Industrial Ink Marking Systems That Apply to a Range of Materials

First developed in the 1950s and reaching popularity in the 1970s, inkjet printers have largely become the go-to solution for operations looking for industrial ink marking systems.

With the ability to reproduce digital images onto a variety of substrates, inkjet printers have proven themselves to be both versatile and effective additions to the modern production line. At the same time, the ongoing development of printing technology has caused inkjet machines to evolve into diverging categories, the most predominant being continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers, thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers, and thermal transfer overprinting (TTO). However, this article will be focusing on the CIJ and TIJ printing.

Although both CIJ and TIJ printers are capable of printing on the same materials, each have their unique strengths making them ideal for different situations. This article will outline how this is accomplished, as well as detail which substrates are best suited for these devices.

Two Major Industrial Ink Marking Systems: Continuous Inkjet and Thermal Inkjet 

CIJ products were first introduced to the market in the early 1950s, and for decades, they were the only inkjet machines available to the public. However, this changed in the late 1970s when engineers modified the inkjet system to create TIJ devices.

The technical differences between these two categories generally stem from two factors: ink installation and ink propulsion.

The Difference in Ink Installation

CIJ machines store ink using a multi-bottle system. One bottle contains the ink itself, another contains the solvent, and both feed into one main reservoir to be mixed and pressurized. In contrast, TIJ printers use a replaceable cartridge system that contains the ink and the printhead in one easily-swappable piece. Expectedly, these two systems create a number of notable differences.

To start, because the printhead of CIJ printers is separate from the replaceable ink bottles, there is some periodic printhead maintenance required.

In comparison, TIJ printers require little maintenance overall as the cartridges essentially produce a new printhead every time they’re installed. That said, this difference in maintenance needs primarily stems from how CIJ printers are more complex than their TIJ counterparts.

The Difference in Ink Propulsion

For CIJ printers, the propulsion process begins with a pump pressurizing the ink/solvent mixture within the reservoir, moving it toward the printhead. There, a piezoelectric element oscillates the stream, causing drops to form. These drops are then electrically charged, and through electrode plate monitoring, are propelled toward the substrate in a guided pattern, forming the desired image. Afterward, the non-charged drops are returned to the reservoir for later use.

In contrast, TIJ printers heat ink using resistors in order to form a vapor bubble. As this bubble collapses, it creates a vacuum effect that pulls the ink from the cartridge, propelling it toward the substrate.

Given the more complicated process involved with CIJ, professional installation and regular maintenance are needed.

Conversely, TIJ printers are intuitive to install and can run for long periods of time without expert maintenance, making them a more economical option for smaller operations.

CIJs on the other hand, while costing more upfront and requiring maintenance, are able to print at much faster rates than TIJ models.

How These Machines Fare With Different Substrates

Despite the operational differences discussed above, there is a large amount of overlap between the materials that CIJ and TIJ printers are able to encode.

Here is a brief overview of how these two industrial ink marking systems fare when encoding:

  • Non-Porous Substrates: These materials—including aluminum cans, glass bottles, foil packaging, plastic labels, vinyl, concrete, stone, and synthetic paper—will not absorb the ink beyond the surface.

  • Semi-Porous Substrates: A middle ground between non-porous and porous substrates, these materials can resist and absorb ink, slightly hindering resolution.

  • Porous Substrates: While notable porous substrates such as wood, cardboard, and other paper products will absorb ink, CIJ and TIJ printers can encode these surfaces but they might not be the best choice if the code needs to be scannable. Instead, a better option would be case coding printers with highly-concentrated ink or print and apply labelers.

  • Curved Surfaces: Because of the pressurized propulsion system used by CIJ products, their printheads can be positioned as far as three inches away from the encodable material. This allows for an easier encoding of curved surfaces—like bottles and cans. However, the best results will be seen at closer distances. 

Of course, regardless of whether you’re using a CIJ or TIJ product, it’s essential to use the right kind of ink if you want to successfully print on any of these substrates. This requires professional help, to truly know how a specific type of ink will react to a given surface.

Fortunately, professional industrial marketing systems help isn’t hard to find, as our R&D lab has been creating inks for over 25 years. With this expertise, we can personally work with you to ensure that you have both the right printer and the right ink mixture to fit your product line.

Find the Best Industrial Ink Marking System for Your Operation

There isn’t a single one-size-fits-all printer, and while both CIJ and TIJ printers can print on many of the same surfaces, their different ink storage and propulsion systems make them ideal for very different operations.

Thankfully, if you’re unsure about which printer type is best for you, we can provide you with the guidance you need to make the most informed choice. Further, our testing and validation services can ensure that you find an ink with specific properties needed to successfully encode your product line.

For more information on the different types of industrial ink marking systems or to inquire about our testing and validation services, contact InkJet, Inc. online or by phone at (800) 280-3245.