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Considering Solvent, Latex and UV Printing Technologies

When considering the purchase of a wide-format printer inevitably the question of which type of ink comes up.  There are many different types of printer ink technologies but today we will focus on 3 of the most popular: Solvent, Latex, and UV.

Solvent inks can be divided into two sub-categories.  These types of inks use solvent impregnated with pigments and the solvent carries the pigment through the media to attach to the base layer.  Previously, older generations of solvent technology were acetone based which dried faster than newer generation Eco-solvent inks.  These inks have a higher scratch and fade resistance and are more versatile on the types of media that they are compatible with.  On the downside they are much more abrasive on the printhead (which can lead to a decreased head life) and they require additional ventilation compared to every other type of printer. Most new models on the market are “Eco-Solvent” printers. These newer solvent formulations use a glycol based pigment carrier. This reduces the need for ventilation because of the lower VOC concentration but increases the drying time and the need for heaters to cure the ink.

Latex inks are a water-based pigment with aqueous dispersed polymers.  Because the material sets on the top layer of media this ink can be used on almost any kind of media and textile with successful results. These types of inks use high temperature to evaporate the water carrier solution and cure to the material to the substrate.  The exception to this can be very thin material and substrates that are very susceptible to heat deformation.  Latex inks are as durable as solvent and require no manual maintenance on the head. They are also odorless and non-toxic.  Printers that use latex ink are safe enough that they can be used in hospitals.

The final type of ink is UV ink.  These types of inks use ultraviolet lamps to cure the ink.  Typical UV ink makeups include liquid oligomers and monomers that are mixed with photoinitiators. When ultraviolet energy is applied to these inks they undergo a photochemical reaction that instantly hardens them. Originally introduced in the 1960’s UV printers, until recently, were only able to be used in a flatbed application. Recent improvements in the technology are beginning to allow 3D applications as well. There are 2 main types of UV ink: free radical and cationic.  Free radical is the most common but can be prone to oxygen sensitivity.  Cationic has a slower cure time and is moisture and acid sensitive as well as being more expensive to produce.  Both types of ink are extremely durable and do not have any evaporation.  They will print on anything that you can fit into the printer including glass, metal, and plastic.  Downsides of using an ultraviolet ink system can be cost, susceptibility to cracking on flexible media, and ink shrinkage when they are cured.  The lamps needed  to cure the ink will also fade over time decreasing their efficacy.

Ultimately, when considering which technology to invest in there are many variables to consider.  Durability, price, environmental impact, and media compatibility should all be part of the decision as well as others.  Research before your purchase can save you possible future headaches.  As always, IT Supplies representatives can help guide you through the decision process and are trained to help you make an informed decision.

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