Flint Ink Corporation History

4600 Arrowhead Drive
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105

Telephone: (734) 622-6000
Fax: (734) 622-6060

Private Company
Incorporated: 1920 as Howard Flint Ink Company
Employees: 3,500
Sales: $1.2 billion (1999 est.)
NAIC: 32591 Printing Ink Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

Our mission is to be a leader in global manufacturing and distribution of quality inks, colorants, supplies, and expert support services to the graphic arts industry and other color consumers. Key Dates:

Key Dates:

H. Howard Flint sets up the Howard Flint Ink Company in Detroit.
The firm opens a branch in Indianapolis.
Sales reach $1 million and the company acquires the Temple Inks Company.
The firm changes its name to Flint Ink Corporation.
Company introduces alkaline fountains solutions for newspaper printing.
Flint Ink acquires the California Ink Company.
Construction on the research center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is completed.
The firm restructures operations, and CDR Pigments & Dispersions is created.
Flint Ink North America and Flint Ink Latin America are created.
Flint Ink Europe is established with the purchase of Manders Premier in the United Kingdom.

Company History:

Flint Ink Corporation is the largest American-owned manufacturer of printing inks, inkjet inks, and toners, for newspaper, directory, magazine, packaging, commercial, and digital printing applications. Moreover, the company is the second-largest ink producer in the world and among the top ten privately held corporations in Michigan. Flint Ink operates 100 facilities worldwide. CDR Pigments & Dispersions--owned and operated by Flint Ink--is an industry leader in colorants manufacturing, while CDR International serves the European flushed color market. The Flint Ink Research Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, provides state-of-the-art product research, environmental testing, and support.

Early History and Expansion

Flint Ink was founded in 1920 in Detroit, Michigan, by H. Howard Flint as the Howard Flint Ink Company. Initially a one-man operation supplying ink to local newspapers, the company grew quickly and steadily, with Flint's sons Edgar and Robert eventually joining the enterprise. From its earliest years, the Flint sought to develop new technologies and utilized quality control methods to test raw materials and finished products; his was the first ink company to do so. The year 1922 saw the company's first tanker truck delivery of letterpress news ink. In 1926, Flint Ink opened its first branch in Indianapolis, which was followed by the opening of four additional branches over the next decade. The company acquired Temple Inks Company of Denver in 1936--the same year its sales hit the $1 million mark.

By the 1940s, Flint Ink had equipped all of its branches with full quality control and formulation labs and established rigid product specifications. One of its subsidiaries, California Ink Company (Cal/Ink), became the first U.S. company to make and market lithol red pigments. Cal/Ink over the next decade would develop the nation's first magnetic inks for check imprinting.

During this time, leadership of Flint Ink was gradually ceded to the second generation of Flints; Robert Flint was named secretary/treasurer of the company after his service during World War II, and by 1950 he was named vice-president of operations. Founder H. Howard Flint remained chief operating officer (COO), while eldest son Edgar was company president. With its holdings increasing and its role in the industry becoming more prominent, the company changed its name to Flint Ink Corporation in 1957. Within three years, the company had expanded into the publication gravure business, a process used by publishers desiring the highest quality color reproductions for long run applications.

In 1966, Edgar Flint succeeded his father as COO. Two years later, Flint Ink made the first tanker delivery of offset news ink, and in 1969, the company introduced the use of alkaline fountain solutions for newspaper printing. In 1975, Flint Ink acquired Cal/Ink and opened a state-of-the-art gravure facility in New Albany, Indiana. A joint venture between Flint Ink and Sun-Fast Color in 1977 made Flint Mexicana, S.A., de C.V. the second-largest ink manufacturer in Mexico. The next year Flint Ink pioneered the use of conductivity to monitor the concentration of fountain solution, and in 1979, the company made its first tanker delivery of offset color news inks.

Chromatic Color, another subsidiary, was incorporated in 1980 and began producing dry and flushed color. Two years later, Robert H. Flint succeeded his brother Edgar as president and CEO. Flint Ink acquired Drew Graphics, Inc., a manufacturer of water dispersions for the ink, paper, paint, and coatings industries in 1984. The following year marked the completion of the company's second varnish plant, furthering Flint Ink's move toward vertical integration. Flint Ink acquired Capitol Printing Ink Company in 1986, providing a larger presence on the East Coast.

