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Published: December 2012
Printing inks are a customer- and applications-specific formulations business. There are two major segments—commercial printing/publishing and packaging. Printing inks are also categorized by process: lithography, rotogravure, flexography and digital printing, the newest and highest-growth process. A reputation for both quality products and technical service is essential for a printing inks company.
Printing inks are mixtures of pigments dispersed in vehicles (combinations of oils, resins, organic solvents and/or water) plus chemical additives. Pigments are the most important part of raw material cost, and the major global printing ink manufacturers are producers of pigments.
Electronic media have fragmented the advertising market, reducing advertising spending in print media, and causing the closure of magazines and newspapers. However, digital imaging, especially through ink-jet printing, is increasingly becoming a major part of the "traditional" printing business. Computerized platemaking and printing stations (typically ink-jet) that customize each printed product are becoming common technologies. Customization and quick turnaround for short runs are major customer demands being placed on the printing industry, and ink manufacturers must produce inks that accommodate these needs. New technologies that allow the printer to come up to color quickly and produce consistent color throughout the run are being used.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of printing inks:
In the end-use sector, packaging has moderate to highest growth whereas the publications market continues its shift from ink media to Internet and other electronic alternatives. Some packaging printing is also moving to China. Printing inks consumed in publishing will remain challenged by continuing global growth in electronic media. Publication and commercial printing sectors are mature markets in the West but can offer growing business in developing markets such as China, India, Africa and the Middle East.
Oil- and petrochemical-derived products such as mineral oils, solvents, carbon black, resins and intermediates are critical raw materials for producers of inks. Geopolitical risks and commodity investor activities and the resulting volatility in oil and feedstock costs make the future of these products difficult to predict. Some ink raw materials such as rosin and titanium dioxide are subject to fluctuations in demand and major variation in their prices. Last but not least, the purchasing power of other industries using the same raw materials (e.g., the tire industry in the case of carbon black, and the adhesives industry in the case of resins) is another factor complicating the ability to secure raw material supplies.
The challenges to sustainable development ahead will include higher resource efficiencies in the use of raw materials, energy and materials for product packaging; increased use of biorenewable raw materials; and printing inks with improved deinkability characteristics that enable optimum recyclability of printed graphic paper.
The printing inks market is affected by technological changes in printing processes such as digital printing as well as dematerialization of information transfer. Whereas these impacting factors are global, the regional markets are developing differently. With the exception of Africa, which is a relatively small market with high potential, the Middle East is projected to record the fastest average annual growth rate of almost 4.0% over the analysis period. With the exception of Japan and the Republic of Korea, markets in the Asian region are expected to grow. Across this region, China and India are forecast to represent the fastest growing printing inks markets. Central and Eastern Europe is also projected to show good growth (about 3.5% per year). The Americas are expected to show relatively low growth rates (0.6% to over 1.0% per year) while the Western European market will shrink further. The mature Western European ink industry has had declining or flat growth in recent years and has been reshaped by massive US/European consolidation.