The power of new ink types
Rapid evolution has made resin and latex ink-based printers versatile production platforms
January 29, 2024 By Daniel Valade
Resin or latex ink and printers have been around for more than a decade. However, in recent years they have undergone significant and rapid evolution. With the digital printing market expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of seven per cent over the next 10 years, it’s time to take another look at this versatile print technology.
Today’s expanded lineup of resin inks and printers offers bold, rich colour options, an ability to handle a wide range of media, environmentally friendly low-VOC output, and fast-drying prints. Resin ink printers provide production power for a diverse set of applications including wallpaper and fabrics, vehicle graphics, canvas printing, and interior and exterior signage.
Two names, one technology
Resin ink and latex ink are two names for similar, water-based, multi-purpose ink technologies. There isn’t latex or resin in the inks. Although the various latex and resin ink technologies are similar, the ink formulations vary substantially from manufacturer to manufacturer, so you’ll want to research your options carefully.
Resin ink printing works by preheating the material, after which the printer deposits a droplet of optimizer on the substrate. The ink is deposited inside the dot of optimizer, yielding just the right amount of dot gain. Using a high-quality optimizer is critical for controlling the level of dot gain, and therefore for controlling output quality.
In the past, resin ink colours have been known for being less rich and deep than those printed using eco-solvent ink. However, with today’s advanced equipment and ink formulations, some resin inks can achieve deep and rich colours that match the performance of eco-solvent inks.
The latest resin printers use advanced technology like variable dot control to fire different types of ink droplets, yielding unparalleled image quality. In addition, these newer ink formulations create more durable prints with greater scratch resistance than in the past.
Versatile print technology
Today’s resin ink printers provide a versatile production platform for a wide range of permanent and temporary signage, including wall, window, and floor graphics, fleet graphics, retail and office graphics, posters, banners, stickers, and labels.
Additionally, resin ink’s water-based print technology meets the requirements for print products used in certain environments, such as schools, health-care facilities, and hospitals. This sustainability aspect of resin inks is also more in demand market-wide, especially for interior graphics. Some manufacturers’ formulations have even achieved GreenGuard Gold Certification, providing assurance that they meet the most stringent standards for low VOC emissions into indoor air.
Many resin ink printers are designed to be high-volume machines and some even offer users lower running costs compared with other technologies. Users appreciate the time savings from resin ink production, which does not require post-production steps like outgassing. This simple workflow means resin ink prints are quickly ready to laminate, install or ship.
Additionally, without the need for post-production steps, resin ink printers can be loaded up with one material and left to run for hours. This makes them suitable for printing on fabrics, signage, window graphics, floor graphics, or fleet vehicle graphics.
Expanded media options
In the past few years, resin ink technology has evolved and the range of media these inks adhere to has expanded. Resin ink printer manufacturers are also focused on helping providers make use of more materials.
There are, of course, specialty materials designed for resin printers. However, when paired with the latest hardware, resin ink is compatible with a wide variety of media types including traditional signage materials as well as fabrics, wallpapers, and uncoated papers.
Durable, sustainable prints
Due to their eco-friendly composition, resin ink prints are in demand for indoor signage and decor, particularly at schools and medical facilities. Since these prints are viewed at close range, they also tend to be higher-margin products for print shops.
Resin inks’ durability has been improved and resin prints are now competitive for outdoor graphic applications such as vehicle and fleet graphics. Some manufacturer’s latex or resin ink formulations are best used for wraps on box trucks and trailers where less conformability is required. However, some of the newest resin inks are far less prone to cracking, which makes them a suitable choice for wrapping vehicles with more curves and edges.
Resin ink printer features
When evaluating resin ink printing technology, there are several important factors to consider.
Like all production equipment, today’s resin ink printers vary when it comes to speeds. Be sure the printer can produce at the speed and volume you need.
It’s important to request test prints to ensure the ink formulation and printing technology can produce high-quality prints for a variety of applications. If your shop is considering adding high-margin products like vehicle or environmental graphics, you’ll need an inkset and printer that can consistently produce vibrant, rich, durable prints, which can conform to curves and edges.
For consistently vibrant, detailed output, be sure to inquire about the printhead technology. Some manufacturers use a thermal printhead, which can degrade over time, resulting in colour variation.
Service and support
Another important factor is whether the printer manufacturer you are considering provide solid support and a trouble-free warranty.
Poised for growth
Industry leaders are predicting the printed graphics market will continue its current pattern of growth, and print providers need to consider options that will allow them to successfully meet the expanded demand for digitally printed output.
With their fast-drying, durable, and sustainable formulations, resin and latex inks are making resin ink production an increasingly popular solution.
Daniel Valade is product manager of digital print at Roland DGA.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of PrintAction.
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