Late 1980s Focus on Research and Quality

In 1987, Robert H. Flint was elected chairman and CEO, while the founder's grandson, H. Howard Flint II, was elected president and COO, ushering in the third generation of managerial Flints. That same year Flint Ink was a majority participant in a leveraged buyout of the Sinclair & Valentine Division of Allied-Signal. The acquisition provided Flint Ink with ownership of the fourth-largest manufacturer in the commercial and packaging printing ink segments. The Sinclair & Valentine Division included David M, Ridgway Color, the S & V Canadian unit, and S & V Screen Inks.

Another important milestone reached in 1987 was the completion of the Flint Ink Research Center, a 72,000-square-foot research facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The research center was established to develop new technology to confront the challenges faced by the printing industry, including the availability and cost of raw materials, environmental protection, and the computerization of press-side and pre-press operations. Researchers sought to develop proprietary raw materials that offered greater performance as well as environmental and economic value. Chemists at the center investigated new inks with the characteristics necessary for optimum performance on new substrates, on higher-speed computerized presses, and with developing press and plate chemistry. Extensive research led to 'environmentally friendly' alternatives in ink technology, utilizing vegetable oils or water in place of traditional petroleum or solvent ingredients.

Building upon the company's history of quality control and quality assurance methods, Flint Ink embarked on 'The Flint Ink Quality Journey' in 1987. The journey employed the principles and techniques of continuous quality improvement, and re-emphasized long-term quality partnerships with customers and suppliers. A comprehensive training program began to provide managers and employees alike with problem-solving techniques, testing procedures, and statistical methods. Milestones along the journey included the following: statistical methods were used to monitor ink batch specifications; product quality certification procedures were put in place; computerized color matching in branch sites insured that every custom match was completed quickly and accurately; improvements in delivery methods and scheduling permitted just-in-time delivery to minimize inventories; and quality partnerships were established with both customers and suppliers to increase awareness of needs, define common goals, set specifications, improve communications, and resolve problems.

Continued Growth in the 1990s

Flint Ink was reorganized in 1991, consolidating several subsidiary firms under the Flint Ink umbrella. S & V Printing Ink, Capitol Printing Ink, and Cal/Ink began operating under the Flint Ink Corporation name. Chromatic Color, Ridgway Color, and Drew Graphics began operating as CDR Pigments & Dispersions. S & V Screen of Canada became Flint Ink Corporation of Canada, and S & V Screen Inks became Summit Screen Inks. In addition, LeMaster Litho Supply was acquired.

Flint Ink continued to be a leader in the area of environmentally friendly products, including low-rub, soy oil-based newspaper inks. In 1991, the firm introduced AGRI-TEK vegetable-oil based inks for commercial sheetfed and folding carton applications. The company by that time had a fully staffed Environmental Services Department that evaluated and addressed regulatory issues as they affected Flint Ink products and customer applications. A 1992 article in Crain's Detroit Business, 'Flint Ink's Future Is Printed in Soybeans,' reported that the company was producing soy- and water-based inks in anticipation that the use of traditional petroleum-based inks would diminish under environmental pressures. Chairman/CEO Robert Flint predicted that mounting environmental regulations for air quality, pollution, and hazardous waste would spur the shift away from petroleum toward alternative materials, noting, 'I think, maybe, by the turn of the century, we're going to see the end of petroleum inks.'

Robert Flint retired his positions as chairman and CEO in 1992, but continued to serve as chairman of the executive board, which now was comprised of four directors from outside the Flint family. Two years later a fifth non-family member was elected to the board, bringing the membership to 11. In 1994, Flint Ink opened its first offices overseas, including a sales office in Singapore to explore entry into Pacific Rim markets. CDR Pigments & Dispersions established CDR International and opened a sales office in Brussels to expand into the European market. The company also acquired outstanding shares of Flint Mexicana, assuming full ownership.

In 1994, the corporation also acquired Rendic International, a Miami-based distributor of graphic arts supplies, in order to strengthen the ink manufacturer's position in South America and the Far East. Rendic International had marketed printing inks, blankets, and printing presses outside of the United States for Flint Ink Corporation and Rockwell International for more than a decade. The company's president, Jerko E. Rendik, was asked to stay on to help Flint Ink continue to expand its export business. Rendic noted that he believed his company's familiarity with South America and the Pacific Rim made it a good fit with Flint Ink's plan for growth in the world market.

