How to Choose a Handheld InkJet Printer for Metal Applications

Commonly used across a wide number of industries, metal packaging provides easy storage and long product shelf lives. Because of these prominent benefits, goods as diverse as paint, soda, coffee grounds, and pickled vegetables are all packaged in metal cans—and they all need to be marked with industry standard codes, as well. Additionally, consider the prominent usage of metal components in the automotive and construction industries, which also commonly need various markings. 

Depending on the specific product, these markings could include expiration dates, lot codes, packaging dates, or barcodes, amongst others. As the codes are essential for both educating consumers and for performing inventory, they can cause major problems if improperly placed. Consequently, companies must find the right machinery to encode their metal packaging, especially considering the unique qualities of this non-porous substrate. 

If you’re in the market for a handheld inkjet printer for metal applications, let this article serve as a guide for your search. 

What Exactly Do We Mean When We Say, “Handheld Inkjet Printer?”

“Handheld printer” has long been a colloquial term used to describe thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers, as these machines are widely known for their compact size and light weight of only a few pounds. Although the word “handheld” and the numerous mobile TIJ models  on the market could give the impression that all TIJ printers are literally held in hand during operation, truthfully, most of these printers are placed on production lines using mounted brackets. 

These machines use disposable cartridges to supply ink, and they are known for their versatility, intuitive computer display, and “zero-maintenance” operation. They are also known for encoding porous and semi-porous substrates—their primary application, as the earliest TIJ models were not compatible with inks designed to encode non-porous surfaces. This generalization no longer reigns true, however, as many of today’s TIJ printers use solvent-based inks that are specifically designed for non-porous application. 

Still, when seeking a handheld inkjet printer for metal surfaces, you want to rest assured that the model is compatible with the right ink—this, and other essential elements, are explored in greater depth in our next section. 

Key Considerations When Selecting a Handheld Inkjet Printer for Metal Applications

When looking for the right printer model to fit your operation, you need to have a firm understanding of both the machine’s capabilities and your own production needs. When searching for a machine, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can the Machine Use Solvent-Based Inks? Generally, solvent-based inks are much better at encoding non-porous surfaces than water-based inks, which are better-suited for porous applications. Consequently, look for a TIJ model like the Anser U2 Pro-S, which is compatible with both solvent- and water-based ink cartridges.

  • What Print Height Do You Need? Although handheld printers are compact machines by definition, different models will have varying print heights. While many will be on the smaller size (around a half inch), others can deliver one inch printing, and some speciality models can even print up to two-and-a-half inches.

  • What is the Operating Temperature of Your Facility? Most handheld printers will operate at a range between 50°F – 90°F. If your facility is outside of this range, make sure to seek out a model that can operate without issue in the environment.

  • Do You Use a Conveyor Belt? At What Speed Does it Run? If you employ a conveyor belt in your production line, note its speed when looking for a printer. TIJ models operate at a rate of around 100 m/min, although many can operate at slightly higher speeds. In the event that your operation requires significantly faster encoding for continuously moving production lines, you likely need to research continuous inkjet (CIJ) machines.

  • Do Your Codes Need to Be Scannable? While markings like lot codes and expiration dates only need to be readable to the human eye, barcodes and QR codes need to be scanned by a label reader in order to be useful. To ensure this scannability, it’s considered best practice to print at a rate of 300 dpi or higher. High quality handheld printers are often able to encode at a rate of 600 x 300 dpi, while lesser models can falter, rendering these markings useless. 

Need More Guidance? We Can Help

Encoding a non-porous substrate like metal can be tricky, especially when you’re looking for a TIJ model to accomplish the task. After all, not all of these machines are built equally, and many aren’t compatible with the right ink to get the job done. Consequently, if you want to find the best handheld inkjet printer for the metal applications in your organization, it’s essential that you have a solid understanding of what you’re looking for. 

Here at InkJet, Inc, we’re not only in the business of selling printers, but we’ve also been developing ink for over 25 years. If you have any questions about either the hardware or ink needed to meet your metal encoding needs, we have the answers. 

For more information on how to find the right handheld inkjet printer for metal encoding, contact InkJet, Inc. online or by phone at 1-(800) 280-3245.