Star product: Actega Metal Print EcoLeaf

Friday, December 18, 2020

A low-waste way of achieving high-end metallic effects on print.

What does it do?

EcoLeaf is a unique metallic embellishment system that’s designed to run inline or nearline with narrow-web label presses, so far using either UV flexo inks or UV inkjet digital inks. It produces mirror-bright reflective silver images with the possibility of colouring to give gold and other metallic finishes. There are no metal dies, no foil rolls and no waste in production.

This is the first product from Actega Metal Print (AMP), set up by German firm Actega Coatings & Sealants after it acquired Landa’s Nano-Metallography technology in February 2017. Actega is itself part of the Altana German-based chemicals group.

When was it launched and what market is it aimed at?

Although Nano-Metallography was shown as a prototype with samples on the Landa stand at Drupa 2016, it was far from a finished product. AMP commercialised the technology and introduced it to the label sector this year.

In May 2020, a deal was agreed with UK label finishing machinery specialist AB Graphic International, for global direct sales and marketing of EcoLeaf when fitted to its Digicon 3 modular label finishing unit. This will include retrofitting to existing machines.

AMP managing director Jan Franz Allerkamp says that there are four publicly announced betas (including one for a Digicon 3), plus two more that are staying anonymous – one of which is in the UK.

He says the company aims to develop larger EcoLeaf units for sheetfed and mid-width web presses to work with folding cartons, flexible packaging, publishing and commercial print.

How does it work?

It is a two-part process. The first part is a ‘trigger’ image printed by the press using a special UV-cured clear fluid, developed and supplied by Actega. So far flexo and inkjet trigger fluids have been developed, with screen on the way.

The inkjet fluid can only be used with a print bar that Actega has developed and will supply for integration with third-party presses, or possibly as standalones. The inkjet version allows variable data metallic effects to be created.

Following that the printed substrate is passed through the EcoLeaf application unit, where a fine metal pigment suspended in water is applied by a ‘donor roller’. The pigment reacts with the trigger image to bond with it, forming a very smooth surface layer. The water evaporates. The reflectance effect is comparable to conventional hot or cold foils. Unused pigment and water is removed from the roller (apparently by a doctor blade) and returned to the EcoLeaf tank.

This is one of Actega’s key selling points: pigment is only applied where it is needed with no waste, unlike hot or cold foil, where any unused metal on the rolls is discarded, together with the carrier film. The pigment containers hold a concentrate that’s diluted with water by the user. “I don’t want to ship any more water than I have to,” says Allerkamp.

It’s possible to print thicker layers of trigger fluid (with inkjet or screen units) to give a raised or textured effect similar to embossing.

Overprinting can be used to give other metallic colours. Actega has also experimented with adding coloured dyes to the trigger fluid.

The EcoLeaf roller unit runs inline with a modular multi-unit label press, such as those made by Edale, Gallus or Mark Andy, and can fit onto a rail system where used.

EcoLeaf effects are non-conductive and suitable for metalized microwaveable packaging. The metal layer is said to be as scratch-, abrasion- or fade resistant as normal foil. Actega is testing the process on a wide range of substrates, including standard coated label stocks and absorbent, rough paper (used for wine labels). It will publish lists of compatible substrates and Allerkamp says that it will test customers’ own substrates on request.

What’s the USP?

The EcoLeaf process is unique. Actega stresses its sustainability, saying that it “dramatically reduces the waste associated with conventional cold foil and hot foil stamping technologies, while providing a solution that is cheaper, faster and easy to use”.

How productive is it?

It can run at the speed of the label press.

How easy is it to use?

Pre-press and printing of the trigger fluid image is the same procedure as for a spot colour or varnish effect. The EcoLeaf unit is simple to use, according to Allerkamp. He says that operation is mainly an on-off switch, plus refilling of the pigment tank and occasional cleaning of the roller.

What are the costs?

Allerkamp says that pricing is still being finalised, but consumables and overall running costs are predicted to be 30% less than equivalent hot or cold foil units. The narrow-web EcoLeaf applicator will be in the region of €100,000 (about £90,000). The trigger fluid and pigment will be sold by weight with no click charges.


SPECIFICATIONS

Process Printed trigger fluid image plus roller-applied ultra-fine metal pigment

Effect Bright reflective silver image, can be coloured by overprinting

Print processes Flexo, screen, inkjet. The applicator can be fitted inline with narrow-web modular label presses or finishing lines

Speed Same as host press or finisher

EcoLeaf unit price About £90,000

Contact Actega Metal Print www.actega.com +49 5132 50090


ALTERNATIVE

There is no direct alternative to EcoLeaf as its nano-scale pigment transfer is unique. It is closest in concept to cold foil, where a metallised film is brought into contact with a sticky printed image, causing the metal (or other pigment) to transfer to the image only. Unused cold foil film has to be discarded, though in principle it can be recycled. Images can be printed with litho, flexo or inkjet print processes, with cold foil units fitted inline.

There are ‘dieless’ digital inkjet spot varnish systems that can be fitted with hot foil applicators (with the same waste issue as cold foil), but nearly all are sheetfed models in larger formats and much higher costs than EcoLeaf. One exception is MGI, whose JETvarnish 3D Web is built for label work on rolls up to 420mm wide. It costs a lot more than EcoLeaf but includes the UV inkjet varnish printer and a complete media transport with flexo pre-coater.


USER REVIEW

We have no doubt that our customers will love the opportunity to add cost effective and amazing metallisation to their jobs too. This solution has the potential to be a serious game changer” Michael Leon Managing director, Kolbe-Coloco, Versmold, Germany

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