Cures for Wider Webs?
Flexo has long been crowned the fastest growing graphic arts application for UV technology, and experts say usage continues to climb across all press widths. On narrow-web presses in particular, UV curing systems have moved decisively into standard component territory. “Now it would be very rare for a [narrow-web] press not to have at least one UV [unit] … and most presses are all UV,” affirms John Mitchell, sales/product manager, UVTechnology.
By contrast, UV ink usage remains more of a specialty than a must for mid- and wide-web flexo printers, but interest has reportedly been building in the past several years, particularly for mid-web presses, and more generally in wider flexible packaging and folding carton applications. But will UV printing ever achieve its narrow-web pervasiveness at wider widths? What factors could help it gain momentum?
Mark Hahn, vice president of sales and marketing for AAA Press International, chalks up the slower rate of mid- and wide-web acceptance to “penetration of both solvent- and water-based ink systems in these markets.” Hahn observes an increasing UV usage in mid-web, where printers are interested in capitalizing on UV’s high-density, 100 percent solids ink systems for improved color vibrancy and opacity. He has seen some printers install one or two UV units on wider presses to lay down dense white UV inks, and then print water or solvent inks over the white for a more vibrant result, particularly in film applications. Other mid-web printers have made a complete conversion to UV for certain applications that require high-end, 200-lpi process work, he says.
UV top-coat and varnish units are still most common at wider widths, says Joe Ooten, vice president sales and marketing, IST America Corp. He sees overcapacity of solvent- and water-based ink technologies in the traditional flexible packaging segment (beverage labels, food packaging, etc.)—and thus, little incentive to convert. He believes UV conversion opportunities will arise for these printers when the time comes to add capacity. Alternatively, UV printing in wider folding carton applications, “is growing like gangbusters,” he says, citing a number of IST installations this year on 40˝ to 50˝ presses for this purpose. Drivers include capacity additions and interest in new designs, he explains, adding that UV inks “are structured to the box, and help protect the ingredients inside.”