"Print is going to live longer than people think," asserted Mathias Döpfner, a German journalist and business executive.
For Bangladesh, the assertion appears to be true as computer and printer uses have enabled more and more users to print documents at home. That means a growing demand for ink at the individual level. Additionally, a burgeoning newspaper industry and book printing keep pushing up demand for ink.
However, the Tk3,000 crore local ink market still remains unexplored as neither public or private entities chip in with investment for ink making. Currently, Bangladesh imports ink from around 25 countries.
Manual presses that print books, newspapers, posters, packaging displays, banners, payment bills and receipts are the top consumers of ink, according to Bangladesh Kali Prostutkarak Malik Samity and Printing Industries Association of Bangladesh.
There are 15,000 printing presses across the country that use ink worth Tk2,000 crore per year. Imported ink contributes to nearly every field, said Shahid Serneabat, chairman of Printing Industries Association of Bangladesh.
Shahid said there are around 2,000 presses alone in Dhaka.
East West Media Group Ltd is one of the largest printing presses of Bangladesh. It has been printing books for students for the last couple of years. Besides, the press regularly prints three newspapers of the group and some others.
According to an official of the group, ink worth Tk100 crore is used at the press per year. All of it is imported from South Korea, Germany and China.
According to Bangladesh Kali Prostutkarak Malik Samity President MA Momen, there are 80 business entities and individuals, like East West Media Group, that import ink for their printing presses. There is a lone local producer who manufactures and distributes only Tk10 crore worth of ink per year.
According to the association, Fuji ink, Akij Group's Nebula Ink Ltd, AR Trading Co, Masterpack Ltd, Khan Dyetech, New Resuli Screen Printing, PiRIMETEX, Pilcrow Global, Qure product, Roshafi Symbol Business Co, Swachchha Trade House Bangladesh, Sk Trade Link, Royal Ink, Nisan Ink-Nisan Paint & Autolacquer Co and Evertex Ink International are the top press ink importers.
Computer printing second largest ink consumer
Computer printing by laser printers and inkjet printers at home and office are the second largest consumers of printing ink in Bangladesh. There are around 70 importers who bring in computer printing ink, with their annual imports amounting to around Tk850 crore.
Akij Group's Nebula Ink Ltd, Masterpack Ltd, New Resuli Screen Printing, Pilcrow Global, SK Trade Link, Royal Ink, Nisan Ink-Nisan Paint, Evertex Ink International and Soviet Machineries Ltd are the top ink importers in computer printing.
Businessmen said Japan's Fuji Ink is the most in demand for computer colour print.
Asif Ahsan, managing director of New Resuli Screen Printing, said his venture alone imports more than Tk100 crore worth of ink per year, and demand has been growing steadily.
"The growing use of computers in households is raising our business because people are now printing their documents at their homes and offices instead of availing commercial printing solutions," Asif Ahsan.
Besides, high quality post print, Flexo pre-print and flexo post-print for packaging and brand printing are also contributing to ink demand.
Pen makers' imports amount to Tk100 crore
There are around 40 ballpoint pen manufacturers in the country who import ink to the tune of Tk100 crore per year.
Matador Ballpen Industries Ltd, a major pen market player, said it alone imports Tk50 crore worth of ink a year.
Advocate Shah Alam, chairman of Matador Ballpen Industries Ltd, said the company manufactures 23 types of ballpoint and gel pens for local and international markets. The company's local and international sales amount to Tk300 crore per year.
Other ballpoint brands are GQ Group's ECONO – a brand that gained huge popularity in the 1990s, Captain Pen, Merit Ballpen, Top-Ten Ballpen, Janani Ballpen, Winpen, Good Luck Pen, Rose Pen, Ideal Ballpen, Choko Choko Ballpen, Icon Ballpen and Winner Ballpen.
Lone local producer upset with business
Toka Ink Bangladesh Ltd has been manufacturing ink for printing and ballpoint – with an annual production of Tk10 crore.
MA Momen, managing director of the company, said the company has to import the raw materials and the costlier ingredients deter its business from reaching the desired level. He, however, was optimistic about future business prospects.
Mobarok Hossain, managing director of the more than 100-year-old Baishakhi Printing Press in old Dhaka, said the firm prefers imported ink since imported items can print more and the printing quality is better too.
No research to fill the production vacuum
Hemayet Hossain, Principal Scientific Officer (chemical research division) at the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR), said carbon is mainly the base of all types of ink that is difficult to collect in the country.
Besides, other ingredients such as eosin for red ink, crystal violet for blue or gum Arabic, ferrous sulphate and gallic acid for printer cartridges are not available in Bangladesh.
"Therefore, we import those which are also quite costlier," he noted. The scientist also said there has been no research regarding ink-making in Bangladesh either.
A foreign firm does ink processing, another in the pipeline
After importing raw ingredients, the German company Siegwerk has been blending the materials in Dhaka to produce ink. According to the company website, it has been producing ink in Bangladesh since 1990.
A marketing official of the company said the company's annual production and distribution now hover around 80,000 pounds.
In 2019, Japan-based Sakata Inx initiated an ink production unit on five acres of land in Meghna Industrial Zone.
The company has almost completed the infrastructural work of the unit, but it is yet to go into commercial production, said an official of the economic zone. The company is to invest $10 million for ink making in Bangladesh.
Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun said he had not received any ink making proposal from local ventures during his stint.
"But a few foreign firms have taken permission for ink processing. If any local venture wants to manufacture ink, the ministry will cooperate with it," he added.