Technology review: inkjet coding and marking

inkjet coding and marking

Inkjet technology might be the “grandfather” of coding and marking, but that doesn’t mean it can’t provide solutions for today’s businesses.

In fact, inkjet technology has seen huge improvements over the years. So much so that it’s shaken off its reputation as requiring high levels of maintenance and costly consumables. Low maintenance and cost-effectiveness are today just two of the many strengths that lead companies to choose inkjet technology for their printing and marking needs.

So should you be choosing inkjet technology for your business? Our experts have the lowdown…

 

TYPES OF INKJET CODERS AND MARKERS

There are four main types of inkjet coders and markers, each with their own unique pros and cons depending on the application.

  1. Small character continuous inkjet coding

Small character continuous inkjet (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 per second. One of the biggest advantages of CIJ printing technology is the speed – it ensures 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.

  1. Thermal inkjet coding

A thermal inkjet (TIJ) coder uses a cartridge containing an ink reservoir and a series of resistive elements. Each element is activated by an electrical current, which heats the ink in contact with the element. An ink droplet is formed and then ejected out of the faceplate nozzle precisely onto the substrate.

Because the time between each firing is only 100 millionths of a second and the technology has a throw distance of 1-6mm (depending on the print-head technology employed), TIJ technology is extremely fast and will print exceptional quality — even at high line speeds.

  1. Drop-on-demand inkjet printers

Large character drop-on-demand (DOD) inkjet printers tend to be used for more demanding industrial applications, such as 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.

  1. High resolution inkjet printers

High resolution inkjet printers have come a long way in the last decade. The latest generation uses piezoelectric 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 when you need the highest quality print on corrugated boxes and other porous materials.

 

BENEFITS OF INKJET CODERS AND MARKERS

Whichever inkjet technology you choose will deliver substantial benefits to your business processes and bottom line:

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. The best thing is look for a printer designed for your specific application — because there’s sure to be one!

Speed: With a wide range of printing speeds on offer, you can find 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.

 

APPLICATIONS FOR INKJET TECHNOLOGY

Today, 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:

CIJ inkjet printers

Ideal for:

  • 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.)

Thermal inkjet coders

Ideal for:

  • 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.

Large character DOD inkjets

Ideal for:

  • 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.

High resolution inkjet

Ideal for:

  • Barcodes, graphics and text on primary and secondary packaging
  • Specialised timber applications

 

THE VERDICT

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. The good news is our experts can help you choose and implement an inkjet coder to meet your business needs. Contact Matthews to speak to an expert.

You may also find this technology review interesting, where it looks at thermal inkjet, DOD and hi-res inkjet printers, among others.

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Trent Munro

Trent Munro

Manager – Strategy & Business Development at Matthews Australasia
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 Matthews Australasia. Trent holds a range of postgraduate 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.

by Trent Munro

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 Matthews Australasia. Trent holds a range of postgraduate 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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