Understanding Ink Contamination In Pressrooms And Ink Fountains

Before delving into the specifics of ink contamination in pressrooms, you’ll want to know what it is and some basic preventive measures you can implement to reduce the frequency and help your bottom line.

What Is Ink Contamination?

Ink contamination is when you experience unwanted ink colorants in your ink fountains and press rollers, typically from a previous job, accidental mixing, or impurities or foreign materials in the ink. Contamination can lead to various issues, the most common being color inconsistencies and an overall poor-quality print.

Identifying causes of ink contamination requires proper maintenance of the pressroom and equipment, correct handling of supplies and constant vigilance. Staff should monitor the ink characteristics, print output and certificate of analysis (COA) ink supply systems. To identify ink contamination in pressrooms, you can practice the following:

  • Inspect the material visually: Although there could be various reasons for print impurities, you can start by examining the COA, printed material, and seeing if you can identify any inconsistencies in the mass tone color. These irregularities could be a sign of ink contamination.
  • Do print testing: Doing a print draw down on a little joe is a quick and easy way to tell if there are any issues with the manufacturer of the ink.
  • Examine the equipment: Once you have identified an issue, you will likely need to inspect the rollers, blankets, plates. Also the roller settings and blanket squeeze for proper pressures.
  • Have the ink analyzed: With a control sample and ink from different stages on the printing press, you can send the samples for laboratory analysis to identify the specific contaminant if you cannot uncover it through these other means.

Causes of Ink Contamination

To prevent ink contamination on the press, implement general measures that fortify the pressroom against potential causes of ink contamination. Ink contamination can occur in several ways. Here are some of the most common reasons:

  • Contamination due to foreign substances: Something as simple as dust particles or unintended additives, such as washing agents and contaminated fountain solution, can affect the print.
  • Contamination due to improper fountain solution: This requires a pressroom professional with experience to determine the proper wetting agents and acids are getting mixed properly and within specification.
  • Contamination from improper roller cleaning: For instance, ink rollers must be properly cleaned between ink changes. Additionally, if you leave residue following the cleaning, this can lead to contamination.

The Impact of Ink Contamination on Print Quality and Costs

Ink contamination is more than a mere inconvenience or minor color alteration. It can have far-reaching effects on the print quality and a company’s finances and reputation. In addition to understanding the implications of ink contamination, having a state-of-the-art color management software suite can assist in achieving color targets.

Ink Contamination and Color Distortion

Preparing the press correctly is essential to provide accurate prints and precise colors. Ink contamination is a massive threat to color accuracy as it can lead to noticeable distortions in the final print. The contamination can alter the ink composition and consequently change the color, leading to one or more variations in the shade. It can also cause irregularities in the printed images and texts due to uneven distribution.

Thankfully, understanding color theory, the nature of color and the desired tones means that this knowledge can guide you in identifying contaminated ink. Even the slightest deviation from the expected color composition becomes glaringly apparent for those with a keen eye for color. Picking up on these subtle alterations can lead to timely corrective action.

Further, regularly comparing prints to proofs and legacy jobs lets you quickly pick up on deviations from the benchmarks. It can help you avoid further waste and prevent contamination from affecting additional runs.

Ink contamination puts you at risk of not meeting the Idealliance G7® technical specifications. These specs provide a calibration method that ensures standardization in printing processes to achieve consistent and predictable color reproduction. Print service providers and other pressrooms can receive the various G7® certifications and become part of the directory of printing companies that meet these standards.

Additionally, ink contamination could mean failing to meet the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards. The ISO develops and publishes various globally applicable standards and provides precise requirements for industry-applicable standards.

Two main standards affect the print industry. ISO 12647-2:2013 discusses the parameters and requirements for color accuracy and reproduction, printing conditions and color measurement. For offset printing, ISO 3664:2009 oversees viewing conditions. Ink contamination will directly affect ISO 12647 compliance and indirectly lead to non-compliance with ISO 3664.

The Financial and Reputational Cost of Ink Contamination

Ink contamination can begin as a matter of foreign particles impacting the purity of your ink and grow into several other issues, including financial and reputational effects. Knowing what to look out for and understanding the best practices to prevent ink contamination in pressrooms can position you to avoid the following consequences:

  • Material waste: Ink contamination will likely lead to rejections, which means wasting expensive materials like paper and ink, and other resources such as work hours and press time.
  • Pressroom delays: If you have ink contamination, you must stop the press, identify the source, clean equipment and potentially replace the ink and affected rollers.
  • Labor and resource requirements: Handling ink contamination often requires extra labor to troubleshoot and address the issue, as well as materials like cleaning supplies.
  • Timeline constraints: Due to the loss of time in the press room, your overall output is reduced as you need to do reprints, and you are likely to fall behind schedule, which affects clients and other parties.
  • Client complaints: If you deliver poor-quality prints affected by ink contamination, your clients may request a refund. You could also lose their trust and business.
  • Brand image issues: Ink contamination could happen in any pressroom. However, if it becomes a frequent occurrence, your company could suffer.

