase?

While most printers have the same goals in mind—quality, price, availability, service, technical support—those goals may be in a different order of priority, to meet a printer's individual needs.

For example, a printer who produces direct mail (a high-volume, disposable product) would probably be less concerned with quality than a printer who produces high-end, color-critical promotional materials. Two different printers, two different market niches—two different requirements for the ink. The direct mail printer's top priority may be service and technical support to obtain maximum ink mileage, while the promotional printer must be concerned with quality above all.

Crown: Absolute Quality
A true-life example of the latter is Crown Printing—a four- and six-color commercial sheetfed operation that generates $3.5 million in annual revenues.

"At Crown, we stake our reputation on the quality of our work. Our success is driven on the methodology that we're only as good as our last job," says Steve Kadolph, Crown's pressroom foreman, who doubles as the firm's purchasing authority. Kadolph has been purchasing Signature Series process inks exclusively from Van Son Holland Ink for the past 18 months.

A 24-year veteran with Crown, Kadolph says he's grateful to work for a company whose management "understands the value in their employees' expertise." And when it comes to working with ink, who has more experience than the guy running the presses day after day?

"Some purchasing agents make their decisions based on price. They look at price as the biggest issue, yet they fail to realize that a few dollars spent on quality repays itself over and over again," adds Kadolph, who emphasizes that getting the lowest price might mean the printer pays more in the long run.

"I want jobs to go through quick and easy with the least amount of problems," he explains. "That's where we make our money. If we can run one extra job each day because I have less problems troubleshooting, I'm going to make a heck of a lot more money than by saving a couple of dollars on each set of ink.

"We do a lot of ad agency work, and they buy printing all over town," he continues. "Ad agencies are very selective. To compete, we have to produce quality work. Plus, we're not a high-volume printer, so it's critical to have a good quality ink.

"When the ink is sitting and spinning on the rollers, the water is attacking," Kadolph explains. "With some inks, as soon as you get a little bit of water in there, it makes the ink unstable, you lose trap and everything goes sideways. You have to use a good product—an ink that is easy to run, that stands right up, that resists scuffing and dries quickly. Using a consistent, quality ink makes all the difference in the world. That's why I rely on Van Son."

Keystone: Service Plus
At Keystone Printed Specialties, a folding carton and label printer located in Jessup, PA, General Manager Randy Gilson believes quality "is a given," along with good delivery and a competitive price.

"Price is a given; everyone's competitive price-wise. Quality and delivery are also expected. The customer expects this from you, and you have to expect it from your suppliers. A supplier has to go beyond price, quality and delivery to help printers increase productivity and throughput," contends Gilson, a user of Kohl & Madden Inks, a subsidiary of Sun Chemical.

"Kohl & Madden helped us increase our productivity by 25 percent, saving thousands of dollars. They also created a rebate program for us, which is based on the volume of ink we buy, and we receive a check at the end of the year. On top of that, they suggested the rebate dollars go toward an automatic ink dispenser, which we got for no charge, and that speeds production even more."

It's this level of service that Gilson says filters into his purchasing decisions—and his choice to use a given ink supplier. "Whenever there's a problem, no matter how small, Kohl & Madden is here to help. For example, chalking—other suppliers might not respond to a chalking problem, leaving you up in the air. They'd just assume it's a problem with the press, not the ink," says Gilson, noting that his ink supplier doesn't leave him in the air—he gets support across the board.

"On the litho end, we print on different substrates, and every time you use a different substrate, inks have to be formulated. Kohl & Madden works closely with us on formulations. On the flexo end, when we first started using water-based inks, they came up and spent time on our presses to resolve the problems. They worked with our pressmen all day to formulate inks to run at higher speeds, to work faster."

"Kohl & Madden partnered with us," concludes Gilson, "and that's what it takes to get the sale—not just selling the ink but selling the service, as well. It's partnering with a firm."

Valassis: Tech Support
An example of an "ideal" partnership—not to mention one of huge magnitude in a dollars-and-cents respect—is the one between free-standing insert printer Valassis Communications and its single-source supplier, Flint Ink. Valassis, a $740 million, publically owned sales promotion company, purchases 100 percent of its inks from Flint, which equates to millions of dollars per year. With that kind of money on the line, the partnership should be as monumental as the printing operation itself. Dick Anderson, executive vice president of manufacturing and media at Valassis, says it is.

"The word 'partnership' may be overused, but it's the best way to describe our relationship with Flint Ink. Of all the vendor-customer relationships we have, this is the ideal. It's a sole-source relationship, and we get tremendous technical support. Flint provides us with a team of sales and technical reps who service only us; they don't have any other clients—a salesperson whose sole account is Valassis, an engineer who is assigned to our facility only. It's worked exceedingly well for us," explains Anderson, noting that there is a "flip side" to the relationship that also works well for Flint (besides the millions of pounds of ink Valassis buys).

"We do reciprocal testing—their lab is available to us, and our pressroom is available to them. If we want to try a new paper, Flint analyzes the stock and gives us the characteristics of how the paper will accept the inks. Additionally, any time there's a process problem—if we're having problems with water or etch, for example—they help us out. Even if it looks like it has nothing to do with the ink, they get involved because of their expertise in the entire printing process.

"There is more to ink than just ink," Anderson contends. "There's competitive price and quality, of course, but there must also be tons of trust, good communication and lots of technical support. Ink isn't just a commodity, and it should be differentiated from the commodity tag in the way it's serviced, supported and the value added."

