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Advances in UV LED Curing Technology for Inkjet Printers

More and more users are printing with LED curing light sources because of their advanced capabilities, improved operating economics and environmental advantages. Printers using LED curing technology provide a significant return on investment in the short term. Users can expand the range of applications they can offer, run devices at higher speeds, achieve new levels of print quality, drastically reduce energy use, reduce waste, reduce VOC emissions in the workplace, and use lower-cost or more environmentally friendly materials to print.

Since the emergence of UV LED curing technology in 2002, significant technological progress has been made in LED efficiency and curing performance. Initial challenges have been met and overcome, enabling rapid adoption of the technology across a wide range of industries.

UV LED curing technology has advanced significantly over the past 20 years. The biggest change in the energy curing market is the increasing number of ink suppliers and raw material suppliers offering materials compatible with UV LED technology.

Ink formulations for LED technology have evolved significantly over the past 20 years, and today all major ink suppliers offer inks that work well with LED technology. Additionally, the availability of low-migration inks for UV LEDs has increased significantly. Material suppliers have responded to the needs and challenges of the printing community by formulating raw materials that absorb energy corresponding to the wavelength of UV LED light sources.

One of the key ingredients in the chemical formulation is a photoinitiator, which acts as a catalyst to initiate the polymerization process when exposed to narrow-band UV LED energy. As UV LED systems continue to gain widespread acceptance, the availability of suitable substrates continues to increase. Advances in raw material chemistry are driven by improvements in the performance and cost-effectiveness of commercial UV LED light sources.

Ink and material suppliers formulate their formulations for LEDs (and low migration), and more are being developed every year. New resins, monomers, oligomers, and photoinitiators are under development. Now there are not only inks but also coatings and adhesives that are either formulated specifically for LEDs or for use with LEDs and traditional mercury sources.

As UV LEDs become more widely used, meeting customer needs becomes even more important. This is especially true in the packaging sector, which has its own set of stringent requirements. Ink customers are looking for UV LED curing products that are reliable, stable, and work well with their inks.

Since 2002, Phoseon (an Excelitas Technologies company) has been working with all major ink suppliers and raw material suppliers to develop UV LED-compatible inks and materials. Today, most ink manufacturers offer UV LED options, making LED integration and use easier. As ink companies continue to develop formulations to optimize UV ​​LED curing and specific applications, printers can expand the applications they offer their customers.

When it comes to packaging requirements, UV LED curing technology is well-suited for a variety of applications. UV LED curing shows clear advantages in terms of increased productivity, reduced energy consumption, the use of thinner substrates, improved adhesion, and significant environmental benefits. Customers with UV LED curing printers are finding that they can print on a variety of materials, and printer manufacturers are finding that they can use smaller UV LED systems to reduce the footprint of their equipment. They can also eliminate large exhaust ducts because LED systems do not produce ozone and pose fewer thermal challenges than traditional mercury-based curing.

UV LED technology has proven to be extremely superior in the packaging market for curing black, white, fluorescent, and metallic inks, as well as lamination, cast cure, and cold foil adhesives. What each of these has in common is the requirement for UV energy to pass through dense pigments, additives, or films without being redirected or absorbed prematurely before a complete cure. Due to the physics of light and the nature of UV LED output, penetration depth is where LED technology excels.

Since 2004, the EU framework regulation EC 1935/2004 requires all food packaging to be low-migration. While there are a variety of processes that can reduce migration levels, UV LED curing technology provides superior process stability and consistency, both of which are primary requirements for low-migration printing. The UV output of LED curing equipment is more stable over time than traditional mercury-based systems. This allows for better process control when used to cross-link inks, coatings, and adhesives in low-migration processes. UV LED systems last longer and consume up to 80% less energy than traditional arc lamps.

The growth of UV LED curing in the graphic arts sector will continue as printers continue to replace solvent-based inks and coatings and other older, less efficient, and environmentally friendly technologies. Today, most digital inkjet OEMs have adopted LED technology to replace traditional mercury lamps for energy curing. Going forward, the adoption of LED curing technology in screen printing, flexo printing and certain offset areas (web offset or direct-to-container offset) printing will continue to grow as it offers many advantages and more strict mercury regulations.

 

 

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