Comparison between flexographic ink and package gravure ink

For a long time, flexo inks have the advantage over gravure or offset inks. With the improvement of flexographic ink quality over the past few years, it has been involved in many packaging areas. According to NAPIM's estimates, flexographic ink sales were approximately $950 million in 2002, which accounted for 67% of the packaging ink market, while the growth in flexible packaging further stimulated the growth of flexographic ink solvents. Waterborne flexographic inks account for the largest market share, approximately $570 million. Solvent-based flexographic inks accounted for 26% of the packaging ink market, with sales of approximately $365 million. In general, flexographic inks are likely to grow further in the near future.

Shah pointed out, "With the growth of flexible film, flexographic printing is also growing. At the same time, in the favored field of flexographic printing process, the label market has also shown great growth."

Dedman pointed out that flexographic inks "have continued slow and steady growth in the 'high-end' label sector - combination printing, increased printing complexity and decorative features - and a steady decline in the 'traditional' general label area."

Printers are seeking higher quality from flexo inks, which has prompted ink producers to develop better ink products.

Impastato noted that “the trend over the past few years has been to use other printing methods to make flexo inks more competitive. Non-thin-film plates, finer textures, higher-strength inks, and finer filaments have appeared on the market. All of these provide us with higher quality products that are comparable to lithographic and gravure inks."

Mullen added that one of the trends in flexo packaging is the use of finer textures to achieve the finer quality of printed products. This trend thus drives ink manufacturers to develop higher pigment strength ink products to maintain ink density.

In the field of book printing, gravure is regarded as a high-quality, costly process that is most suitable for high print count applications. According to NAPIM, solvent-based gravure ink accounts for 13% of the packaging ink market, which is approximately US$180 million; while water-based gravure inks account for 6% of the market, which is approximately US$80 million.

Once the quality of flexographic inks has increased, many packers have turned from gravure inks, but this shift has eased in recent years as the cost of gravure inks has begun to decline. Impastato pointed out that “People’s focus on gravure inks is mainly focused on cost. Over the years it has been regarded as a high-quality, high-cost technology for short and medium prints. In the past few years, gravure Ink has made a lot of effort in reducing the cost of printing in medium print. Gravure inks are now quite competitive in these areas."

Shah believes that the packaging gravure printing market has been fairly stable over the past few years. He believes that in the past few years there have been products using flexo inks instead of gravure inks.

Manufacturers are still looking for smaller prints to meet the needs of special regions or customers to compete with gravure printing.

Kelly pointed out that “when flexo inks continue to provide the flexibility needed for printing to better meet customer packaging needs, gravure inks have shifted more than ever to large prints. This is nothing new, but merely a trend. Continuation, but some customers claim that the true cost of printing plates, corrugated board, lining for wide-format printing, and spare parts is being considered toward the direction of the gravure ink."

Gravure inks are prominent in some areas and are not easily replaced. According to Shah, the gravure printing process maintains its position as an irreplaceable part of the product and needs of certain applications. Printing fluorescent ink is a good example. Flexographic printing is difficult to obtain the quality and color intensity of such inks. Therefore, most soap and detergent packages that require the use of fluorescent inks on films and folding cartons still use gravure printing as their primary printing process.

Dedman also foresaw the development opportunity of gravure in the label field. He pointed out that in the narrow-width printing industry, people's interest in using gravure printing ink for the printing process of label production is increasing.

Radiation curing

Radiation curing finds more and more new opportunities in the packaging field.

Dedman said that energy-curable (UV) curing and electron beam (EB) curing products are steadily increasing, and they continue to gain a substantial market share from waterborne and solvent-based technologies.

Mike McGovern, director of marketing for energy-curing products at Sun Chemical, points out, “With the declining capital cost of EB-cured products, people’s concern for the flexible packaging market has increased. Moreover, many packaging processors have begun to use EB topcoats to replace traditional packaging inks. Thereby producing a 'laminate appearance' package."

Shah said, “We have noticed that the demand for radiation-cured inks is not as good as the industry expects for wide-format flexo inks. On the other hand, the demand for flexo for gloss and narrow flexo for color inks is growing. The most part."

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