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Inkjet printing shines with metallic ink

Inkjet printing of metallic ink avoids secondary production, reducing production time and costs.

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Published on May 17, 2019

gold coins and bullionProducts using metallic ink or finishes with hot stamping add a level of brilliance that product engineers, designers, or marketing managers hope will attract a customer’s eye. For many people, gloss and shine add to the perception of wealth and value. The attraction to shiny objects is more primal.

Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium explored why we’re attracted to glossy, shiny surfaces. Through various studies, they found a connection to glossy surfaces and our innate need for water.  In one part of their controlled study, they found that the thirstier participants got, the more they were attracted to glossy images. Their study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, suggests that the attraction to glossy surfaces flows from the primal need for water.

Producing shiny products

While enhancing products with metallic shine has been around for years with various printing and manufacturing methods, it has seen limited use in the digital inkjet printing industry.

solutions printed in gold ink

Since around 1900, when CMYK printing was first developed, printers have mixed these four color inks to produce an almost infinite spectrum, including shades of silver, gold, and bronze. Inkjet printing with CMYK inks is no exception.

Nonetheless, the results lacked the sheen and light reflection of the polished metals. Using glossy paper offers one way around the limitations of CMYK metallic shades.

Product designers, engineers, and brand managers can incorporate metallic printing into labeling and promotional signage.

Until recently, to apply the shiny finishes, printers have relied on secondary production internally or externally, using other printing methods or with foil hot stamping. This increased both production time and costs. For customers demanding value and speed, that’s been a problem in need of a solution.

With inkjet printing using either piezo or thermal printheads, only one ink is needed to produce an authentic metallic finish, often like a spot color. Because the solvent-based inks contain actual metallic particles, similar to pigments that supply the color for those formulations, printing can be done at the same time as other parts of the job.

Read more: 8 Artists Who Use Ink in Fascinating Ways

Inkjet printing of metallic inks avoids secondary production, reducing production time and costs.

The challenges of metallic inkjet ink

Printers may be reluctant to use metallic inkjet inks because of the risk of damage to the printheads. The metallic flecks suspended in ink can damage the fine nozzles of the head. For thermal inkjet printheads, metallic inks can lead to kogation, the gradual and inevitable degradation of the print head.

The last thing a printer wants is to have printheads damaged. The sensitive equipment is costly to repair or replace.

Like a conventional pigment ink, the metallic flecks tend to settle in the solution. Pigment or metallic inks left unused in printers for a time may cause clogging from these sediments. Settling can be avoided by stirring the ink containers every few weeks or even weekly. Flushing the ink lines helps avoid clogging.

metallic ink on credit card

Metallic inks may convey a sense of wealth or higher value.

Cost is another issue for metallic ink manufactures and ultimately, customers. As a valuable commodity, the global market determines gold and silver prices. Metallic ink prices can be pricey, based on market conditions.

Also, the development of these inks can be challenging. The metallic particles all react differently to solvents. Chemists must test the materials used in the ink formulations to avoid unintended reactions.

As with any inkjet ink, metallic inks should be tested on the intended substrate for adhesion. For some surfaces, a primer may be required for optimal results. The good news is that the durability of metallic inks is similar to any other inkjet ink.

Kao Collins is developing cost-effective thermal and piezo metallic inks using iron oxide nanoparticles for decorative applications.

The message of metallic ink

As much as custom printing with metallic inks may convey a level of richness and exclusivity, using it must be weighed against the intended message and impression on the customer. Is a shiny metallic feature appropriate for the brand message?

Accents with metallic ink may drive consumers to choose one product over another. It’s a tool worth considering for product marketing.

Contact Kao Collins about metallic ink for your unique application.

Read more: A Visual History of the Evolution of Printing



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