In another major initiative, Flint Ink completed the purchase of North American Printing Ink Company, with plants in Elgin and Salem, Illinois. According to Chairman Howard Flint II, the move was expected to enhance the company's ability to service large heatset publication printers. NAPIC had specialized in the manufacture of heatset inks for use in magazine printing. Since its founding in 1978, the company had achieved a major position as a supplier to publication printing plants throughout the United States. Under the terms of the agreement, NAPIC remained a separate business unit, operating within Flint Ink's Publication Ink Group.

Flint Ink of Canada purchased Lester Ink and Coatings Company in 1994 to provide Flint Ink with much-needed sheetfed manufacturing capacity. Flint Ink of Canada president Dan Keough stated that Lester's well-established reputation for excellent quality in the products it manufactures and the company's leadership in the commercial sheetfed market will give Flint Ink added presence in that important market segment. Lester Inks and Coatings had sales offices in Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary, in addition to its 60,000-square-foot manufacturing site in Toronto.

Flint Ink was named the winner of the 1994 Distribution/Nasstrac LTL Shipper of the Year Award, according to an article in Distribution magazine. 'By helping its more than 70 LTL carriers improve their operations, the Detroit-based manufacturer of printing inks has actively spread the quality message among carrier and shipper channels,' the article stated. 'Flint Ink has simplified its shipping process for field supervisors by creating a routing software package; centralized its traffic function to coordinate transportation operations for its manufacturing locations; hired certified hazardous materials instructors to train staff; developed its own rate base to insure fair bidding; implemented contracts with all its TL and LTL carriers; and developed quality programs that are compatible with ISO 9000 standards.'

In the company's ongoing quest to develop environmentally friendly processes, Flint Ink announced in 1995 an exclusive distribution agreement with Unichema International to market Unichema's PRIFER 3303+ low-VOC, non-volatile roller and blanket wash for sheetfed lithographic inks. The agreement was reached after testing by Flint Ink showed the vegetable-based wash to combine environmental benefits, commercial practicality, and effective cleaning capabilities. According to Leonard Walle, Flint Ink's director of marketing, pressure has increased to reduce emissions in order to avoid operating permit requirements. 'One of the most significant areas for potential reduction is the chemicals used for cleaning press rollers and blankets--chemicals which have traditionally been petroleum-based and very high in VOCs,' he stated. Walle noted that control technique guidelines for offset lithographic printers set forth by the EPA in September 1993 recommended the use of cleaning solutions that do not contain any hazardous air pollutants and have less than 30 percent VOC by weight in their useable form.

In an effort to help customers achieve lower emissions, Flint Ink tested a number of environmentally friendly press washes to determine which offered reduced VOCs while at the same time giving cleaning results comparable to conventional cleaners. Extensive testing settled upon a product that was cost-effective, safe, and non-volatile.

Despite an increase in paper prices that negatively affected the ink industry in 1995, and a patent infringement suit concerning the firm's use of soy ink, Flint Ink recorded increased sales in 1996. Flint Ink's continued leadership in promoting environmental awareness, investment in research, commitment to quality, and steady growth, had it well positioned for continued growth. Dedicated to European expansion, the firm began a joint venture with Coates Lorilleux in Spain to manufacture flush color. It also acquired certain units of BASF Corporation's North American Graphics Group, and sold its David M division and its Summit Screen business during this time period.

The company continued to restructure itself in 1997 in a manner conducive to international growth. Its Commercial/Packaging Ink operations, its Publication Ink Group, and Flint Ink of Canada, became Flint Ink North America, and Flint Ink Latin America was created and included the businesses of Rendic International and Flint Ink Mexicana Srl de CV.

International Development: Late 1990s and Beyond

In 1998, the firm acquired Manders Premier, a leading manufacturer of inks based in the United Kingdom. The deal, which marked an important push into the European inks market, resulted in the establishment of Flint Ink Europe division, to oversee operations in that geographic area. The company also launched Flint Ink Asia/Pacific to cover business dealings in that region. Sales for the year topped $1 billion.

