By Becky Hurley | Jan 27, 2015
Light and heat sensitive printing
Now you see it, now you don't. Chromatic Technologies, Inc. (CTI) is best known as the inventor of the"reveal inks." The chemistry behind its heat- and light-sensitive inks has helped ensure the promise, "When the mountains on a Coors Light can turn blue, the beer is as cold as the Rockies," says Chief Marketing Officer Pat Edson.
Today the Colorado operation founded in 1993 by Lyle Small is the world's largest supplier of both thermographic (heat-sensitive) and photochromic "Sunlight" inks. Its specially formulated inks are applied to everything from plastic, aluminum, cardboard, glass, shrink wrap, labels, and cups, positioning the company as a forward-thinking niche provider within the $12 billion global industry.
Small and former MillerCoors Vice President Pat Edson first met in 2008 and collaborated for four years to perfect the "blue mountain" label chemistry. "We were looking at manufacturing 2,000 cans a minute, year-round -- and had to find an ink that would survive in a high-temperature oven, processed at high speeds," Edson recalls, adding that he ultimately left the brewing operation and joined CTI. "It's been a great story ever since. Coors is still a customer."
Consumers may not realize that in an increasingly digital world, ink companies have to constantly find ways to adapt and apply their products. Very different chemistry is used for magazine covers, pressure-sensitive labels and cardboard or bottle labels, cups, cans, film and plastic silverware.
Edson credits much of CTI's success to a dedicated R& D team. Just last month the company announced development of small, temperature-sensitive concentrated ink encapsulated pellets, or "Power Capsules," for customers seeking a U.S.-based bisphenol-A-free labeling solution for plastic consumer products. CTI's lab developed a product that is stronger, able to maintain color vibrancy, and more heat resistant during the high-temperature oven curing process -- critical for the $375 million U.S. plastics industry.
In addition, the company produces black light, glow-in-the-dark, and security protection inks, as well as methods for bacteria detection and cancer treatment for the global market.
Production and supply chain information, Edson explains, cannot be shared publicly. "Our processes are trade secrets and patent-protected," he says, adding that while some of CTI's equipment is "traditional" much is custom or specifically engineered so sensitive ink chemistry survives.
OEM customers include producers of metal can decoration, offset printing, printing and publishing, covert security products and documents, textile, pens, and "cold reveal" labels and stickers.
In addition to a network of global distributors, CTI has negotiated a joint agreement with INX, the world's third largest ink provider. "On any specialty, innovation-driven job, they call us," Edson says. "We're in printing plants all over the world, but the bulk of calls come from them."
So far the company's focus on innovation in the digital age has paid huge dividends. The ink industry is highly competitive and increasingly dominated by manufacturers in Asia, Latin America, and South America.
CTI's overriding philosophy: to make sure every label in the world is interactive with a consumer."We help the companies that package products fortify their brand presence in today's marketplace," says Edson. "Our goal is to improve lives through chemistry that alerts, protects and surprises."
Challenges: "Ink raw materials costs are on the rise globally," says Edson, "but our greatest challenge is to stay innovation-focused and to use chemistry to develop exciting new products."
Opportunities: Exports. The company currently ships product to more than 50 countries around the world.
Another opportunity is continued collaboration with good academic partners, Edson adds. "We've been fortunate to have research partnerships in place with the US Air Force Academy, CU Boulder and University of Colorado, Colorado Springs."
Needs: Finding and keeping good people, says Edson. "Right now, we employ 53 people ranging from forklift drivers to accountants, scientists and Ph.Ds."