UV LED…what’s it all about?


First let’s get the acronyms sorted! UV is simple – most will know that it’s short for ultraviolet. But LED (light-emitting diodes) may be less well-known. Marrying the two, UV LED curing is a fast-emerging technology used to treat surfaces with monochromatic UV radiation from LEDs.

UV curing has traditionally been accomplished using mercury-vapour lamps but with the advent of LEDs capable of producing UV radiation, curing devices using LEDs are increasingly found in printing applications.

One name that’s at the forefront of any discussion on UV LED curing technology is Phoseon Technology. The company has been developing UV LED technology since 2002.

According to Phoseon, UV LED curing systems allow printing of high-quality materials at maximum speeds. For label printing, it shows measurable advantages in high productivity, low energy usage, reduced heat load for thinner substrates, and clear environmental benefits. Being solid-state devices, LEDs offer instant on/off with no warm-up time and without ozone creation there’s no need for air ducts or ventilation.

Phoseon’s FirePower line allows increased speed in flexo printing. The intense UV output (up to 20W/cm²) paired with UV LED flexo inks have achieved record press speeds. The low heat output of the FirePower has enabled new capabilities such as heat-sensitive materials, unsupported films and thinner substrates.

Award-winning press

When it comes to press suppliers, Mark Andy has been a trailblazer in adopting the technology, working in partnership with Phoseon Technology to develop UV LED curing for its narrow-web presses.

At Labelexpo Europe in 2013, the Label Industry Global Award for Innovation went jointly to Flint Group Narrow Web and Mark Andy. Flint Group was honoured for its Ekocure UV LED ink technology that provides improved cure response, cost and productivity savings, waste reduction, energy savings and enhanced safety; and Mark Andy was singled out for its complementary ProLED ink curing technology that delivers high production rates and energy savings in excess of 50% when compared to traditional HgUV systems. Mark Andy’s ProLED technology also won the FlexoTech award for innovation in 2013.

The low running temperature of the UV LED system means that filmic substrates can be handled easily without chill drums. The curing system also reduces electricity consumption.

“One name that’s at the forefront of any discussion on UV LED curing technology is Phoseon Technology. The company has been developing UV LED technology since 2002.”

LED inks

Dedicated UV LED inks are a necessity and ink makers have been busy developing suitable products.

One is Flint Group Narrow Web, offering its award-winning EkoCure UV LED flexo ink technology (as mentioned above). Since gaining this enviable recognition, EkoCure inks have become globally available and include products for rotary screen whites, various coatings and adhesives, and flexo shrink whites.

Scotland’s Paragon Inks has also been busy in this market and has released a low-migration LED range. This meets all the requirements of low migration, low odour and low taint. Based on world-class European-grade materials, these inks offer fast curing at speeds up to 150m/min.

As printers worldwide fast become part of the LED revolution, Paragon has worked closely with key OEMs, co-suppliers and printers to bring these next-generation energy-curable ink and coating systems to market.

Since the creation of Paragon Inks three decades ago, the company has followed a strategic development plan, reacting to industry demands, and in the process becoming established as a global brand. Although still privately owned and manufacturing from one site in Scotland, the company now produces over 60% of its UV inks and coatings for the world’s unsupported web-printing market.

‘We see UV LED inks and coatings as the next rung on the technology ladder,’ asserts Amanda Jones, Paragon’s international sales manager. ‘These products not only offer printers and converters considerable cost savings but also the flexibility of being able to print on both supported and unsupported materials using UV LED curing.’

A significant part of the company’s success has been in Africa, where the establishment of Paragon Inks South Africa three year ago underlined its commitment to this market and to multinational brand owners operating on this continent. The South African company offers a facility for local supply, payment and service, and mirrors Paragon Inks’ Australian operation. ‘This is just another part of the equation in meeting global demand,’ comments Amanda, who is a regular speaker – imparting her considerable knowledge – at packaging and printing conferences in South Africa. Early next month, she’s scheduled to take part in the Innovations Conference being held in Johannesburg.

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