Battle of the coders: laser or inkjet?

laser or inkjet

When it comes to coding, which is the better option: laser or inkjet?

When investing in coding technology, the first and most important decision you’ll need to make is whether to choose laser or inkjet.

Each technology has its own strengths and weaknesses. They use different methods for coding, and each is appropriate for meeting different needs.

We compared how laser and inkjet perform when it comes to the most important factors for manufacturers, such as line speed, quality, the total cost of ownership (TCO) and more.

See for yourself how they measure up:

Speaking of measuring up and TCO, upgrading and using inspection equipment is one way of increasing your operational efficiency and eliminating waste, because newer technologies offer significant opportunities to reduce TCO. This free whitepaper explains. Download Now



There are two costs to consider: capital expenditure (cap-ex) and total cost of ownership (TCO).

Because laser requires a bigger upfront investment, it has traditionally been seen as a better option in high-volume applications, as lower ongoing costs balance the higher capital cost. However, technology improvements mean lasers are now available to lower-volume manufacturers too.

When you consider the TCO over five to seven years, lasers can have the advantage here, as they require no consumables. But they generally require a fume-extraction system, which comes with the added ongoing expense of filtration media. There are also differences within the laser technology category that are important to note: for example, fibre laser systems are completely maintenance free over thousands of working hours and provide a life expectancy more than four times that of the standard CO2 laser tube technology.

Inkjet coders, on the other hand, have traditionally been at a disadvantage for the amount of maintenance they required (especially with print-heads), as well as the ongoing cost of consumables (ink, solvents, ribbons, etc.). However, recent advances mean that print-heads are more robust than ever, printers are self-service and the cost of consumables is lowering.

Also weigh up the costs that various coding solutions might be able to save you over the long-term. For example, Gelato Messina uses a thermal inkjet coder to print directly onto boxes, rather than labels, which saves on label costs.


Inkjet coders have traditionally had the edge here. With continuous (CIJ), drop-on-demand (DOD) and high-resolution options, inkjet coders can be used across a wide variety of applications; they can print date codes, batch codes, human-readable text and even graphics on primary and secondary packaging.

But, over the years, the types of applications for laser have widened too. Lasers can now mark clear and legible barcodes, meaning they can be used successfully in fields as diverse as packaging for food, beverage and pharmaceuticals through to heavy industries with harsh, dusty, wash-down environments. Laser coders are also capable of marking flexible packaging materials, such as film for snack food and confectionery packaging.


Each technology, from laser marking to continuous inkjet and thermal transfer overprinting, has seen tremendous innovation over recent years as a result of the demand for greater speed and reliability. Therefore, when it comes to speed, the two technologies are evenly matched: laser and inkjet coders can both mark simple messages at speeds of 1,000 characters per minute. However, because of the high cap-ex and low ongoing costs, lasers tend to be the smart solution for high-speed, high-volume production lines.


When space is at a premium, inkjets currently have more to offer. There are compact inkjet coders on the market that are ideal when there are space restrictions on the line. Laser coders are not only larger, but they also require special safety considerations on the factory floor.

End result

Inkjet is a very versatile technology, but depending on the application and solution, it can have some limitations around consistency. Laser, on the other hand, is ideal for permanent marks where presentation is critical, such as wine, and anti-counterfeiting applications.

In the end, the choice between laser and inkjet isn’t clear-cut. Consider your unique application, budget and integration needs now, but also think about what you’ll require in the future too. Another critical factor to investigate is integration. Coding technology continues to become more automated and integrated, offering huge opportunities to maximise efficiencies. Consider how your coding solution can be integrated into your packaging line to create one seamless, ultra-efficient process.

Choosing your coding technology can be an overwhelming task. Working with Matthews Australasia, you can take an informed approach to selecting the right equipment, implementing coding technologies, and ultimately driving efficiencies. Get in touch today.

And if you’d like to read a little more about laser and inkjet, download this free whitepaper. Download Now


Check out Matthews’ vast resource library. It has a host of detailed information that’s all free to download! There are whitepapers, presentations we’ve done to industry bodies, infographics for manufacturing, case studies, articles from our thought leaders, vids showing solutions in action and more!

Image credit: nickylarson974

Matt Nichol
Matt is a laser marking expert and has in-depth knowledge of product ID technologies. He is a regular at international trade shows like Pack Expo and is constantly looking at emerging trends and technologies.
Matt Nichol

by Matt Nichol

Matt is a laser marking expert and has in-depth knowledge of product ID technologies. He is a regular at international trade shows like Pack Expo and is constantly looking at emerging trends and technologies.

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