Plain Talk: Value Added
For Plain Talk Printing, a commercial printer located in Des Moines, IA, value-added services provide valuable opportunities to save money—for example, up to 25 percent savings in process PANTONE ink costs alone.

Plain Talk's supplier is Superior Printing Inks. Superior meets the standard requirements of providing quality, price, service and support, but it goes the "extra mile" by providing the value-added, which for Plain Talk is a special "bonus" benefit: an in-house PANTONE color mixing system. Superior provides the tools, training and support for Plain Talk to blend its own PMS colors and, thus, save on third-party mixing expenses.

The system, which allows Plain Talk to custom-mix small batches of PMS colors as they're needed, comes with scales, tools and software (including a program for recycling excess inks). Superior installed the system in the printing plant and trained the employees on how to use it.

Superior developed the mixing system to help its customers more precisely manage their ink purchases—and to eliminate any overestimating and waste.

As Bob Plant, marketing manager at Superior Printing Inks, explains: "PANTONE ink generally represents about 50 percent of a printer's ink purchase, yet it's the most inefficiently purchased. Printers will frequently outsurce their PANTONE color mixes, fearing that they won't be able to make them accurately themselves. Traditionally, when he knows he's going to need a few pounds of PANTONE color, a printer will overestimate and overpurchase the ink, to protect himself from running short."

Plain Talk used to do just that, until Production Manager Doug Hergenrader accepted Superior's challenge to try the mixing system in his plant.

"It performed as promised," Hergenrader says, "and, it's had a huge impact on our operation. There's no more guesswork to mixing, which is especially important if your help isn't highly trained. As long as you measure it correctly, it will match perfectly. Superior has formulated every color in the PANTONE book to match their ink—and, believe me, the color matches. The system saves us a lot of time; it eliminates downtime and enables us to take untrained people and have them mix ink perfectly. It's almost idiot-proof. It's what sold us on Superior Printing Inks."

H.M. Smyth: Innovation
At H.M. Smyth Co., a St. Paul, MN-based package printer that produces labels for Fortune 500 companies like Colgate Palmolive, Hormel and Pillsbury, ink is a critical element for its high-speed offset presses. The company purchases about 80 percent of its ink from INX International.

Vice President Greg Arko says INX differentiates itself from other ink manufacturers through its innovation, technical competence and competitive pricing.

The latter two attributes, Arko contends, are the most obvious: Technical competence and competitive price are the cornerstones of any printer/supplier relationship... especially in the case of H.M. Smyth, where some 850 different ink formulations are used to print on a variety of packaging substrates. Technical competence is required in creating such formulations, as well as ensuring their performance on-press. And, of course, buying ink in such volume requires a competitive price.

The less obvious way H.M. Smyth has benefited from its relationship with INX is in the innovative service that the ink manufacturer provides.

"INX is innovative in the formulations they create for us, but they're also innovative in other ways," says Arko. "For example, they've helped in bulk materials handling. We use a lot of their press varnishes, so they supply us with large capacity [1,800 lb.] totes, or containers, that come with pumping systems to pump the liquid directly to the press."

Another innovation from INX is its "store and release" program, where the ink is produced in large batches, but the supplier only releases what is needed for the printer's current run/requirements. The benefit to H.M. Symth is that it can order a larger batch to be more price-competitive which, according to Arko, comes in particularly handy on quick-turnaround orders that are less than 24 hours.

"We look at INX as an extension of our own process," he says. "We're in business together."


Solid Ink Coverage
It's a Subject "Near and Dear" to Suppliers' Hearts


Suppliers would be the first to agree: There's a lot more to ink than what comes in the can. Ink manufacturers live their lives—and make their livelihoods—based on this premise. Below is a sampling of emotions on this most passionate subject.

Rita Conrad, director of communications, Flint Ink: "Ink is ink is ink." If that were true, then ink would just be a commodity. But there are many ingredients and proportions that alter the performance of the ink, which is why there are so many formulations. And formulation considerations are just part of the ink purchasing process. Buying decisions should be based on the whole package, which includes technical support such as on-press troubleshooting, color matches, adapting ink to a new press, press fingerprinting, training, etc. There are a lot of services that come with an ink purchase that aren't in the can itself. And not all vendors offer similar services.

Bob Plant, marketing manager, Superior Printing Inks: There's a dangerous trend to view ink as a commodity because people fail to see the service and support features that the product and vendor offer. When these aren't factored into the equation, there can be serious problems; people make less-than-informed decisions about their ink purchases, which can result in decreased efficiencies and increased operational costs. For example, take a process ink. If the decision maker is knowledgeable about the product—such as the ink's ability to come to color faster and how this helps reduce paper waste and makeready time—then he can ultimately make a buying decision that could significantly increase throughput.

Tim Whitman, director of public relations, Van Son Holland Ink: Ink isn't just ink. It's not just a commodity. However, purchasing agents may view ink as a commodity and base the bottom line on cost. But where should that line be drawn? There's a big difference between cost and price. For example, if a conventional can of ink is used, up to 30 percent may have to be thrown away due to skinning. When you use fresh inks from vacuum-sealed cans, there is no ink waste. The ink doesn't skin because air can't get in to contaminate it. Why have the best press, the best [skilled] workers and the best paper stock, without having the best ink? Why scrimp on one of the most important elements in the printing process? There is no substitute for quality. The real benefit of using a high-performance ink is not loosing a job, or a customer, due to problems that may be associated with a lesser quality product.
 

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