Overview of ink demand in the Asian ceramic industry – covering printing inks, coatings and related industries

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Asia has become the production hub of ceramic manufacturing over the past two decades. The continent accounts for more than 70% of the world’s ceramic production (including ceramic tiles, sanitary ware and tableware).

The increase in the production of ceramic tiles and the adaptation of digital printing have led to a massive demand for inks in the ceramic industry. ink world presents an overview of the demand for ceramic inks in Asian countries in this article.

Asia has become the leading producer of ceramic tiles in recent decades, overtaking the established ceramic tile manufacturing centers of Italy and Spain.

In 2020, Asia accounted for 12,110 million square meters of ceramic tiles out of a total global production of 17,005 million square meters of ceramic tiles. In percentage terms, the continent accounted for 71% of global ceramic tile production.

China leads the continent in ceramic tile production with an annual output of 8,362 million square meters of ceramic tiles in 2020. India, with an output of 1,298 million square meters, is the second producer, followed by Vietnam (554 million square meters), Iran (443 million square meters) and Indonesia (314 million square meters). These five countries are among the top ten ceramic producing countries in the world.

The evolution of digital printing technology in the ceramic tile industry is considered one of the most significant developments in the ceramic industry by most industry players. The advent of digital decoration has changed the face of the ceramic industry in less than 10 years.

For the ink industry, this transformation opened up a vast and untapped market. The demand for ceramic inks started to skyrocket from 2007.

In the early years, demand was confined to the Italian and Spanish markets, but as Asian countries increasingly adopted digital technology, the demand for ceramic inks grew rapidly in the Asian continent.

In recent years, the total cost of digital decoration with inks has become similar or even lower than the cost of traditional decoration. Apart from the cost advantages, the wide range of ink colors available in the market, with pure and vivid ceramic colors, makes it possible to match most ceramic tile production patterns, taking them to the digital technology.

Digital printing has penetrated nearly 70% of the wall tile market in Asian countries. In floor tiles, the technology has nearly 40% penetration of the overall ceramic tile market on the continent.

The trend is expected to continue its northward journey in the coming years. Digital printing is used by ceramic tile producers to print in short runs, reduce inventory costs and efficiently meet the changing demands of the ceramic ink market. Furthermore, it also enables ceramic tile producers to respond quickly to rapid design changes based on market demand to meet consumer demands.

Ceramic inks carry metal oxide pigments with fine ceramic particles. These inks must have a physical consistency suitable for producing fine detail; this requires that they be suspended in a medium.

Depending on the application technique, these mediums can be thick and flowing like printing ink. They can have a gel consistency that stays in place after application. They can be made from spots of nanoscale particles that remain suspended in a very fluid medium. They can be water or oil based. Depending on the final product, these inks may need to dry quickly, slowly, and may not need to dry at all before firing.

During the first decade of the century, most ceramic ink producers were based in Italy and Spain, but over the last decade a number of producers have emerged in Asian countries, particularly China.

Italian and Spanish ceramic ink producers have opened production bases or subsidiaries in the main ceramic tile producing countries of the continent. Currently, Esmalglass-Itaca (now renamed Altadia Group), Torrecid, Coloorobbia, Zschimmer & Schwarz Ceramco, Xennia Technology and EFI are the major ink suppliers for the global and Asian ceramic tile industry. Chinese ink producers for the ceramic industry such as Guangdong Dowstone Tech, Sinocera Creta Tide and Huilong have become strong competitors to Italian and Spanish producers.

In one of the most significant events in the ceramic tile ink industry, Ferro has completed the sale of its Tile Coatings Systems business to Pigments Spain, SL, an Esmalglass-Itaca group company, for 460 million in cash in February 2021. With sales of approximately $510 million for the 12 months ended September 30, 2019, Ferro’s tile coatings business produces coatings for ceramic tile.

The Esmalglass-Itaca Group, based in Villarreal, Spain, is a manufacturer of colors and glazes for the ceramic sector. Esmalglass-Itaca produces and markets a wide variety of value-added products used in the manufacture and decoration of tiles. It supplies ceramic manufacturers worldwide through manufacturing and blending facilities, warehouses, and technical and design teams around the world.

With this acquisition, Esmalglass-Itaca, which also acquired Fritta in 2015, became the undisputed world leader in the ceramic color and glaze sector with a turnover of approximately one billion euros. The group based in Villarreal, Spain, has 1,650 employees and around 20 production units in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, China and Thailand.

After the acquisition of the Ferro business was completed, the merged entities were renamed Altadia Group. The newly formed group is a giant in the sector with 32 production sites in 19 countries, 19 distribution centers and after-sales services, around 3,600 employees. The Altadia group owns 11 brands: Esmalglass, Itaca, Fritta, Ferro TCB, Quimicer, Endeka Ceramics, Vetriceramici, SPC Color, Gardenia Quimica, Zircosil and Oximet.

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