Technology review: inkjet coding and marking?
Inkjet technology is the “hip grandfather” of coding and marking — it’s been around for a long time, but technology evolutions mean it can still provide excellent solutions for today’s businesses.
Huge improvements over the years have seen it shake off its former reputation of needing high levels of maintenance and costly consumables, to the point today that low maintenance and cost-effectiveness are just two of its many strengths.
Here’s the lowdown on whether inkjet technology will work for your business, starting with the different types, their benefits recommended applications and “the final verdict”.
There are four main types of inkjet coders and markers, each with their own unique pros and cons depending on the application.
- Small character continuous inkjet coding – CIJ
CIJ is a non-contact printing method where electrically charged droplets of ink are expelled from a print-head nozzle at up to 120,000 droplets a second. So speed is one of its biggest advantages, ensuring your line keeps moving and your products always get high quality codes. And because the ink droplets are just half the diameter of a human hair, CIJ printing technology delivers precise and reliable results.
- Thermal inkjet coding — TIJ
Speed is also a feature of TIJ technology, because the time between each firing is only 100 millionths of a second. Because the technology has a throw distance of 1-6mm (depending on the print-head), TIJ technology is not only extremely fast, it will print exceptional quality even at high line speeds. TIJ
coders use a cartridge with an ink reservoir and a series of resistive elements. An electrical current activates each element, heating the ink in contact with the element. An ink droplet is formed then ejected out of the faceplate nozzle precisely onto the substrate.
- Large character drop-on-demand inkjet printers — DOD
DOD inkjet printers tend to be used for more demanding industrial applications — printing onto timber and hardware, plasterboard, metals, concrete, plastics, foam and packaging products. Each print-head contains several individual valves (typically 7, 16 or 32) that print dots at regular intervals. Arranged in a single column, the valves open and close independently to form ink drops “on demand”. As your product moves adjacent to the print-head, it results in printed characters. DOD printers can use a wide variety of inks to mark many different substrates, and can make low to medium-resolution marks over heights ranging from 2.5mm to 128mm — or even higher when print-heads are linked together.
- High resolution inkjet printers
High resolution inkjet printers have come a long way in the past decade. The latest generation uses piezo-electric technology to create super-crisp images, with print heights up to 100mm from a single print-head; these can also be stacked together to achieve over 900mm. These printers are ideal for printing the highest quality onto corrugated boxes and other porous materials.
All inkjet technologies will deliver substantial benefits to your business processes and bottom line, because they’re…
- Versatile: Inkjet printers can code onto a wide variety of packaging sizes, shapes and substrates, from primary and secondary packaging to timber and steel. They can print date codes, batch codes, text and even graphics. Look for a printer designed for your specific application — there’s bound to be one!
- Speed: With a wide range of printing speeds on offer, there is an inkjet coder for even the most rapid production line.
- Low cost of ownership: Depending on the machine, inkjet coders can be incredibly cost-effective. For example, Matthews’ range of Linx CIJ coders are renowned globally for their ease of use, reliability and low cost of ownership thanks to their robust, sealed print-head, which is ideal for harsher environments. Of all the inkjet technologies, DOD printers tend to have lower capital and operational costs.
- Minimal maintenance and downtime: The top quality inkjet machines are designed for minimal downtime and operator intervention, so your lines keep moving. DOD printers, in particular, are designed to withstand tough environments with dust, shocks and vibrations.
- Exceptional print quality: Thermal inkjet coders especially are renowned for their print quality — even at high speeds. This comes down to the superior print-head technology which provides exact drop placement.
- Easy-to-use technology: Inkjet coders are easy to set up and use.
There’s no “one size fits all”, each type of inkjet printer has been designed to deliver the best results in different applications. Here are some of the most common applications for each:
- variable information, such as product identification codes, batch numbers and use-by dates
- graphics, such as your logo
- small character text
- primary packaging at high speeds
Not recommended for: Printing barcodes onto products or secondary packaging. Barcode labels are the preferred method for applying barcodes to generic cartons in Australia. While it is possible to print barcodes using inkjet technology, major retailers don’t tend to accept it, so it’s therefore not recommended. (Here’s a quick guide to proper barcode quality and grading, and how to use barcodes properly. You may also find these FAQ’s on barcodes interesting.)
- carton coding
- porous and non-porous packaging for food, beverage, household products, and more
- some can be used for industrial environments, including timber marking and grading
Not recommended for: Wet environments or high vibration production lines.
- secondary packaging and carton coding
- fibre cartons and shrink wrap, such as product descriptions and batch numbers
- hardware product marking, g. timber, metal products, steel pipes, roofing, concrete, and plastic substrates
- 2D codes on a variety of packaging materials
Not recommended for: Most retail packaging, due to their lower printing resolution.
- barcodes, graphics and text on primary and secondary packaging
- specialised timber applications
Inkjet technology is a reliable, versatile and cost-effective way to mark and code a whole range of items. It simply comes down to choosing the right technology for your particular application. Talk to the experts to help you choose and implement an inkjet coder to meet your business needs.
* Trent Munro is an accomplished business strategist, marketing innovator and speaker specialising in business development and optimisation. Over the past 15 years, he has worked across a range of blue-chip and medium enterprises including Goodyear Automotive, Clariant, Corona Manufacturing and ,. Trent holds a range of post-graduate and graduate qualifications in Commerce, Psychology, Project Management and Science. At Matthews Australasia, he has overseen market development locally and abroad, launching class leading traceability and automation technologies across manufacturing, healthcare and logistics.
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