Digital Magazine

Something new under the sun

Chamelacolors are long-lasting, light-activated inks that can be applied in-line by conventional printing presses onto any substrate.

The decades-long quest to perfect light-sensitive or photochromatic ink for conventional printing methods has finally come to an end. To date, the main limitation has been the formulation itself: Photochromatic inks had no staying power. After as few as five exposures to sunlight, the colors began to fade, and, after a few more exposures, they would disappear altogether. The second critical flaw was the means of application. Silk screening was the most effective way, but it's so labor-intensive that it was often deemed cost-prohibitive for runs of any serious length.

All that has changed with the development of Chamelacolors, a graphic enhancement coating that's activated by sunlight, ultraviolet, or black light. It's the first photochromatic coating specifically designed for the printing industry, says Tim Anderson, national sales director for Graphic Management Specialty Products (GMSP), Green Bay, WI, the company that markets Chamelacolors.

He explains that Chamelacolors will hold a strong color for approximately 500 minutes of exposure. For 2,000 additional minutes, it will maintain color at a minimum of 60% strength. These performance claims have been validated through tests conducted by customers and independent testing labs. The main shortcoming of photochromatic inks - their tendency to fatigue quickly - has not only been overcome, it has been obliterated, according to Anderson.

Showing Its True Colors

Chamelacolors are available in yellow, blue, purple, orange, and green, with more colors on the way. The coatings can be laid down individually, blended to create a custom color, or printed over each other to create yet another shade when exposed to a light source.

Take Chamelacolors out of the sun, and it will revert back to a transluscent state in five to ten minutes. The time of reversion can be controlled by manipulating the formulation. It's reported to be nontoxic and is certified toy-safe. Available in water-based, oil-based, and solvent-based versions, the ink can be mixed into a UV-curable solution.

"The Chamelacolors formula is so stable, it's considered archival. If it were stored in the dark, it would last indefinitely," says Anderson. "We've got a sample that's seven years old. Every few months we take it out for testing, and it continues to react the way it was formulated to."

Since that test sample was first activated, the Chamelacolors formula has been improved. In fact, the current formula is in its thirteenth incarnation, which is said to be 20% more effective than the previous mixtures.

Ten Years of Research

This unique coating was developed for Graphic Management Specialty Products by a research team headed by Conrad Canter. He and his two partners have more than 100 years of collective printing and ink chemistry experience. Canter's team has been working on the secret, 30-component formulation for ten years. Graphic Management Corp. has been involved for five of those ten years and has invested more than a half-million dollars in Chamelacolor's development.

Canter's knowledge of printing comes from hands-on experience. His father was a printer, and Canter worked with him for 13 years. It was this intimate knowledge of printing that gave the team of chemists the insight to specifically develop the Chamelacolors formula so it could be applied in-line by any kind of printing method: flexo, offset, gravure, etc. This ability, in conjunction with the long-lasting formula, is reportedly what makes this photochromatic coating different from all others. "Never before has a photochromatic coating been successfully designed to run via offset, flexo, or rotogravure methods and maintain suitable endurance standards," says Anderson.

Not only does Canter have press experience, but the parent company, Graphic Management Corp., is expert in all forms and types of commercial printing. The company consults others on how to more efficiently operate a commercial printing operation. Graphic Management Corp. does not own any printing equipment; it contracts out millions of dollars in printing jobs to a variety of partners and licensees. "We act as their sales and marketing team," says company president Roger Kimps. "We get our partners the work, and they perform it to our specifications...it's worked out quite well."

One example of their work is frozen pizza labels. The company formed a joint venture with one of their contract printers and now claims to have 90% of the pizza label market. Last year the company booked $25 million in sales.

Selling a System

"It's not just a compound or an ink," says Canter of Chamelacolors. "It's a a true graphic enhancement system." And it's sold to licensees as a complete system, unlike the way people buy foil, holograms, or other coatings."

GMSP will take the proposed project and have the negative scanned to determine exactly how many square inches there are in the image that's to be printed with Chamelacolors. "We consider the number of units to be produced, have a mutually agreed upon waste factor for makeready and overruns, and give the customer one set price. That price is the maximum it's ever going to cost, and they won't lose money, because if it ever happens that we calculated the quantities incorrectly, we'll make it good," says Canter.

Canter took advantage of his 20 years of experience in the printing business when writing the standard operating procedures for each different press operation. "If you're going to run it in offset, you'll get a step-by-step guideline explaining what you're going to have to do to your ink rollers, what kind of chemistry to use, how to set up your blankets. You will have all the information you need to get Chamelacolors to lay down perfectly the very first time. There is no experimentation on the licensee's part. We've already done all of the background work."

In addition to the extensive documentation, customers who enter into a licensing agreement with GMSP get 50 hours of Canter's time - at their site - to help set up the press for a successful run. "I want people to finish a job with Chamelacolors and say, 'I can't believe it was that easy.'"

Ross Bennett, president of Red Pepper Productions, Dallas, TX, says when his company became a licensee, GMSP had a sales representative and a technical person at press side for the duration of the test run. "They're a hands-on group," says Bennett. "They rolled up their sleeves and worked with our pressmen to perfect the colors and exact flow rates."

Waldorf Corp., St. Paul, MN, used Chamelacolors to print an interactive kids game on the back of 2.5 million Lucky Charms cereal boxes for General Mills.

"I was somewhat skeptical in the beginning," says Mark Russell, product development manager at Waldorf and someone with much experience with photochromatic coatings. "I was skeptical of the product's performance claims as well as its supposed ease of use. However, due to all the preparations and pretrial meetings with Conrad Canter here at Waldorf, all the work was pretty much done up front, so the production run went smoothly. We ran extensive performance tests, and Chamelacolors behaved the way the GMSP people said it would."

John Frey, marketing manger for Waldorf, was equally impressed. "It's unique on a universal scale, it's interactive, it does things that have never been done before - there's a degree of magic to it."

Imagining the Applications

"The difficult thing about this product," says Canter," is for potential users to grasp the tremendous amount of different things that it can do. You have to put your imagination to work."

"We've added Chamelacolors to our repertoire of enhancements, which include foil stamping, embossing, die-cutting, holograms, and unique techniques that are a layered combination of two or more of those methods," says Mark Mulvaney, owner of Letterhead Press, Milwaukee, WI, the company made famous for the use of the hologram of an early caveman on the cover of National Geographic a few years ago.

"I think it compares to where holography was five or six years ago, but the beauty of Chamelacolors is that there really is no limit to what this product can do. Your imagination is your only limitation. Once this product gets into the hands of creative people, you'll see it in applications that no one, including the creators, even imagined. It's truly an exciting product," says Mulvaney.

"Our forte is that we can run this coating through any kind of press and apply it onto a multitude of substrates," says Kimps. Applications include placemats, comic books, drinking cups, cereal boxes, security, premiums, subtle graphic enhancements, multiple messages, educational games, labels - Chamelacolors is even injected into fishing lures.

"The next dimension in printing," is the way Conrad Canter sums it up.

Supplier Information:

Graphic Management Specialty Products, Inc., Whitefish Bay, WI; ph/fax: 414/963-0770.

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