Fujifilm is working to develop a new food-safe ink for its digital Jet Press 720S, which will allow it to print on primary food packaging, something that is becoming increasingly important, at least within the heavily regulated European markets.
This demand is mainly driven by a general change in the packaging market as more brands look to digital printing to reduce stockholdings and optimise supply chains, as well as to take advantage of short run and regionalised marketing campaigns. This should be an ideal market for the Jet Press, which can print to carton board or synthetic media up to 600 microns thick.
However, food safety for primary packaging (which comes in direct contact with food) has been a problem for many inkjet presses, particularly where UV inks are used where the inks may not fully cure, allowing potentially harmful elements to migrate from the packaging into the food itself. This should be less of an issue with water-based inks, such as the standard inks that Fujifilm uses with this press, though of course there’s always some danger of the inks migrating from the outside of the packaging to the inside unless there’s a barrier which is why most digital printing is limited to secondary packaging (which encloses the primary packaging).
The obvious solution is to use a barrier, such as a plastic bag, but this adds cost, with the ideal aim being to reduce the amount of packaging, both to cut costs and to allow the brands to pose as more environmentally-friendly through the use of less packaging.
This new low migration ink is designed to comply with the more stringent regulations for primary food contact, such as Swiss Ordinance 817.023.21 and European Commission Regulation 1935/2004. These regulations limit the amount of many of the chemicals used in any given ink, such as glycerine. It appears that Fujifilm has worked the existing formulation of the Jet Press inks to reduce these components down to acceptable limits. Mark Stephenson, Fujifilm EMEA’s product manager for digital presses, says that it’s clear yet how this will affect colour gamut, adding: “We will need to re-profile with this ink so it will have a different characteristic.”
It’s not really a practical option for printers to keep changing inks so this ink will also have to be capable of working on a wide range of substrates so that customers will be able to take on all the usual general commercial work alongside any packaging jobs. For now Fujifilm is testing this ink with other substrates to assess this, and presumably still tweaking the formulation since the ink is currently only produced in small lab-scale batches. Stephenson says that the ink will work with existing coatings, both UV and aqueous though Fujifilm has changed the primer to meet the regulations. He adds that this ink has been tested at a European customer site.
Taro Aoki, head of Digital Press Solutions for Fujifilm EMEA, explains: “The Jet Press 720S has already proved itself to be a high-performance and highly versatile press for both commercial and folding carton applications. The introduction of our new, food-safe ink, together with options for inline and nearline coating and specialist pre-press software, takes that versatility to a new level and will appeal to many folding carton converters.”
This ink should be available in Europe and the US later this year.