The ink industry is very competitive and is evolving quickly.

As an Ink Manufacturer or Printer you need to make sure you stay competitive by working with great Ink Technicians.  But how do you know who is great and who’s not?  How do you know if you are working with a bad Ink Technician?

Well, we put together the following list that will help you screen the resumes of Ink Technicians, and will help you if you are an Ink Technician that wants to stand out in the market.

1. Difficulty matching colors

Matching colors is an essential part of the job.  If you are working with someone who suffers from color blindness, or cannot match colors, this is your first sign you may be working with the wrong Technician.

Color matching begins in the laboratory and later on-press.  When doing color matching you need to know what color combinations to use for each situation – so it’s imperative that your Ink Technician is familiar with pigment index numbers and the characteristics associated with those numbers.

Pigments exist in a variety of chemistries and each one offers different degrees of resistance parameters and characteristics.  For example, you may need to use different pigments for a sheetfed corrugated box, a flexible packaging ink or for a wall covering ink.

2. Lacks big picture thinking

For many Ink Technicians, the day-to-day job can be limited to the confines of the laboratory.  Unfortunately, for many of these Ink Technicians, they may never know how an ink formulation they are developing will be used by the printer, how it will be used in the design (percentage of coverage), or how a specific color will fit with other inks on the design.  The solution?  They must ask the right questions and use a checklist for their Ink Formulations.

Other important considerations are – will the inks be laminated? How must they perform for scuff resistance or surface abrasion?  How will the finished packaged be exposed (ex: Direct sunlight, on a shelf, or even placed outdoors)? All of these aspects need to be known if the technician is to put forward the best recommendation for a given application.

These are all very important aspects that a good Ink Technician will learn about before providing you with the best recommendation for the application you need.

3. Views repetition negatively

Great Ink Technicians are dedicated to quality assurance.  In order to achieve great standards in research and development, it’s often necessary to repeat the same test dozens of times.  Certain tests are particularly challenging, for example in the case of defoamers, surfactants or waxes where you’re required to weigh the same ink a number of times while changing one single component and then repeating the test and observing any differences your changes made.

When I was getting started in my career, I was tasked with the quality assurance of pigmented “chips”, this involved weighing 200-gram batches of dispersions (combinations of chip and solvent) every single day, then comparing incoming batches with our benchmarks.

I must admit, that after some time, the process became a bit boring.  It wasn’t until I saw the big picture that I realized that my work played a vital role in the long manufacturing process required for creating quality inks.

4. Does not value their suppliers

The success of any ink company relies both on its customers and its suppliers.  As a Development Chemist or Ink Technician, your suppliers can be great assets.  This is because they can give you insights you may be unaware of such as, raw material alternatives, tips for improvement, and even provide you with starting point formulations.

Furthermore, your suppliers can also provide you with some competitive insights because they know what your competitors are using for a specific application that can save you time, money and trial and error in the lab.  This obviously goes both ways, so make sure not to share more than you need to about your intentions for a specific formulation or approach.

Knowing how much to say comes with experience.  Therefore, you need to make sure that someone with more experience or a Manager is leading the conversations with your suppliers or working closely with Ink Technicians who are new to the industry.

5. Has not learned the lingo

As with every industry, learning the right terminology is important.  This is no different in the ink industry and is especially important in a technical role like an Ink Technician.  Before going on service calls, make sure your Ink Technician learns about printing presses, and how they work.  The right vocabulary will come with time, but a great professional is proactive and makes sure to learn as quickly as possible.

6. Is not comfortable working press side

There is a lot that can be said about best practices for press-side service, but one main difference is the contrast between the coziness of the ink lab and the environment press-side.

Press rooms can be very noisy and dirty.  This makes it easy for an inexperienced Ink Technician to feel out of place, especially when dealing with a large-scale printing job.  Plus, there is likely a new boss to answer too and other professionals to work with.

