Water-Based Ink: Why is it a Game Changer?

In printing, ink is a necessary ingredient. From the very smallest home printer, to the largest industrial printing press. But all ink was not created equal. Different inks are used for different types of packaging applications and printing presses. The digital world is changing and the ink is changing with it.

young boy eating strawberries

How is ink used?

When something is digitally printed, pigmented ink is delivered directly to the top layer, bonding to the surface- creating a desired graphic result. As packaging continues to evolve and become more readily available to everyone, brands must be diligent about choosing the right ink for their job, especially with new evidence to suggest ink doesn’t always stay put on that top layer.

A high-profile case occurred in 2005 involving a massive recall of Nestlé baby milk formula. When trace amounts of ink chemicals were found in the cartons, the brand had to recall 30 million liters of products from supermarkets across Europe. It’s estimated that Nestlé lost €1. 6 million worth of products as well as incalculable brand reputation damage.

This issue is called migration. When ink from the surface material enters food or drink contained in a package, it can then subsequently be consumed. It’s no surprise that this case forced retailers and brands around the world to take a closer look at their own packaging. So what are the ink choices for digital printing?

UV-curable inks

UV-curable inks are immediately exposed to ultraviolet lights as they are printed onto the packaging substrate.This method ‘dries’ or cures the ink when chemicals called photoinitiators react with certain wavelengths of that ultraviolet light.

Because they cure instantaneously, the printed product has a more raised and enlivened look. This process also makes the ink firm and durable, consequently making the print less subject to smearing and resistant to abrasions. UV-curable inks are known to maintain color consistency and contrast. And because these inks are waterproof, they can be used for outdoor applications.

The big downside to UV-curable ink? Those same photoinitiators that cause the instantaneous curing of UV inks can migrate into the interior of the packaging and interact with the contents. Depending on the contents, this can be a very big deal.

Water-based inks

Water-based inks are food-safe, odor-free and nontoxic. This option opens up huge possibilities for companies who package food, cosmetics, drugs or even children’s toys. Water-based inks also reduce the environmental impact of food packaging, since no additional material are needed to prevent ink contamination. Plus, all corrugated packaging printed with water-based inks are fully recyclable.

The technology used in HP’s PageWide C500 press extends that reassuring experience by avoiding the use of UV-reactive chemistries, while still delivering extremely high print quality. Instead of using ultraviolet light to cure the ink, the C500 press uses heat.

These inks comply with even the most stringent global food safety regulations and industry guidelines. These include the FDA, Nestle Guidance, Swiss Ordinance, EU Framework and more.

In 2018 CompanyBox made the decision to invest in HP’s C500 press in order to expand our digital printing capabilities and open the door to industries that necessitate food-safe printing. We offer water-based ink for runs of 2,000+ pieces, but in an effort to make this option more accessible, CompanyBox has changed the policy for food related packaging to 500 pieces.

collection of colorful fruit

Which ink should you use?

Choosing between water-based ink and UV-curable ink truly depends on how you plan to use your packaging. You will need to take into account your order volume and desired production method. We highly recommend water-based inks for any products in the food, beverage or baby industry.

We also encouraged you to consider this type of ink for beauty and cosmetics to avoid potential impact to the product or risk to the consumer. By working with a knowledgeable packaging expert, you will be able to determine the best packaging strategy for your needs.

Don’t be a stranger. CompanyBox can help answer all your packaging and ink related questions. We love collaborating with our customers to design fresh looks, no matter what your industry is.

How can we help?

We’re all ears. Drop us a line and we’ll get in touch!

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