Best Practices for Preventing Ink Contamination

Ensure your team systematically implements these and other best practices to prevent ink contamination. You will want regular equipment checks, including standard and routine maintenance and cleaning procedures. Additionally, train your pressroom staff to identify the causes and signs of ink contamination. Finally, thorough and intentional cleaning must be routine to ensure sustained print quality.

Thankfully, you can put several measures in place to help prevent ink contamination in your pressroom, including the following:

  • Maintain pressroom: weekly roller cleaning and fountain solution changes to minimize the risk of contaminants through proper cleaning and periodic removal of calcium, dirt, paper dust and debris and ensure staff follow best practices.
  • Ensure routine quality control checks: when preparing the press for a run, look out for any signs of ink contamination on the color control strip and take action immediately if it is identified.
  • Insist on proper cleaning procedures: schedule for equipment cleaning, including the rollers, reservoirs, supply lines, blankets, plates and other equipment — ensuring complete removal of ink and other residue.
  • Prioritize equipment maintenance: including preventative maintenance and repairs. Inspect all relevant components for issues, potential residue and contaminants.

Importance of Regular Equipment

Regular checks on your pressroom equipment are an excellent and proactive means of keeping your presses running smoothly and avoiding potential ink contamination. Some of the steps to checking your equipment should include:

  1. Visual inspections: The best place to start is by visually inspecting the equipment. Pay attention to rollers, plates, blankets and the ink supply lines, and search for any signs of damage, wear and residue buildup.
  2. Functionality tests: It is good practice to perform routine functional testing of all mechanisms, movements and electronic systems to ensure proper operation.
  3. Identified issues: Once you identify potential or apparent problems, take appropriate action, such as replacing worn parts, making repairs or cleaning components. If you can’t address the issue right away, schedule the task as soon as possible.
  4. Preventive maintenance: The most effective maintenance is preventive, addressing potential issues before they arise. Establish your maintenance schedule based on the manufacturer guidelines and industry best practices — this will also guard equipment under warranty.

Employee Training and Awareness

Training employees on ink contamination prevention and fostering an awareness culture in the print shop are key aspects of preventing ink contamination and maintaining general cleanliness and efficiency in the pressroom. You may want to train your employees on several elements, such as safety precautions, accountability, monitoring and standard operating procedures (SOPs), though the following are likely the most crucial:

  • Quality control, inspection and identification: Staff must be fully trained in quality control and know how to monitor color and visually inspect prints to identify ink contamination.
  • Ink handling and storage procedures: Staff should know the correct and acceptable means of handling and storing ink, chemicals and other items, such as cleaning agents, to minimize the risk of contamination.
  • Response and reporting: All staff should know the procedures once they have identified ink contamination in your pressroom and how to report it.

Importance of Cleaning in Maintaining Print Quality

Proper cleaning practices are pivotal in maintaining high print quality and preventing ink contamination. Best cleaning practices also prolong your equipment life spans and general work environment safety. There are numerous elements in a pressroom that require cleaning, and you will need to establish adequate measures and schedules, though you should consider the following:

  • Press cleaning: Implement a suitable schedule that considers the press’s use and the time it takes to clean effectively. During the cleaning routines, you will want to remove all unwanted residue, including accumulated ink, other chemicals and water.
  • Environment and surface cleaning: The press and other equipment in the pressroom should receive equal care. Focus on workspaces, storage areas, floor spaces and other nearby elements.
  • Equipment cleaning: Any other equipment used in the pressroom or elsewhere in the process should receive periodic cleaning if it could come into contact with or affect the supplies or press run.

Improve Your Workflow With Products From FUJIFILM Graphic Communication

At FUJIFILM Graphic Communication, we provide high-quality and technically advanced print solutions for pressrooms like yours. We constantly strive for purpose-driven innovation to add improved value to our offerings, which is apparent in the glowing customer testimonials we receive. You can explore our pressroom product range today, or feel free to request a demo for a product of interest.

To get in touch, you can complete our contact form or call us at 800-877-0555, and we will happily answer any questions and advise you on the best solution for your needs.

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