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Aug 2021

An Overview of Printing Technologies; Solvent, UV and Latex

Printing Technologies

Large Format Printing

Large-format or wide-format printing is the process of taking digitally generated artwork and printing it to large-sized substrates using solvent, latex or UV inks. It requires the use of specialist equipment and much larger printers than standard commercial units. The large-format print industry is growing rapidly and experiencing growth and change with the continuous technological advancement in the field of printing.

Recent surveys, conducted by experts in the industry, suggest that over half of those surveyed (62%) expect the large format to account for a higher proportion of their turnover in the next two years.

But will UV surpass latex and solvent as the ink of choice in the near future?

In this article, we try to do a comparison between the popular printing ink technologies and their pros and cons. Let’s take a good look at these technologies to better understand what they mean, how they are different and how they work together.


Solvent/Eco-Solvent– Print Technology that Uses Solvent Inks

Solvent technology has been around for many years. After the era of aqueous printers that used water-based inks, solvent printers became the next leap forward and the first ink sets that are truly designed for the easy production of long-lasting durable print for outdoor applications.

Solvent inks are designed to penetrate the media and bind with the print substrate. The way the ink keys to vinyl is why it maintains the ‘stretch’ which is perfect for vehicle wrapping when partnered with a cast vinyl. On gloss media, solvent print remains glossy and on a matte finish, they stay flat.

Pros

Solvent or eco-solvent equipment are cheaper when compared to UV and Latex. This is the reason most small-time print houses prefer to start with a solvent/eco-solvent and as profits increase, they upgrade to a Latex or UV depending on their volume.

Cons

The disadvantages of solvent printing come down to the odor and the requirement for solvent ink to outgas. The odor has got less and less noticeable with each ink formulation update but compared to both UV and latex, there is still a solvent smell.

Outgassing is the evaporation of the solvents within the ink carrier and how these solvents dissipate away from the print media. This release needs to be unhindered and usually takes 12 or so hours. It means that if the job needs to be laminated, it can put an extra day on production.


Latex – Print Technology that Uses Latex Inks

Latex printing involves using print heads to distribute water-based inks effectively onto a wide range of media. It is ideal for accommodating everything from custom wallpaper projects, vinyl banners, and posters, see-through vinyl and photo text.

In today’s environmentally conscious times, latex ink’s water-based tech has acknowledged green credentials where most of the other systems do not. And, there isn’t quite the amount of stretch of the solvent when used on cast vinyl.

Pros

With lower running costs than solvent, latex has proved itself as something of an economical workhorse within the print industry over many years. It has no odor, instantly dries and again no need to outgas, and the prints from latex can be finished and laminated as soon as they are off the machine.

Materials printed with latex ink can be recycled more easily. These new inks aren't flammable, they don't contain hazardous air pollutants and they're nickel-free. Graphics printed with latex ink are higher in quality than printed graphics that use solvent inks. It can print onto all the same materials as solvent ink.

Cons

Latex printers require preprint and postprint heaters to cure the media, resulting in higher energy consumption compared to other inkjet technologies. Due to the heat involved in the process, there is currently a limited range of media that are suitable for latex printing. Some substrates may buckle under higher temperatures. And, because the process involves heat, it uses more energy, which ultimately has a cost implication.


UV Curable – Print Technology that Uses UV Curable Inks

UV printing is a form of digital printing that uses ultra-violet lights to dry or cure ink as it is printed. As the printer distributes ink on the surface of a material (called a “substrate”), specially designed UV lights follow close behind, curing – or drying – the ink instantly.

This helps the UV printers print on almost any kind of media, making them truly versatile which includes varieties of rigid materials include as glass, tiles, wood, ACP, Acrylic, etc., and also flexible media such as wallpapers, canvas, and much more. It can print stunning colors and incredible textures directly onto almost anything.

Pros

The advantage of UV curing within printing- and adhesion processes lie in the speed at which the products can be ready for shipping. In addition to speeding up production, this also can reduce flaws and errors, as the amount of time that dust or any airborne object has to settle upon the object is reduced.

No odor, no need to outgas, and with more cost-effective white ink options, UV technology has steadily grown in popularity for roll-to-roll machines designed to produce window graphics and decals.

Cons

UV inks do not stretch as much as solvent inks do, so for vehicle wraps, UV may not be the best option. And, the initial startup costs to begin using UV inks is high when compared to other types of inks.

The Decline of Solvent/Eco-Solvent Inks

In most cases, customers need their printing jobs done quickly and traditional print techniques struggle to provide this facility, which is one of the reasons why latex and UV printing have captured most of this market.

Besides, the most crucial factor is the environment which accelerated the decline of solvent inks in the large-format printing industry. More and more companies around the world are looking forward to improving the impact their businesses have on the environment. And, this is not just in terms of printing but also disposal or incineration of used prints.

Despite the reduced VOC emission from eco-solvent inks, they are still non-biodegradable. This made large-format print companies move away from solvent to more eco-friendly practices.


UV vs Latex Inks

When it comes to Latex inks, they have a limited choice of substrates when compared to UV because the ink must be fixed under heat. However, UV ink dries instantly, which makes it excellent for non-absorbent substrates such as PVC, carton, wood, aluminum, glass, and ceramics, and substrates can be stacked, rolled, and finished immediately after printing.

UV inks allow more versatility as it is suitable for printing on rigid and uncoated print media. UV prints are extremely durable, UV-resistant, water-resistant, scratch-resistant and weather resistant). They give true color output and are exceptionally high quality. UV inks can print stunning colors and incredible textures directly onto almost anything.

In addition to vibrant colors and extraordinary details, they can also produce stunning photographic details. It is generally possible to print much faster if you use UV ink than with aqueous or solvent inks.

Advantages of UV Over Latex Printing at a Glance:

  • Low maintenance cost as compared to latex
  • Less consumables required
  • Less operating cost and less material cost
  • 1-2 or even fewer printheads to be replaced compared to 20 to 30 printheads in Latex over its life
  • Higher Ink Yield; approx. 25 to 30 % more
  • Ink consumption is cheaper than latex
  • Less power consumption
  • Lower cost per sq/m than latex

Verdict

According to the latest studies, print service providers have started shifting their buying preference more towards UV printers than latex (50% favored UV while 32% indicated purchasing Latex).

Even though solvent, latex and UV inks offer a range of different benefits for commercial printers, with the ability to cope with flexible media, it is evident that UV inks will surpass latex and solvent inks as the ink of choice in the near future.

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