The Rise of Water-Based Flexographic Printing in the Asian Market

Environmental awareness had grown in the Asia region, many countries are paying attention to the solvents that are used during printing; especially in the packaging industry. The packaging industry has the most attention due to its direct involvement in people’s daily lives. Furthermore, governments were actively monitoring and controlling the package printing process.
 
Package printing in Asia has typically used the rotogravure process; especially in Japan. As a standard, rotogravure printing utilizes chemical substances such as butanone or toluene in its solvent-based ink. These solvent-based inks are more harmful to humans during contact and to the atmosphere during Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emission when compared to water-based ink. Even though alcohol-based inks have been developed to replace the toluene-based inks, the high VOCs emission issue still remains. This is due to the higher solvent ratio (lower solid content) of the gravure ink.
 
Are there usages of water-based ink in the rotogravure process? The answer is yes. In fact, rotogravure water-based inks were developed almost 20 years ago by Japanese ink suppliers. However, due to factors such as the ink transfer process, water-based ink transfer and flowing capabilities, ink drying requirements and registration capabilities on rotogravure presses, etc., print and production capacity of the solvent-based ink was irreplaceable by water-based ink. Even though water-based inks have advanced greatly over the years, due to the factors mentioned above, the application remains restricted on rotogravure.
 
Flexographic was developed more than 90 years ago. This printing methodology had higher technical requirements in the prepress and printing process. Over the years, flexographic had a more subtle advancement when compared to rotogravure in Asia, and performed less well in print quality. Therefore, flexographic printing was not widely accepted and adopted in the Asian packaging industry in the past; it was mostly used for paper packaging, medical packaging or sanitary products that had a higher safely standard requirement.
 
From 2004 to 2008, the flexographic industry experienced rapid advancements. During this period, the digital plate was developed, leveraging the flexographic printing quality to enable it to compete with rotogravure on the Asian market. In the following 10 years, flexography became more prevalent in the packaging segment.
 
Due to the increase in environmental awareness, flexographic water-based ink printing has grown in paper and film products applications during the past three years. Brand owners and end users became more concerned about the safeness of the products that they were using. Flexographic water-based ink application has advantages over rotogravure in terms of printable substrates, equipment requirements, and productivity. As result, this has led to a massive leverage in demand of the water-based inks.
 
In Asia, countries like China were leaders and benchmarks for others in the printing industry. In 2015, the Chinese government publicly announced environmental safely standards, which have impacted the Chinese packaging industry greatly. In 2017the local governments started to stringently require that environmental facilities be installed in factories or onto printing presses—for example, the installation of oxidizers, ink purifying equipment, etc. Going one step further, they demanded that rotogravure-based factories in major cities relocate or restructure the plant to be more environmentally friendly. All these enforcements forced the packaging manufacturers and end users to move towards flexographic water-based ink.
 
Taiwan, Japan and Korea are other examples in the Asia region that have an increasing awareness in the environment. People demand a better environment and lifestyle, and as a result are pushing the government to stringently monitor and audit the packaging industry. We were observing a macro trend in the switchover from solvent-based ink to water-based flexo ink in Asia.

About KYMC
Since the founding of Kuen Yuh Machine Company in 1968, the company has been producing the finest new generation printing and converting equipment for the worldwide market. Today, KYMC has over 2,700 installations in 90 countries.

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Source: KYMC