Difference Between Solvent, Eco-Solvent & UV Printing Inks

collage of solvent eco solvent and UV printers and the inks they use
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How to Choose Between Different Wide-Format Prints?

One question that most of my customers grapple with is whether to go for a solvent, eco solvent or UV ink print. Most large sized print bureaus, like Orchid Digitals, will have not one but multiple wide format inkjet printers standing by to output their customers’ jobs. And these inkjet printers will almost certainly deploy different types of ink chemistrys. For the end customer buying inkjet prints, it then becomes a little difficult to determine which ink works best for them.

Different inkjet inks have different capabilities. The price of these inks also varies significantly. So if you choose a print with the wrong inks, you could end up paying more for the same than necessary. This situation can be avoided if you are aware of cheaper alternatives. Unfortunately, when it comes to wide format printer inks, there is no standard solution that can be offered to every client. ‘One size fits all’ definitely does not apply in this situation.

The inks that you choose for your prints have to be based on the end application of the job. And correct choices can only be based on correct information. So the aim of this post is to help you understand the difference between solvent, eco solvent and ultra violet ink prints. And to help you make the correct decision for your inkjet printing job.

Eco Solvent Ink Prints

Eco solvent inks are famous because they are able to reproduce prints of stunning quality. These printers typically print images at extremely high resolutions. Eco solvent machines are also widely deployed across the commercial printing industry. Almost every good  print bureau will have a couple of these machines within their premises. Most posters that you see at malls or retail stores are probably eco solvent prints. Eco sol printers produce flex banners, vinyl banners, cloth banners, canvas photo prints, stickers, glass film prints and more. In addition to the quality they deliver, eco solvent prints are also pretty economical and do not cost much.

eco solvent printing on cloth banners
stack of thick sunboard prints with photo vinyl mounted on top
transparent glass print on the frontage of the Tata car showroom showing an image of a grey car
canvas print of a family portrait stretched on a frame

Eco solvent Inks - A Technical Viewpoint

1. Eco solvent inks have their colors/dyes suspended in a mild biodegradable solvent. This means that they are harmless to the environment and conform to green parameters.

2. The inks have little or no odor. Hence these prints can be used indoors as well as outside in the open.

3. Ink heads using eco-sol inks have nozzles which can spray ink drops of size 6 picoliters or less. This drop size is extremely small and results in a great image reproduction. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the inkjet drop size, the finer the resolution and the higher the print quality.

4. Eco solvent machines typically need specially coated media for printing upon. You cannot print on uncoated or non compatible rolls of plastic or cloth.

5. Eco solvent inks are generally resistant to rain and sunlight. But you can opt to laminate the prints, to increase the print life. Lamination protects the print from dust, scratches, fading, and everyday wear and tear.

Solvent Ink printing

If eco solvent prints are used for close up viewing in indoor locations, solvent prints dominate the outdoor advertising segment. Solvent prints are typically used for large hoardings, banners and short lived vinyl stickers. Typically, solvent ink prints are of a lower resolution than their eco solvent counterparts. But this does not matter because when a solvent print is set in an outdoor location, it is typically viewed from a long distance. One need not strive for high resolutions for distant viewing because the human eye cannot make out the difference anyway.

Imagine that you are sitting in a car at a traffic signal. The solvent printed hoarding is approximately 40 feet from you. You will be viewing the print for a few seconds before you drive away. So a slight graininess in the print is not going to register.

Against the trade off on resolutions, solvent prints offer one major advantage. They are currently the cheapest solution available in the market for outdoor branding and advertisement. Eco solvent prints are pretty inexpensive. In fact that is one of the main reasons for their widespread adaptation. But solvent prints are even cheaper. They cost 40-60% less than eco-sol prints. This makes them ideal for mass advertising campaigns.

Let me illustrate this by giving you an example.

Printing on Eco-Solvent Ink (assuming Pune City) Printing on Solvent Ink (assuming Pune City)

Rate

₹ 40 - 50 / sq. foot

₹ 15 - 25 / sq. foot
Dimensions of Job
20 feet (height) x 40 feet (width)
Cost
₹ 32,000 (+ taxes)
₹ 12,000 (+ taxes)
Output
A single print of high-quality
A single print of lower-quality, but works for huge outdoor advertising. In the same cost, about 3 prints were achieved. Therefore, 3 different placements are covered.

