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How to save money on ink

Jul 1, 2011 12:00 AM

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We all like to save money on our raw materials, but there are good ways and bad ways to do it. The cheapest ink might be what you need to do the job. Or, it very well might not be what is needed, and it could be costing you a lot of money. Test a set of inks for at least 30 days on press in production. If there are issues with quality or service, they will show up in this timespan. I have several consulting accounts that do this with usually no more than two ink companies.

Once you have decided on an ink, look at the following factors:

  1. How is the ink packaged and how large a package/container can you use efficiently? The smaller the container, usually the higher the price.

  2. If you use large quantities of process colors or specific spot colors, can you accept drums or totes and pump ink? Not only do you save packaging, you cut waste. Ink pumping waste is very low because it is a sealed system.

  3. If you do not use large quantities, then look at canisters. Usually these come in two sizes, 8 lb. and 12 lb. The savings from using these popular canisters is well documented.

  4. Look at the amount of ink on the shelf or in containers. Old ink is bad ink. Conventional sheetfed ink will agein one year, in a non-vacuum-sealed can. When ink is approaching one year old, have it made into black. Demand that your ink maker put the date of manufacture on the can. Some do, but many do not and will not.

  5. Look at how accurate your spot color estimating actually is. I have seen plants with thousands of pounds of left-over spot colors. This is bad for many reasons, including charging only for the ink used and surplus ink. Left-over spot colors should be worked off ASAP. Many printers use an inexpensive Mixmaster system. For mixing your own spot colors, precision systems work well. Many printers will make 15% less ink than they estimate for a job and quickly mix needed additional ink. This cuts the amount on the shelf.

    Seek help from your ink company in estimating ink usage. Likewise, monitor ink strength. The easy way to keep ink cost down is to lower the amount of pigment.

  6. If you are a large user of ink, then buy from one ink company and put in a in-house ink mini plant with people. In this situation, we ask the ink company to estimate the ink and take back any unused ink, crediting to you. They will use up the left-over ink.

  7. Examine your ink handling in the pressroom. Are we saving ink properly — cans sprayed, cans sealed, labeled with date, etc.? We normally do not save varnish and metallics.

  8. Matching a spot color on a different stock can be challenging. Today, many times, we cannot get the same paper the job was originally printed on, thus the ink needs to be corrected for the stock. This can be done to a degree by adjusting for color of stock. Your ink company can help with instrumentation and software for this purpose. It the paper surface is rougher or the absorbtivity significantly different, a color change will not help.

I am sure you can think up even more ideas. Take your ink salesperson to lunch (you pay, for once) and seek his or her ideas on how you can save money on ink.

Raymond J. Prince, vice president, Technical Consulting Group, NAPL, is a leading expert in pressroom technical and operational issues. Contact him at (605) 941-1492 or Read more at