Imaging Chemicals: Inkjet Technology
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Published: October 2009
In recent years inkjet technology has made significant advances in the reduction of drop size and accuracy of drop placement. The smallest drop sizes currently used in photo-specialty narrow-format printers using water-based inks are in the range of 1–1.5 picoliter. The ability to deposit exceedingly smaller amounts of a wide range of materials in precise locations will create new manufacturing and industrial markets for inkjet and turn it into a dominant manufacturing technology to print tiny patterns and microstructures. The applications with the most promising market growth opportunities are rapid prototyping, radio frequency identification devices (RFID), P-OLED displays and color filters for use in LCDs.
Inkjet technology is used as a core process inside fax machines, desktop and workgroup printers, on-demand book printing devices, short-run color presses and large-format printers for engineering and graphics arts applications, as well as in many industrial applications. Besides printing on paper, inkjet technology can be used for printing on plastic (credit cards), fabric for bespoke curtains or dress materials, wall coverings, ceramics, metals and glass.
Inkjet printing technology is responsible for more patent filings and is the subject of more research dollars than any other print technology. Many users at home and in the office have already bought their third- or fourth-generation inkjet printer. While prices for some models have come down to as low as $50 to promote the sales of ink cartridges, no significant price reductions for printheads and inks have occurred in recent years. In order to protect their aftermarket supplies sales from independent manufacturers, printer companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Canon, Epson and Lexmark have established technological barriers through the sophisticated design of printheads and ink formulations, strong branding and strict enforcement of their intellectual property rights. Consumer purchasing patterns are also changing. While most supplies were once bought from specialized dealers at normal office hours, now inkjet printheads and inks or films can be purchased 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at many more locations or through the Internet.
Inkjet technology has replaced several other printing technologies such as electrostatic printing, the diazo process and pen plotters for generating engineering drawings, golf ball and daisy wheel typewriters in the office and at home, and thermal transfer printing for creating labels and pictures.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of inkjet inks by printing technology:
In 2008, North America and Western Europe were the destinations of the largest inkjet printer shipments, with a share of 25% each, followed by Asia Pacific with 15%, and China, Eastern Europe and Japan with 10%, 5% and 6%, respectively. While shipment volumes to markets in North America, Western Europe and Japan are expected to stagnate or slowly decline, China, Asia Pacific and the other regions will experience limited growth in inkjet printer shipments over the next five years. The installed base for narrow-format inkjet printers is estimated at 400 million units and this number is expected to grow by about 1% during 2008–2013.
A major development changing the structure of the imaging and printing industry was the tremendous success of digital photography and the decline of analog photography and the silver halide film business. The traditional photo film market has been falling by more than 20–30% per year recently, more than double the industry's initial estimates of about 10% per year. Unable to grow their digital businesses as fast as their conventional silver-halide businesses declined, Eastman Kodak, Agfa-Gevaert, Fujifilm, Konica Minolta and Ilford suffered huge losses and have struggled to find solutions for recovery and survival. As these photofilm companies needed to migrate capital quickly out of the declining conventional photo industry and into digital imaging technologies, each did this with a different acquisition strategy. Most new activities of these companies have been related to inkjet technology.
This report reviews various segments of inkjet technology in narrow- and wide-format printing and several industrial applications, as well as emerging applications where inkjet technology is used as a production method for its ability to microdispense fluids. Contributing to the success of inkjet have been the numerous advances in the development of matching media and inks, aided by the synthesis of tailor-made specialty chemicals used in the formulation of paper coatings and inks. The report also reviews consumption and growth perspectives for these consumables as well as for specialty chemicals incorporated therein.