Hence solvent prints are ideal for mass, short lived outdoor ad campaigns.

flex hoarding being printed on a wide format solvent inkjet printer
large sized frontlit flex printed hoarding fixed in a mall

Solvent Inks - A Technical Viewpoint

1. Solvent inks are pretty aggressive and typically non biodegradable. They are not as environmentally friendly as eco solvent inks

2. The inks have a pungent odor which restricts their use in indoor location

3. Prolonged exposure to solvent inks can be harmful to humans.

4. Solvent inks have a more complex chemistry which allows printing on media with lesser coating. Eco solvent inks on the other hand can only print on highly coated, specialised paper or plastic rolls.

5. Solvent flex printing machines have a comparatively large drop size. The print heads on solvent machines spray ink drops of size 40 – 60 picoliters. This larger drop size does result in slightly grainy image reproduction. But as discussed earlier, this does not matter for outdoor applications.

6. Solvent ink prints are initially resistant to rain and sunlight. But will start fading after some time. Low cost hoardings in harsh sunlight typically show signs of fading after 3 – 4 months.

Reading about these two would’ve cleared out the air on how to make a choice between prints using solvent and eco-solvent inks. Now, let’s get to the new kid on the block.

UV Ink Prints

Ultra-violet ink is the new kid on the block. These inks incorporate the main advantage of eco solvents and overcome its only disadvantage. By this I mean that…

A. UV inks are also capable of delivering photo quality image reproductions just like eco-sol machines.

B. But UV machines do not require any specialised media to deliver these high quality prints.

The fact that there are no media restrictions while working with UV printers is a very big advantage. To deliver stunning images, you do not need to feed in specially coated photo paper (which is a must for working with eco solvent machines). UV printers can print on just about any uncoated media that you can think of. You can push in rolls of paper, cloth, plastic and metal foils and even leather, in a UV printer.

In addition to media independence, UV inks are also extremely robust. These inks will not degrade, even in the harshest of conditions. They are resistant to rain, sunlight and even scratching (to a limited degree).

These two advantages make UV ink prints ideal for specialised applications. Prints for vehicle branding are generally processed on ultra violet printers. UV inks are also ideally suited for glow in the dark safety signs and night reflective road direction signs. Stickers, decals, laptop skins, etc. are other applications that can be generated on this machine. Fabrics and metal foils can also be printed using UV inks. UV printers can also deliver speciality applications like raised effect prints and white ink prints.

But these additional benefits are only accessible at a higher price. UV ink prints are generally more expensive than eco solvent prints. Speciality prints on metal foils or leather cannot be processed on standard inkjet printers. You need a UV solution for this. But if you just need a simple vinyl print, opt for an eco-sol output and save your money.

abstract circular design printed on optically clear glass film using UV white inks creates a beautiful effect where the image is opaque and the rest of the film is transparent
reflective vinyl prints which shine brightly at night
Colourful advertisement for a political candidate pasted on the side of a car using printed vehicle vinyl
blue circular domed stickers having a raised effect make for premium quality logo stickers

UV Inks - A Technical Viewpoint

1. UV inks are environmentally friendly.

2. UV inks are odourless and can be used for indoor as well as outdoor locations.

3. UV ink printers can reproduce dots as small as 5 picoliters. This is a very small dot size and can generate images of stunning print quality.

4. UV inks are cured by UV lamps. These inks do not dry in the traditional sense but harden and fuse with the substrate beneath. This makes UV inks extremely robust. In addition to being weatherproof, UV inks also have a very strong resistance to scratches and abrasions.

5. UV ink printers can generate speciality applications like white ink prints for glass films and raised effect printing to give images an embossed look.

Latex Ink Prints and Aqueous Ink Prints

There are two more ink types used by some print bureaus. These are aqueous inks and latex ink printers. Aqueous (water based) ink technology is from an older generation and quickly being phased out. Latex inks are a proprietary HP technology. While delivering really great results, latex printers are as yet at a nascent stage. They have a pretty small market share in the commercial printing industry. Since both of these technologies are marginalised, I have not included the same in our discussion here. But if you need to know more about the same, we have an in depth blog about all types of inkjet inks, here.

