Kao Corp. (TYO:4452) is pursuing change in the printing ink industry with a new innovation. Having already set itself apart from the competition in the promising inkjet ink market by way of a new water-based product, the company has now managed to improve the print permanence, and reduce the odor, of its offering here.
This improved product, Kao hopes, will take the leading role from UV-curable inks when it comes to surface printing applications. Past this, the company is also aiming to overturn the very structure of the packaging market itself, where reverse printing is currently the norm.

Kao first entered the ink market in 2016 with its development of Lunajet, a water-based inkjet ink. The product features proprietary technology for pigment nano-dispersion, is free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and is the world’s first such ink to offer image quality on the same level as gravure printing methods. Now, the company has also added a product grade to be used in surface printing for packaging.

At present, around 70 percent of the market for food packaging uses gravure reverse printing. This method comes in the aim of boosting durability through the printing of images on the back of packaging materials, then laminating the material with film so as to protect the image. In contrast, surface printing applications have been limited to products with short shelf life, such as daily food items.

But by using a polyester resin, Kao has been able to form a stronger printed coating film, improving print permanence and opening up a far wider range of possible applications. This film comes in at only a tenth the thickness of alternatives using UV-curable ink yet provides the same level of resistance to weather, alcohol and scratches. Its design also incorporates new dispersant and emulsion components.

Kao’s new offering here is able to avoid the issue of odor, which is often seen with the UV- curable ink that represents the norm in surface printing. And since processes for surface printing can be made significantly simpler than those for reverse printing, this new technology carries the potential for surface printing to make a comeback in terms of relative market share.

Further, inkjet ink can be used for the on-demand, small-batch production of a wide range of products, and so is being met with rising demand for applications such as product planning. One hurdle to clear here, though, will be popularizing inkjet printing presses that are tied more closely to users, as the printing industry generally sees ink manufacturers and printing companies interact with each other directly.

Having acquired both U.S.-based and Spanish-based ink manufacturers in 2016, Kao likely has ample business opportunities in the international market. Back in Japan, the company appears to be targeting a production increase for its inkjet ink, which it currently manufactures at its Wakayama Plant – with a leading candidate for this project being the company’s Kashima Plant.