When sending your Ink Technician to do a “color approval” and to adjust colors on press, make sure your Ink Technician has all of the necessary tools to make any needed adjustments.  You will also make sure they record all of their additions, press conditions and anything else that pertains to the environment they are in.

7. Does not have a hunger for knowledge

Things are changing all the time and the ink business is no different. In the early 80s, we formulated inks for gravure tobacco packaging with solvents like toluene and xylene. Today, that’s unthinkable as we face mounting regulations when it comes to solvent emissions and the tainting of the packaged product. As an informed technician, you should keep abreast of the latest resin technologies and the latest advances in printing equipment. Talk to your suppliers. Ask them what new things they’re working on, because chances are that their developments are being driven by knowledgeable people in the ink industry.

8. Is disorganized

“Get organized!”.  This was the single, best piece of advice that I ever got during my early years as an ink technician.  The ink industry is complicated, especially formulating.  Getting organized and staying organized is key.  There are a number of records that need to be kept and maintained to track your experiments, formulations, test methods and raw materials.

That is why I view being organized not simply as a good trait, it is the result of good habits.  A good Ink Technician must develop the habit of recording both good and bad results in their tests.  This is because there is more that can be learned from an experiment that doesn’t work as opposed to one that does work.

Keep a lab book to record and keep track of what you do.  Even if this is a simple color match, write your formula down because you never know when you might need a Budweiser Silver ink formula!

9. Lacks creativity

Formulating inks is mostly a scientific process, but it’s also an art form.  What I mean is, you need the technical know-how, and you need to be somewhat of an alchemist to achieve great results.  You need to be comfortable with trying things that don’t always make sense.

In fact, if I needed to hire someone for my development lab and I had to choose between someone who was creative with a high school education and had 3 years ink experience, or a Ph.D. in Chemistry fresh from University without creativity, you can guess who I would hire.  I would hire the person with the most creativity and time in the ink lab!

On several occasions, I’ve stumbled across a new formula by accident, by using my creativity; combining ingredients that the literature would say not to.
If you only do what you’re told by the literature, you’ll be limiting the great possibilities for yourself and your company.

A person working in ink development needs to wear their thinking cap at all times, as success in the ink industry often comes down to a combination of:

  • Creative thinking
  • Know-how
  • And taking ACTION

Here’s a great example for you:

One day, I tried to combine nitrocellulose resin and acrylic resin.  As you probably know, these two are not compatible, so you wouldn’t think of combining them.  Not unless you have the creativity, knowledge, and willingness to experiment with new formulations.  I was able to make these two resins compatible by adding a “bridging resin” and altering the solvents involved.  I then found out that the two resins can, in fact, work together quite well.  My new formulation game me the benefits of both resins in one formulation.

This is another illustration why it’s so important to keep detailed records of your experiments.  A formulation that you don’t use today may be valuable to you tomorrow.  This example also highlights the importance of not being afraid to fail.  Many take failed experiments as losses when they should be viewed as a step forward towards what does work!

10. Is not adept of what I call “work-off”

There is an abundance of old inks in many ink rooms printing factories.  A lot of old ink ends up piling up because the requirements for the ink (ex: colors, design) were changed and nobody stepped in to use up the leftover ink.
Now, if you’re the one in charge of the ink room, you can bet that your manager is going to be really excited if you can “work-off” this leftover ink in a safe and creative way.

Obviously, before you can do that you need to be sure what’s in the old ink, and you need to know what do do with the leftover ink.  Otherwise, you may end up making a water based pink ink using rhodamine red and lots of titanium dioxide!

Next steps

So, do any of these signs sound/look familiar?

Do you have any other signs you always try to avoid in an Ink Technician?  Or do you feel that these tips can help you to be a better Ink Technician?

If so, please let us know in the comments below so that we can share your feedback with others in the Ink Industry.

Terence Kenneth
President of Ink Intelligence and seasoned Ink Specialist. Hands-on experience creating ink formulations for ink manufacturers and printers for over 30 years. Terence loves to travel, spend time with his family and of course to make world-class ink formulations.
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