Packaging magazine: Waterless Offset Printing – Opportunities for commercial printers

Toray Textiles Central Europe, a subsidiary of Toray Industries, Inc., produces a wide range of thermal waterless offset printing plates at its production facility in Prostejov. In comparison with conventional ‘wet’ offset, the waterless process offers several advantages including the ability to print high quality images efficiently on difficult-to-print expensive substrates. Director of the waterless business Mr. Mitsunori Hayashi was interviewed by Ivan Dolezal and Jiri Richtra from Packaging

The worldwide market share for waterless offset has grown in the past few years due to the introduction of an array of new printing plate products, increased availability from local sources and excellent product performance in key market segments. The technology enables more efficient production than conventional offset printing using water dampening systems. The waterless method is environmentally friendly due to the lack of fountain solutions containing chemical additives. It also enables superior quality printing on non-absorbent materials.

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Graphics division in Prostějov

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Sales Director of the waterless business Mr. Mitsunori Hayashi

"We produce printing plates for waterless offset presses in two locations in the world, Japan and the Czech Republic," says Mitsunori Hayashi, Sales Director of Toray's Graphics Division. "The Prostejov production plant has been producing and exporting these plates for five years now, starting in 2013. In addition to Europe, we ship to the Middle East, Africa and to North and South America. Waterless offset technology is also used by 15 printers in the Czech Republic, who benefit from waterless’ print quality. The high-resolution capability of waterless offset is an important factor in the production of security cards for counterfeit protection purposes. In Europe, plates produced in the Czech Republic are marketed under the IMPRIMA brand.

Last year we built a new R & D Centre on our premises in Prostejov to serve as a development and promotional centre with the aim to respond to market needs for enhanced product performance and to provide excellent customer service. It is equipped with a Heidelberg Speedmaster XL75 five-colour press for product evaluations and customer demonstrations. Heidelberg Druckmaschinen has been cooperating with Toray for years by providing demo equipment for our European dealers, and we are confident that the research activities of this centre will open new market opportunities. The focus will be on innovative packaging solutions and security products that have strong future growth potential, contrary to the situation in the general commercial paper print market where the market is contracting. One of our goals is to increase the durability of waterless offset plates to a level comparable to Flexo. We think this would offer attractive cost and quality advantages for flexible packaging and label production on web presses,” Mr. Hayashi said.

Waterless offset printing is an innovative method that can be adapted for use on existing offset printing presses under certain conditions. It uses a printing plate covered with a silicone coating that repels the ink in the non-image areas. The waterless offset printing process does not require any water, alcohol or alcohol-based liquids or etching fluids, thus improving productivity and quality as well as being more environmentally friendly.

The primary benefits of waterless offset printing include achieving a wider colour gamut with richer and more vivid colours, sharper dots with resolution up to FM10 stochastic screening. It offers better dot consistency, resulting in a brighter, cleaner, and sharper print image. Waterless printing technology is advantageous for printers using UV printing machines due to its inherent process stability. It makes printing on plastics, metallic foils and other non-porous and non-absorbent substrates easier.

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Printing samples

The range of Toray thermal printing plates for waterless offset printing covers the diverse needs of end-users, such as high durability without the need for post-baking, high chemical resistance and very high resolution. Waterless technology is used for various niche printing applications such as label, CD / DVD, fine arts and security printing, as well as newspapers and semi-commercial heat- and coldset magazine printing. It is ideal for printers that use UV curable inks for printing on non-absorbent printing materials, as well as sheetfed offset printing requiring exceptional quality. Waterless offset is even used as an alternative to rotogravure for medium run lengths in some magazine applications. For the last ten years, there has been a steady decline in orders for commercial print; and as a result, commercial printers are increasingly focusing on packaging products which continue to have strong growth potential.

Both Heidelberger Druckmaschinen and Koenig & Bauer offer presses that are designed to print waterless offset. Printers with modern, late model presses are able to switch to waterless printing with minimal investment and only basic training for press operators is necessary. Waterless offset printing requires only three devices: A thermal CTP plate setter with a wavelength of 830 nm, an offset press with the ability to control the temperature of the ink oscillators, and a Toray plate processor or another approved device of this type. (In the case of high speed rotary (web) printing, it may be necessary to control the temperature of the plate cylinders.)

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Production line

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Production line

Even though the waterless offset printing plate price is higher than that of a conventional “wet” offset plate, the total cost of printing is economically balanced by the inherent advantages of the technology. The printing plate durability for waterless offset is the same as conventional plates; i.e., 100 thousand to 200 thousand impressions depending on the type of printed substrates.

While touting the main strengths of waterless offset printing, we should also mention its further benefits in terms of sustainability and ecology. There are several key environmental benefits of waterless printing. These include minimal printing waste, zero water consumption for printing, a substantial reduction in chemicals in the preparation of the printing plates and a 75% reduction in VOCs (volatile organic compounds) compared to conventional “wet” offset printing. There is no need for waste water treatment, and the aluminium used in the waterless offset plate is 100% recyclable.

The developing process for waterless plates also requires much less chemistry than most conventional offset printing plates.

The bottom line is this: waterless offset printing brings many benefits to commercial printers, their customers and the environment. In a highly competitive and contracting market, switching to waterless offset printing offers many opportunities for new revenue streams and profitable business growth.



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