Advances in environmentally friendly imaging technologies are making green printing more accessible. Find out why you should invest sooner than later.
By Tim Greene
At the ISA show in April, companies like DuPont and Durst highlighted the green aspects of the materials they supply. Durst indicated that it is the only one of the wide-format digital-graphics vendors that sells UV-curable inkjet printers that use a VOC-free UV-curable inkjet ink. Durst also issued separate press releases about how two customers of theirs, Ferrari Color and Light-Works, have adopted Durst printers as part of their green printing initiatives. DuPont indicated that its Tyvek, which has been a very popular banner substrate in the water-based wide-format- inkjet-media market, could be used as an alternative to vinyl by print-service providers. DuPont claims Tyvek is greener than vinyl because it is recyclable and the Tyvek manufacturing process is greener than that of vinyl. Tyvek also is lighter weight (which should reduce some shipping costs) and has excellent tearresistance properties. Candidly, I have no way of verifying the claims made by different manufacturers about the green properties of their products, but it is noteworthy that different suppliers are now often leading with those properties as part of their marketing strategies.
It also is true that many print-service providers in the wide-format-imaging market are considering their printing environment when it comes to the new printers they are evaluating for purchase. The data we collect at InfoTrends shows that the market for mild-solvent and eco-solvent inkjet printers is still seeing very strong growth, whereas printers that use robust solvents are seeing steep declines.
Another effect of greater environmental awareness is the tremendous amount of growth we are seeing in the market for wide-format UV-curable inkjet printers (Figure 1). While the biodegradability and recycling potential of UV-inkjet-printed materials is not clear, many print-service providers are buying UV-curable inkjet printers as an alternative to solvent-based inkjets. One of those companies, FedEx-Kinko’s, has cut-vinyl and water-based wide-format printers in its Sign and Graphic Centers for smaller wide-format jobs, but did not want to invest in solvent-based wide-format printers for its production centers, partly because of the downside potential for solvent. Instead, FedEx-Kinko’s opted for wide-format UV-curable inkjet printers for its production facilities.
I and the analysts at InfoTrends believe the move to green printing in the wide-format digital-graphics business is just getting started. Even though product development in the past few years has really focused on the printing environment with mild-solvent or eco-solvent inks, we think manufacturers will focus now on bringing green principles to the print itself. Media products such as biodegradable PVC and Evergreen fabrics are good examples of early market entries. It’s still pretty early to tell how some of these developments will manifest on the hardware side, but a recent flurry of announcements related to wide-array-printhead technologies suggest dramatic improvements in the speeds that are achievable, particularly in UV-curable inkjet printers—and even in water-based printers. In the past half-year we’ve seen products that integrate wide-array-printhead technology from a number of companies, including Hewlett-Packard, Sun Chemical/Inca Digital, Olympus, DaiNippon Screen, and more. It should be noted also that we have seen many new ink suppliers enter the ink market for wide-format UV inkjet printers, which usually means that the average selling price per liter will decline.
Join the green scene
Printers who have already adopted green printing processes are ahead of the curve—not just because they are doing the right thing from an environmental standpoint, but also because they can differentiate their services by offering green printing to a growing market of discriminating buyers. Additionally, by pushing green printing, these companies are raising the awareness of the issue with print buyers (which includes informing them that green printing is more costly). Finally, there is a real possibility that at some time in the future, restrictions on the use of robust solvents and non-biodegradable and non-recyclable print media could become the law of the land. Adopting green printing processes early accelerates helps eliminate some of the hurdles that come when shops take on a new piece of equipment or start using new supplies.
Tim Greene has worked at Info Trends (formerly known as CAP Ventures) since 1997 and been the director of InfoTrends’ Wide Format Printing Consulting Service since 2001. He is responsible for developing worldwide forecasts of the wide-format- printing market and conducting primary and secondary research. Greene holds a bachelor’s degree in management from Northeastern University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to the magazine.