An update on consumables and substrates

Pressroom chemicals

Like oil and gas in your vehicle, pressroom chemicals are absolutely essential to the efficient running of an offset press. These can include fountain solutions and additives, alcohol replacements, press wash-up products (including roller and blanket washes) silicones (for heatset web presses) and specialty products such as roller deglazers, plate desensitizers, chrome roller cleaners and more. The bottom line should involve two important factors – ongoing and preventative maintenance plus final cost per printed page. Proper press maintenance checks that are often overlooked include water tanks and water lines, water pans, roller deglazing and more. These can affect ink/water balance, drying times, on-press colour consistency and the ability to have repeatable, predictable results. Ongoing and preventative maintenance should be integrated into a weekly schedule without affecting your production deadlines. For example, I recall seeing a printer use a roller deglazer after printing a piece that included metallic silver. It was amazing to see the deglazer solution clean up the unit in a just few minutes. Above all, the printer reported savings of $20,000 over four years because he didn’t need to buy any new rollers. This brings us to our next factor – cost per page.

“If you buy everything on up-front price without a guarantee of on-press performance, you’re playing a risky game,” said Mike Thibault, vice president of technical services at Unigraph International, Canada’s leading pressroom chemical manufacturer. “For example, in some cases just changing to a premium fountain solution or alcohol replacement can lower a printer’s ink bill by 5% by the end of the year, while also reducing paper waste.” Unigraph recently expanded its production facility in Delson, Quebec, and is making major headway in the US. Printers on both sides of the border are becoming loyal users because, at the end of the day (and year), their consumables’ cost-per-page is reduced, print quality is improved and on-press performance is easily repeatable.


While new plates of all types are constantly being released to market, overall it’s been a tough year cost-wise for plate producers and users. Agfa, Fujifilm and Kodak were forced to increase their prices 9% to 10% earlier this year due mainly to the escalating prices of raw materials (i.e. aluminum) and higher labour costs. However, printers can extend the life of their plates by placing more attention on proper plate cleaning, being more cautious when demounting plates, and meticulously identifying when a plate (or parts of a plate) are becoming worn. Also realize that all plates are not equal. Each plate has different emulsion and plate-graining characteristics. These can affect ink/water balance, tone reproduction, dot gain, run life, handling, paper waste and overall print performance. So do your homework and ask these questions: What’s the average processing time of the plate? Will you be able to run more jobs with it? Can last-minute changes and rush jobs be accommodated? Will it fit seamlessly into your prepress workflow? Your best bet always, is to first contact your supplier or plate manufacturer.

Printing blankets

Likely the most important advance in printing blankets involves the rollout of Landa Nanographic printing presses. Their use of specially treated blankets embodies breakthrough technology to ensure an optimal image – including the full image transfer to the paper, the prevention of any ink residues, and smooth and stable blanket motion. Their design enables the transfer of the NanoInk ink drops to the various substrates – without leaving a trace on the blanket. This ensures that the full image is transferred without any distortions and, most importantly, the blanket remains completely clean and ready to receive the next image. Estimated life of these blankets is about 500,000 sheets.

A few years ago, German manufacturer ContiTech came out with a new offset printing blanket made of glass beads. Its Black Pearl blanket uses about 7,000 ultra-fine glass beads per square centimetre that are anchored in the cover layer, each with the exact same diameter. The key is the completely uniform distribution of the glass beads and their stable anchoring in the base. Black Pearl is resistant to enormous embossing pressure, temperatures up to 160°C and most printing chemicals.

Now for the majority of printers using standard blankets, consider this:  a press that uses 20 blankets a month is putting over 1,000 lbs. of rubber waste annually into landfill. One Canadian company still leading the way in blanket re-use is Vancouver-based Enviro Image Solutions (EIS). Through its blanket rejuvenation program, printers can reuse their blankets up to 12 times.


Most commercial printers are looking for guarantees when it comes to a substrate’s runability, printability, shade, or smoothness – anything that might affect production, overall workflow and image quality. Ergo, many leading manufacturers have gone to great lengths to certify or recommend certain substrates for maximum on-press performance and image quality. And there are literally thousands of choices out there, especially for inkjet.

However, recent years have also seen an increase in the use of specialty substrates (as opposed to purchasing expensive finishing or embellishment presses). For medium or small printers who don’t deal in larger runs, these specialty substrates can be a path to differentiating themselves from their competitors. Specialty papers are created or converted for a very specific use. They’re either manufactured separately, or normal paper is converted into specialty paper by coating it with certain chemicals, making them ideal for a specific application. These papers have specific characteristics (i.e. often lightweight with high opacity) and can play a unique role in packaging, printing, and industrial printing. One leader in this space is Illinois-based GPA Specialty Substrates. Its most recent release, for example, was an expansion of its pearlescent papers that feature a shimmering pearl-like textured surface.

Synthetic substrates are also growing. New Jersey-based HOP Industries is one major player in this space. Its papers are made from polypropylene resin and calcium carbonate, are totally “tree-free” and 100% recyclable. “The synthetic paper market is expected to grow 10%-15% per year over the next five years because of the demand for more environmentally-friendly plastics that are 100% recyclable,” said Jack Smith, senior VP of HOP Industries. “They’re also popular because of the growing trend in digital printing via laser, Indigo, UV and latex inkjet, that are extremely printer-friendly. Our Hop-Syn line is one of the most popular synthetic papers because it includes a wide range of thicknesses and grades.” Generally speaking then, synthetic papers combine the versatility of traditional paper with the durability of plastic, which makes them ideal for outdoor applications. They’re environmentally friendly, waterproof, tear, scuff, and temperature resistant, more durable than traditional papers, flexible, foldable, and can hold colours well regardless of the printing process used.

Ink and toner

Two key trends seen in today’s printing inks market are an increase in flexographic printing inks and the shift towards environment-friendly inks – such as water-based and UV-cured that reduce the effects of toxic materials used in conventional printing inks. Also, as more sophisticated presses emerge, inks and toner options are becoming more specialized, especially for wide-format inkjet and textile printing. Two recent toner releases include Neon Pink from Ricoh, developed for the fifth colour station on its Ricoh Pro C7100X Series of digital production presses. Plus, Heidelberg now offers an optional new neon yellow spot colour for its Versafire CV digital system. This toner glows under UV light and can also be used as a security feature, since it’s almost impossible to copy.

Of course, the most disruptive technology in this space is Landa Nanography that utilizes tiny ink pigments that absorb much more light than traditional inks. The ultra-small Landa NanoInk pigments form a very thin layer of ink and allow digital printing at very high speeds on ordinary untreated paper stocks, and on just about any plastic packaging film or label stock. The final images are abrasion-resistant and scratch-resistant – and the overall ink cost savings are huge.

Also important in this space is software and technology that controls the amount of ink used for any given print project. Agfa’s wide-format inkjet printers are a leader in this area, utilizing an extremely low ink laydown that can result in major ink cost savings for printers – all without sacrificing print quality. Also key in reducing ink waste are devices such as ink dispensers, ink levellers, agitators, fountain liners and dosing equipment, which have proven their worth over the years.

In the end, it’s all about cutting costs by reducing consumable and substrate waste while maintaining optimal print quality. And if you investigate further, you’ll discover that the cost savings over a year can really add up. Look at it this way: If you buy just one coffee each morning that costs from $3 to $5, you’ll be spending from $1,095 to $1,825 a year. So you see, consuming consumables can be an all-consuming (and costly) habit.


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.