Flint Ink continued its growth by acquisition strategy in 1999. Standing as the second largest ink producer--behind Sun Chemical Corporation--and controlling 9 percent of the market, Flint Ink successfully faced the problems plaguing the global inks industry. Low profitability, increased competition, and overcapacity had been causing consolidation throughout the industry, and Flint Ink was positioned to take advantage of the situation. It purchased The Ink Company based in West Sacramento, California, in order to gain increased market share in the United States. The firm also beefed up its Latin American operations with the acquisition of Polychem SA, a packaging ink manufacturer based in Argentina, and Companhia Quimica Industrial Brasiliera, an ink manufacturer based in Brazil. During this purchasing spree, Flint Ink moved its world headquarters from Detroit to Ann Arbor, Michigan, presumably to be closer to its state-of-the-art Technology Park research facility.

The company continued its expansion into the new millennium. Alper Ink Group L.L.C. was acquired and secured Flint Ink's leading position in the North American ink market. The company also purchased Creanova Ink Pty Ltd. of Australia. The deal made Flink Ink Asia/Pacific the second-largest ink manufacturer in Australia.

Along with its focus on acquisitions, the firm's management team also concentrated on new product development. Michael Gannon, Flint Ink CFO and senior vice-president, stated in a Crain's Detroit Business article that, 'all of these acquisitions are really good stuff, but at the same time, we need to grow internally and come up with new products that add value and are competitive in the marketplace.' Doing just that, the firm launched GlobaLink, a color replication system, and SFI, a single fluid ink technology concept that allowed offset printing without the use of fountain solution. The company also introduced the Gemini Ultraviolet Ink system, which enabled printers to produce UV-quality print.

In January 2000, Robert Flint, son of the company's founder and an influential leader at Flint Ink throughout most of the century's expansion, died. Remarking on his uncle's role at Flint Ink, chairman and CEO H. Howard Flint II observed: 'In some ways, Bob's passing marks the end of an era for Flint Ink Corporation. In other ways his influence be felt for many years to come. He had the respect and admiration of his family, his employees, and the industry as a whole, and he will be missed.'

Growth at Flint Ink continued apace. In 2001, INKS-Chemicals B & T SA, a Venezuelan paste ink manufacturer, was purchased. Management continued to actively seek out acquisition opportunities and focus on product and technology innovation as a means of remaining competitive in the consolidating ink industry. As part of the Forbes top 220 Private Companies in the United States, Flint Ink was well positioned for future growth.

Principal Divisions: Flint Ink America; Flint Ink Europe; Flint Ink Latin America.

Principal Operating Units: CDR Pigments & Dispersions.

Principal Competitors: Sun Chemical Corporation; Toyo Ink Manufacturing Co. Ltd.; Nazdar.

Further Reading:

  • 'Flint Ink Corporation,' Canadian Packaging, May 2000, p. 9.
  • 'Flint Ink Expands in Latin America,' Paper, Film & Foil Converter, March 2000, p. 46B.
  • Green, Leslie, 'Flint Ink Absorbs Rival, Adds Market Share,' Crain's Detroit Business, November 1, 1999, p. 3.
  • ------, 'Flint Ink Solidifies its No. 2 Spot; Purchase of Pair of Ink Companies Adds to Market Share,' Crain's Detroit Business, June 5, 2000, p. 3.
  • 'Ink Expansion,' Graphic Arts Monthly, December 1999, p. 31.
  • King, Angela, 'Flint Ink's Future Is Printed in Soybeans,' Crain's Detroit Business, August 31, 1992, p. 3.
  • 'New Offices,' Paperboard Packaging, March 1999, p. 54.
  • 'Printing Inks Market Consolidates,' Chemical Market Reporter, September 20, 1999, p. 17.
  • Savastano, David, 'Building a Successful Legacy,' Ink World, August 1992.
  • ------, 'Flint Ink Acquires The Ink Company,' Ink World, November 1999.
  • Schmitt, Ben, 'Robert Flint: Led Ink Firm into Global Marketplace,' Detroit Free Press, January 11, 2000.
  • Serwach, Joseph, 'Flint Ink Appealing Patent Ruling,' Crain's Detroit Business, June 17, 1996, p. 3.
  • Thomas, Jim, 'The Color of Excellence,' Distribution, September 1994, pp. 42+.
  • 'UV Ink System,' American Printer, December 2000, p. 82.
  • Walsh, Kerri, 'Flint Acquires Manders,' Chemical Week, January 7, 1998, p. 45.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 41. St. James Press, 2001.