Radiation cured inks in packaging set for stellar growth - Pira

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Printing Packaging Pira

The global market for radiation cured (radcon) inks for packaging and labeling is set for huge growth over the next five years, driven by operational advances and performance benefits, combined with enhanced safety guidelines to ease potential contamination fears, said a report from Pira International.

The industry analysts forecasts radcon ink volume output for packaging will jump by almost a quarter from 32,000 tonnes in 2011 to 37,500 tonnes by the end of 2016. Sector value will also climb steeply – rising 60% from US$536m to (€ ) to $883m.

The research - The Future of Radiation Curing for Packaging – covers ultraviolet (UV) and electron beam (EB) curing systems. Under these processes, inks are cured and dried very quickly by the application of EB/UV energy while still on the press.

In volume, pigmented inks are set to see an increase of around 30% to 30,000 tonnes, while the share for coatings and varnishes will rise less slowly by 15% to 7,268 tonnes during the period.


The study outlines a number of drivers and barriers that will shape the sector’s future in the market – with the main issue being one over safety perceptions.

“The primary issue is undoubtedly the potential for contamination of a food that is directly traced to an ink or varnish,”​ said Pira.

The body said there had been several such issues, notably a concern about a photoinitiator, ITX, which was found in baby milk in 2005.

“The potential for a public scare would severely damage the use of UV and EB curing systems across the world in packaging as around 61% of the volume is used on food packaging applications and the nature of risk perception by the public can result in a method of production being irreparably damaged very quickly,” ​it added.

But it noted there had recently been a great deal of work to eliminate potentially harmful components from ink ingredients and that suppliers were following good manufacturing processes.

The report predicted that by 2016 clear guidelines would be in place in most regional markets that would “avoid contamination issues”.

Industry expert Don Duncan, from Wikoff Color Corporation, told FoodProductionDaily.com earlier this year that while mistakes had been made in the past, improved communication between packaging suppliers and print companies over the end use of products meant that formulation were being precisely tailored to ensure only food contact substances are used.

Benefit and barriers

The research lists a number of production benefits from the use of radcon inks – including faster turnaround, a smaller drying footprint and the ability to tailor properties to achieve specific chemical and scratch resistance.

Quality improvements were also highlighted in terms of finish, colour saturation and special tactile effects possible.

Overall production costs can be lower although the inks are more expensive. The process is said to be more sustainable as it eliminates VOC emissions and generally uses less energy.

However, barriers to entry include cost, ease of use and the extra heat on substrates that can be caused by the use of mercury vapour lamps, said the group. It also cited that some inks are irritants and “carry a harmful reputation in some regions”.

Technology developments

Advances in UV/EB ink formulations are likely to lead to speedier press performance.

UV label printing is growing rapidly –and there are many current narrow web print systems that compete directly with flexo and electrophotography, together with systems that effectively develop and improve the coding and marking functions, said Pira.

“These provide the potential for supply chain improvement across many sectors as manufacturers see advantages in direct printing on-demand, rather than buying in pre-print,”​ added the analysts. “As manufacturing methods develop, Pira expects to see opportunities for UV inkjet labelling, blister packaging and carton print to replace pre-printed static versions.”

The Future of Radiation Curing for Packaging is available from Pira International

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