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Value of an ink goes well beyond price.

Feb 1, 1996 12:00 AM


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No, this isn't another article about ink pricing, although I may mention it in passing. Neither is it concerned with the low profitability we are experiencing in our industry, even if that is a major factor in addressing, as the title suggests, "the value of ink."

The value of ink is predicated on many things. All too often, we encounter the problem of printing companies purchasing based solely on price without determining the value factor in the ink. By that I mean ink is sold by the pound but consumed by the mile-or should I say by the number of signatures printed. It follows, therefore, that to determine the ink's value, the number of signatures printed by that pound of ink should be factored into the equation as well as the price.

First, let's consider the ways ink-makers adjust formulations to meet primers' end-use demands. For example, you would not use a news ink to print a magazine cover. It would have no gloss and would rub right off the sheet-this example is extreme, but it highlights the fact that inkmakers go to great lengths to ensure the ink is right for the job. Other industry manufacturers, for example, may not have to worry about those considerations.

But, with printing inks, a great deal of customizing occurs with each different application. If an ink will be used for a magazine cover, careful attention must be paid to rub resistance, gloss and probably squalene resistance. For a folding carton ink, all the previous properties may be required but, in addition, product resistance also may be needed. That product may be margarine or detergent, each of which would entail using a different pigment or resin to ensure the ink didn't bleed into the product or become affected in any other way by the package contents.

Perhaps the printed product will contain chocolate or some other food that is highly sensitive to odor. Now the whole vehicle system must be formulated with resins, solvents and additives that, upon drying, have no residual odor to taint the food.

How often do printers realize this critical type of customization is part of the added value the ink industry provides? While inks could be made more cheaply if we left out Teflon wax, for example, how much savings would result if the job were rejected due to a scuffing problem during shipping or during the filling operation of the package? That's what we mean by value.

In addition, printing inks must interact with a wide variety of products during printing. In lithography, they must resist the reaction of fountain solution, have an affinity for the image material on the plate (which can vary with each manufacturer) and transfer from various different blanket surfaces. Therefore, ink chemists must have a good working knowledge of each type of material the ink will come in contact with during printing.

Now, consider substrates. Inks must print satisfactorily on a variety of papers. Add to this foil, film and lamination requirements found in packaging printing by flexography and gravure, and the adhesion qualities those applications require, and you begin to realize the incredible scope of properties a good printing ink requires.

The value inkmakers offer doesn't end there. After equipment is installed at a printer, the breaking-in process is complete and the manufacturer signs off on the project, the machinery becomes the printer's property. Any further service or modification to that equipment becomes a chargeable item; the supplier rarely continues to provide that service free.

Inkmakers, on the other hand, establish in-plants, rush urgent color matches in the middle of the night and modify their products (even when it isn't their problem) to help printers run a poor stock-all gratis!

Also an incredible amount of money is tied up by ink companies for investments in totes. When these items were introduced, printers paid for totes, which became their property. Soon, however, ink companies, in their competitive efforts, provided totes free and even installed the pumping systems along with the totes. Printers, perceiving they now received their ink in "bulk," asked for (and most times received) a discount.

Few ink companies pointed out that between purchasing the totes, shipping them to and from customers, and replacing them when damaged or worn out, it cost the manufacturers more than if they simply had sold ink in drums to printers in the first place and left it to the printers to dispose of the drum and the waste ink it contained.

Inkmakers provide another service as well. If printers had to landfill all their waste ink, it would cost $200 to $300 per drum. So, ink companies obligingly recycle or help dispose of the waste at no charge, or at best a nominal charge, to printers. It's not that our industry should refrain from doing these things; it's part of our service. We should, however, point out the value added to the ink when we work with printers in such ways.

The existence of in-plants is another prime example of when the ink industry has failed to sell the value of one of our services. When the concept originally was promoted by the now-defunct Bowers Printing Ink Co., customers paid a premium for the privilege of having such a facility in their plants. Clients could have instant color modifications made to their jobs or, if a paper problem existed, the ink immediately could be adjusted to allow the paper to be run. Printers even used the concept as a sales tool to their customers.

Now, most ink companies throw in the in-plant simply as a cost of doing business. Many major printing ink firms have wonderfully equipped laboratories with electron beam microscopes, X-ray analysis and gas chromatography, all capable of performing detailed investigations of problems or analysis on behalf of customers.

Inkmakers contribute toward many other areas in the printing community. They serve on committees such as SWOP (Specifications for Web Offset Publications) and SNAP (Specifications for Non-heatset Advertising Printing) to help standardize colors for publications. They also are represented at ASTM meetings to establish testing and quality control procedures. As speakers and board members, you will find them working with associations such as the Printing Industries of America (PIA), Flexographic Technical Assn. (FTA) and the Gravure Assn. of America (GAA), to name a few.

Inkmakers also have environmental experts to assist customers with their permitting for press operations, which requires time and money for the betterment of the industry they serve. These contributions to the printing community frequently go unnoticed and certainly aren't reflected in ink value. Ink firms don't just supply an off-the-shelf product and, while they may appear to be manufacturing ink in large batches, there still is a great deal of customization to produce an ink for a customer's particular needs.

It is hoped that through such contributions, printers will recognize that the value of a pound of ink goes well beyond the price.

By Terry Scarlett Contributing editor and president of Burntwood Industries, a consulting company specializing in inks and coatings