Ink Throw Distance and Why It Matters

Product coding and marking is a necessity throughout numerous industries. A simple walk through Wal-Mart or your local supermarket will reveal how common product codes are. For instance, bagged and canned food and beverage bottles and cans frequently feature date codes and traceable information, while pharmaceuticals are required to show expiration dates, control numbers, and other vital information.

Often, product codes and traceable markings are required by government agencies, distribution partners, or both. Absent or improperly applied markings can result in fines, recalls, and other expensive consequences. 

To ensure that codes are both readable and durable enough to survive the product life cycle, you will need to mark your products with a substrate-compatible printing solution. Substrate compatibility is influenced by several factors, including how well a printer can mark surfaces of different shapes and sizes. For curved or bumpy surfaces, it’s essential to use a printer with the right ink throw distance. 

In this blog, we examine ink throw distance, explain why it’s important, and explore how it affects different types of inkjet printers. 

Ink Throw Distance: What It Is and Why It Matters

Ink throw distance is the length between a printer’s printhead and the substrate. All inkjet printers have adjustable throw distances that users can regulate to fit their applications. However, the throw distance does change substantially based on what type of inkjet printer you are using. 

Today’s inkjet printers largely fall into three categories:

  • Continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers, which are high-speed production line printers that are designed to handle high variability in product presentation and operate up to 24 hours a day.
  • Thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers, which are affordable, lightweight printers for both primary and secondary printing that produce high-quality codes and images at slow-to-moderate speeds.
  • High-resolution (hi-res) case coders, which are large production line printers intended to place DPI-rich codes and images on cardboard boxes and other materials.

CIJ printers have the longest throw distance of the inkjet technologies, often reaching 1” to 3”. CIJ models like the DuraCode Touchscreen and DuraCode Keyboard achieve these distances by expelling ink droplets at faster rates than other inkjet printers. The long reach and high speeds of CIJ ink streams enable CIJ printers to print upwards (e.g., on the bottom of cans and bottles) and more effectively mark non-flat surfaces, including:

  • Curved bottles and cans
  • Bumpy building materials
  • Products and materials with variable orientation

This long throw distance makes CIJ printers true “no-touch” marking solutions, as they never have to make contact with the substrate. 

Compared to CIJ printers, TIJ printers and hi-res case coders carry much smaller ink throw distances. The average TIJ printer offers a throw distance of ⅛” to ¼” (~3-6mm), while the average hi-res case coder offers a throw distance of around ½ ”. These throw distances largely restrict TIJ printers and hi-res case coders to marking flat and possibly slightly curved surfaces. 

How to Determine Which Inkjet Printer is Right for Your Needs

When choosing between inkjet printer types, ink throw distance is just one aspect to examine. Other essential considerations include:

  • Marking speed
  • Material compatibility 
  • Print height
  • Code resolution requirements 
  • Environmental resistance

If you are searching for a resilient high-speed printer for production line marking applications, a continuous inkjet printer is likely the right choice for you. 

CIJ printers are prized for their high printing speeds (~300 m/min), wide material compatibility (porous materials, non-porous materials, and semi-porous materials), and ability to print uninterrupted for up to 24 hours a day. These qualities make CIJ printers ideal for high-volume operations, such as wire/cable extrusion facilities and food/beverage packaging plants. To ensure proper results, CIJ printers are often built with ingress protections and other environmental fortifications. 

If you do not require the high marking speeds of a CIJ printer, a TIJ printer will better meet your needs. Excluding newer, higher-speed TIJ printers like the Anser X1, most TIJ models offer slower printing speeds than CIJ printers (~120 m/min vs. ~300 m/min). At the same time, TIJ printers are more compact and affordable than CIJ printers, making them a great option for scaling operations and companies that need a supplemental printer. TIJ printers can also create higher quality prints and larger codes than CIJ printers, making them better-suited for images and logos.

High-resolution case coders are designed for marking cardboard shipping cartons and other forms of secondary packaging. They are built with larger printheads to increase print height and use thicker ink formulas than CIJ and TIJ printers, allowing users to create taller, higher-quality codes.

Have More Industrial Printing Questions? InkJet, Inc. Has Answers

Ink throw distance significantly impacts a printer’s application possibilities. Long throw distances are key to printing on curved surfaces, such as bottlenecks, can bottoms, and pipes. Production line CIJ printers are often built with long throw distances to complete diverse printing applications.

That said, short throw distance printers can still complete important printing tasks, such as case coding and flat surface product marking. Depending on your application needs, short-distance solutions such as TIJ printers and high-resolution case coders can help your operation create high-quality product packaging with durable, long-lasting codes. 

Here at InkJet, Inc., we carry a wide range of coding and marking solutions for diverse applications. Whether you are printing on an industrial production line or completing stationary part marking, InkJet, Inc. can provide you with the best ink and hardware combination for the task. Contact us today to discuss your options. 

For more information about ink throw distance and other important industrial printing processes, contact InkJet, Inc. online or call 1(800) 280-3245