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UV Printing -- Seeing the (UV) Light

November 2004
by chris Bauer

Managing Editor

Many printers report seeing the demand for UV offset printing continue to rise—a bright light in a sometimes gloomy commercial printing landscape. One reason given by printers for this trend is the growing desire of print buyers and designers to create high-end consumer packaging, displays and marketing materials. This change in marketing approach by print buyers has had an effect on printed materials, causing a need to provide high-quality results.

UV printing is opening up new doors for commercial printers. When it comes to intangibles such as gloss, feel, protective qualities and scuff resistance, UV-printed products are often seen as a superior alternative to traditionally printed products.

One company that has stepped through the door and into the UV market is Color Ink of Sussex, WI. Upon noticing that the traditional print market was eroding about four years ago, Color Ink wanted to move into the packaging and plastics market to expand its services.

The POP/POS area has a higher demand to print on plastics, and Color Ink made this an area of focus. And UV coating opened different markets that traditional printing wasn't capable of handling. Today, about 50 percent of the company's work is done using the UV process.

A Tough Transition

However, the transition to UV printing was not an easy one, recalls Tom Murel, executive vice president of Color Ink. "This has been a four-year learning curve for manufacturers, as well as printers," assesses Murel.

In 2004, ink sets and coating developments are changing to match the wide array of substrates offered, he explains. Color Ink is in the process of certifying all products and testing them while they are on-press. The goal is to tighten the spectrum of ink choices given by the ink manufacturer.

Color Ink has worked closely with both press manufacturer KBA North America and Flint Ink in testing and developing its usage of the process. It uses a Graphix interdeck dryer system for all UV processes.

KBA has spent a considerable amount of time at the Sussex headquarters testing inks and substrates to maximize the results, Murel notes. Color Ink also has an in-house ink lab through Flint Ink to guarantee color quality on the presses. The ink lab is equipped to mix both traditional and UV ink sets onsite, which were previously sent out to another facility to be processed.

Another printer that felt the future of commercial printing work leveling off is Challenge Printing in Eden Prairie, MN. Five years ago the company was looking for a new market segment that would help it diversify and become a more valuable supplier to its customers. UV printing fit that criteria.

"Companies are always looking to differentiate themselves, especially in the retail area," explains Mike McLaughlin, Challenge's director of production. "The greater variety of substrates and effects that can be run on UV equipment is appealing to savvy print buyers and marketers."

Over the years, Challenge Printing has tried a variety of UV inks (Wikoff, Central Ink, Sun Chemical, Kohl & Madden) in an effort to find the most effective solution for the various substrates it has run, McLaughlin points out. Its current UV pressroom consists of six- and seven-color Heidelberg presses equipped with IST/Technotrans UV systems. Approximately 15 percent of Challenge's printing business now includes UV work.

"As with any new equipment or technology, there is a learning curve," McLaughlin admits. "We have both management and operators on staff that had previous UV printing experience, and we also hired other experienced operators as the business expanded."

Challenge runs a variety of plastic substrates used as signage in back-lit menu boards. It also produces a large volume of static cling, diecut danglers and lenticular work for use in POP applications. Another growing area of Challenge's UV business is in the gift card/direct mail market, McLaughlin reveals.

Printers all around the country are finding UV as an entry point into new markets.

"We have had our (UV) system about six months now," announces Laynee Just, senior production manager at Pikes Peak Litho, Colorado Springs, CO. "We decided to install it in hope of tapping into new markets, along with realizing that it would certainly be a value-added entity."

And although Pikes Peak Litho is already specialized (strictly large-format offset, with a seven-color, 77˝ Harris), Just says the company knew this would provide an advantage against the competition.

Pikes Peak Litho did not opt for a dedicated UV system with UV inks. It instead installed a cold curing UV system, with interdeck and delivery lamps from Printing Research. This allows the company to print with hybrid inks and apply a UV coating. It is currently using Hybrite Series inks from Sun Chemical and is in the process of testing other products, as well.

"There are several advantages to this system," Just contends. "First and foremost, it gives us the flexibility to print with both hybrid and conventional inks. It allows us to dry trap in between units for a much sharper, higher quality piece with less dot gain. It gives us more scheduling freedom to meet faster turnaround times, because we can print, cut and ship—all in one day."

For printers interested in offering UV printing, the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF) is a place to turn to find out how to get started. It recently installed a new 28˝ Komori Lithrone NL28 sheetfed press with UV capabilities. The new six-color press with Nordson UV is set up in a hybrid UV mode, reports Raymond Prince, senior technical consultant. Customized, as well as public, training programs will be available from the association shortly. Product testing and research are available now.

Throwing Some Curves

"We must keep in mind (UV printing) is a chemical process and it must be treated as such," advises Prince. "You do not make changes on a whim or on the basis of a cheaper price. The upside of the business is great, but so is the downside. There is a learning curve—you just do not start one day."

Prince recommends one way to transition is by going the hybrid UV route. He says hybrid UV offers many of the advantages of UV printing with a bit less cost.

"As a general rule, hybrid is the way to go if you wish to dabble and not commit a press to it," he says.

But for printers who have made the UV transformation, there is no turning back.

"Many of our traditional printing customers have expanded their marketing strategy now to include more projects printed UV," reports McLaughlin. "This, combined with first-time customers we are seeing each month, makes us very excited about the future of UV at Challenge Printing."

Jay Zawerschnik, vice president of operations at Color Ink, sees things the same way. "The UV market is a growth market," Zawerschnik concludes. "All major ink and coating manufacturers are continuing to develop new and better products. The press manufacturers are focusing on this growth to improve their business. Based on the ink vendors and the press manufacturers continuing to develop better products for the industry, this market will continually grow."
 

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