Everything You Need to Know About Water-Based Inks for Flexographic Printing

As environmental consciousness becomes more progressive, businesses are scampering to meet the demands of the current consumer market. The flexographic printing industry is unexempted, now under pressure to supercharge their use of water-based inks. Thinking of making the switch? Here’s everything you need to know about it. 

As consumer demands change, so does the flexographic printing industry. Because consumers are becoming more and more aware and active in sustainability efforts, businesses are also under pressure to improve their production efficiency and packaging quality. 

Part of the flexo industry’s environmental efforts is the use of water-based ink and coatings. While development needs to be made to put water-based inks at par with conventional solvent-ink print quality, the industry is improving and performing much better than it did a couple of years ago. 

Should you want to make the transition to a more sustainable ink option, here’s everything you need to know about water-based inks. 


The Key Challenge

The main reservation manufacturers have on water-based ink is the fact that it produces lower-quality prints compared to solvent-based ink. There is also the issue of press efficiency, with the composition of water-based formulations affecting press speed.

The flexographic industry is known to be very versatile in terms of the type of substrates used. Flexographic printing presses can print high-resolution graphics on any substrate, whether it be silicone, ceramic, plastic, cardboard, etc.

However, water-based inks limit the versatility, being problematic when using non-absorbent substrates. Their main composition comprises high levels of water and low levels of volatile organic compounds. So they take longer to dry, hence delaying the production time and sabotaging press speed. 


The Solution

The underlying challenge of using water-based ink comes as a struggle only when using non-absorbent substrates such as film. If, however, your business prints only on an absorbent substrate, then water-based ink becomes a viable option. 

For manufacturers who work with non-absorbent substrates, on the other hand, they can make use of water-based technologies and strategies to overcome the key challenge, such as: 

  • Surface print applications with abrasion resistance, water resistance, and heat resistance properties.
  • Reverse print applications that use the substrate as a protective layer 
  • Laminated applications, particularly lower-level bonds that work well with water-based products. 


Advantages of Water-Based Inks

Aside from being environmentally friendly, and of course, being able to overcome the key challenge of drying, water-based inks are also hosts to a myriad of benefits, including:

  • Ideal for soft hand techniques. Soft hand is the condition wherein the surface of the substrate remains smooth and without the marks of the ink’s texture. 
  • Best for high-speed roll-to-roll yardage printing.
  • Superior ink penetration that improves coverage. 


Disadvantages of Water-Based Inks

The wonders of water-based inks do not come without downfalls. Its disadvantages include: 

  • Difficulty in drying or curing. You need to have the technology with the perfect drying capacity since the temperature required to eliminate the solvent is much more demanding. 
  • Water-based ink has a limited shelf or pot life once applied in the machine. Usually, it can last anywhere between 4-12 hours. Any later than that, it will evaporate and will not be able to produce the same level of quality.
  • Difficult cleaning as water-based ink needs to be cleaned from the screens to prevent drying and clogging. 

As of the moment, the use of water-based ink for a transition to sustainability comes with its limitations. Though there are pros to making the switch, it might not be a viable approach for some industries’ needs. 

But as conscious and sustainable printing slowly becomes the norm, more and more developments will be made to improve factors like print quality, production speed, and efficiency, among others. Hence, more opportunities for businesses and the capacity to make the transition to a more eco-conscious printing procedure. 

Aside from water-based inks, there are also other sustainable ink options that you can look into, such as algae ink, soy ink, or vegetable-based ink.

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