HP latex wide format inkjet printer

How to Choose Between Solvent, Eco-solvent, and UV Inks?

To conclude, your choice between solvent, eco-solvent and UV inks needs be based on the end application the print is going to be used for. The following table is a ready reckoner, summarising the pros and cons of these various ink types. Use it to determine which inkjet print is best suited for your purposes…

Solvent Ink Prints Eco-Solvent Ink Prints UV Ink Prints

Cost

Very cheap
Highly cost effective
More expensive

Applications

Used for outdoor applications like hoardings, banners, shop boards, rickshaw vinyls,etc.
Used for indoor applications like photo prints, vinyl and canvas prints store branding posters, wallpapers, etc.
Speciality applications like vehicle branding, logo stickers, foil printing, raised effect printing, kiss cut stickers, etc.

Resolutions

Low
High
High

Resistant to rain and sunlight

Yes
Yes
Yes

Locations where these prints can be used

Outdoors
Indoors and Outdoors
Indoors and Outdoors

Life of inks

Inks will fade after some time
Inks will last for longer durations if laminated
Inks will not fade for long durations. Lamination not required

Duration

Ideal for short term applications
Ideal for long term applications
Ideal for permanent applications

Media compatibility

Need specialised coated media
Need specialised coated media
No specialised media needed. Can print on both coated and uncoated media

Odour

Exudes a pungent hydrocarbon odour
No odour
No odour

Green Credentials

Harmful to the environment
Benign to the environment
Benign to the environment

Closing Note

If you are a customer in need of prints, I hope this post helped clear your doubts between solvent, eco-solvent and UV inks. And if you are a business owner researching which inkjet printer to buy, I hope this helped you as well. As a courtesy call from your friend in the printing industry, I feel you absolutely must read the following two posts:

1. What are wide format inkjet printers? What are the different types of inks they use?

2. 10 tips to buy a wide format inkjet printer

Finally, you know we really love to hear from you about the printing information and stories we put out. On the off-chance that we’ve missed out on some detail, or there’s more to add here, we’d love to know your opinion. So do let us know what you think about this post in the comments section below.

Cheers!

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4 replies on “Difference Between Solvent, Eco-Solvent or UV Prints”

I want to start ecosolvent print as outdoor advertising though it is expensive than solvent print. I hate bad quality, bad smell and bad for human & environment. I know it will be very hard to find my coustomer. Please tell me what you think about my idea. Regards.

Hello Debabrataji,

You are correct. Hard solvents are more smelly that mild eco solvents. You are also right in stating that the quality of eco solvents prints is far superior than solvent prints.

But if you target the outdoor ads segment, using high quality indoor prints, you might find it very difficult to match your competitor’s pricing.

Your choice of wide format machine has absolutely got to match its end application. Else the business might find it difficult to turn a profit.

For some tips on how to buy a wide format printer, do check this post:
https://orchiddigitals.com/tips-to-buying-wide-format-printer/

For a better understanding about the different ink technologies available in market today, you might want to go through this as well:
https://orchiddigitals.com/what-are-wide-format-inkjet-printers-types-of-inkjet-inks/

Regards
Mitesh

Hi Mitesh,

We have installed a Wall Printing Machine with DX7 EPSON Nozzles. Could you please suggest the type of ink we should use for our use, whether water based, solvent, eco solvent or pigment?

Thanks

Hello Mahendra Sir.

Congratulations on your new acquisition.

Your print head can accommodate a wide variety of inks. Having said this, here is what I think, a wallpaper printing business needs…

1. Very high resolution prints for close up viewing.

2. Ruggedness to withstand daily wear and tear

3. Water resistance

5. Media adaptability (Textured and metallic media is available in the market, specially for creating wall papers)

4. Low cost of inks (this is obvious)

Eco solvent inks meet all of the above criteria.

Since it’s a new machine, just make sure your ink supplier color calibrates the inks in the printing software.

This should ensure print vibrancy and best colours output.

UV inks too are great for wallpapers. But I’m not sure if DX7 supports the same.

All the best once again.

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