FAQ: Does Temperature Affect Printer Ink?

Industrial worksites are often home to a number of challenging environmental factors. Amongst these issues, extreme temperatures—both low and high—can be some of the most disruptive. Regardless of whether the worksite is a production facility, warehouse, or manufacturing plant, excessively low or high temperatures can hinder work output and uptime by causing numerous hardware issues. This is true for those working with industrial inkjet printers. 

Industrial printers, such as continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers, thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers, and high-resolution case coders, are all commonly used by manufacturers to mark products with codes that are required either by distribution channels or the federal government. If these codes are omitted or rendered illegible by environmental complications, companies can incur fines or other forms of legal action. 

The threat of looming these consequences can lead to some frequently asked and important questions. For example, companies may be wondering:

  • Does temperature affect printer ink shelf life?
  • How does temperature affect printer hardware?
  • How does product temperature affect printing effectiveness?

These are the questions we will answer for you. And, if you have any other questions related to industrial printers or inks, simply contact the expert team at InkJet, Inc. 

Does Temperature Affect Printer Ink Shelf Life?

Expectedly, the answer is yes. Both high and low temperatures affect how long ink will remain effective. In the context of storage, ink packaging will state the optimal storage temperature to prolong shelf life. Although these numbers will vary based on the formulation, one can expect a shelf life of about 12-15 months if the ink is properly stored at the specified temperature range (generally around 35°F to 95°F). Temperatures outside of the stated range can impact how well the product stays in solution, which can lead to the formation of particulates and, therefore, cause clogged nozzles.

If the ink is frozen, it can be made functional again by:

  1. Bringing it to room temperature.
  2. Shaking it before use to ensure no separation has occurred.

How Does Temperature Affect Printer Hardware?

All inkjet printers have a specified operating range.  With CIJ printers, this range is typically around 40°F-110°F, and with TIJ printers, the range is a bit tighter at around 59°F-95°F. The variation in ranges is attributed to operational differences between the two printer types. 

How Temperatures Affect CIJ Printers

CIJ printers operate by creating a continuous flow of ink. Within the printer are two chipped cartridges: one that contains the ink itself, and one that contains solvent. Both cartridges feed into a single reservoir where the ink is channeled and propelled out of the printhead onto the substrate.

When environmental temperatures fall outside of the typical operating range, the viscosity of the ink becomes problematic. Sensors will recognize that the ink is either becoming too thin or too thick, and the printer will try to fix the issue by adjusting solvent input. However, this can lead to other problems. For example, if the ink is too thin due to hot temperatures, the printhead will not be able to propel the ink properly. If the ink is too thick due to cold temperatures, the flow will be disrupted, leading to improper printing. Also, possible excessive use of make-up solvent in cold temperatures could occur if the unit is not left running. On cold start-up the system will need to thin out thickened ink there for more solvent to be utilized.  

How Temperatures Affect TIJ Printers

TIJ printers have a tighter operating range than CIJ printers because the thermal inkjet principle revolves around heat application. Using a process called “drop ejection,” TIJ printers heat up ink stored in a disposable cartridge to facilitate the printing process.  

Cold temperatures cause the ink within the cartridge to thicken. The thicker, colder ink won’t be able to be heated properly, preventing the thermal inkjet process from functioning as intended. Warmer temperatures have the opposite effect. The ink becomes thinner, creating unreliable, messy printing. Additionally, the higher temperature ink may cause damage to the cartridge-attached print head, resulting in the need for a new ink cartridge. 

How Does Product Temperature Affect Printing Effectiveness?

Product temperature has a much smaller impact on ink effectiveness than overall environmental temperature. However, product temperature can definitely impact ink drying time. Depending on the ink formulation that is being used, both CIJ and TIJ printers can print on materials as hot as 350°F or as cold as 0°F. Since this range is ink-dependent, one needs to make sure that the ink in use is optimized for the following four factors:

  1. The substrate material.
  2. The temperature of the product.
  3. Dampness of product.
  4. The required drying time. 

The substrate is important because certain inks work well with porous substrates (e.g., cardboard, paper, untreated wood, etc.) while others work well with non-porous substrates (e.g., plastics, glass, metals, etc.). In general, water-based inks are best suited to porous materials while solvent-based inks are most effective for non-porous applications. 

CIJ printers are largely compatible with both ink forms, as are certain TIJ models, like the Anser U2 Pro-S. Of course, neither ink category is universally applicable so it’s important to speak with an expert to ensure that the formulation in use is ideal for the desired application. 

The product temperature is important because all inks differ in their optimal substrate surface temperature. Certain industries, such as metal extrusion, routinely mark excessively hot materials. Others, such as ice cream producers, mark cold surfaces. By working with an ink expert, companies can find an ideal ink formulation that can match both the product material and surface temperature, ensuring consistent, proper coding.

Find the Right Printer and Ink Combination for Your Operation

Let’s recap what we learned regarding the question, “Does temperature affect printer ink?” Storing ink outside of its recommended temperature range can shorten its shelf life, negatively impact performance, and even cause printer hardware issues. When ink is inside of a printer, high temperatures can thin the ink to the point where the applied codes will be illegible. Meanwhile, excessively cold ink can become so thick that the printer is unable to operate as intended. Lastly, regarding product surface temperature, you have a much wider range to work with. However, you must use an ink formulation that works well with both the substrate material and its temperature. 

We know this is a lot to consider and this is why our expert team here at InkJet, Inc. can help you find the perfect products for your unique operation. We have been formulating ink and working with industrial printers for over thirty years and we understand what it takes to make production operations efficient and effective—even in the most challenging environments. Call us today to learn which ink and printer combination will work best for you, or to inquire about possible solutions to combat challenging temperatures

For any questions about the effects of temperature on printers and inks, or any other questions related to printers and ink, contact InkJet, Inc. online or by phone at (800) 280-3245.