Inkjet Coding and Marking Comparisons: Today's Top Solutions

Product coding is essential to companies involved in industrial manufacturing or packaging. To comply with government regulations and distribution network policies, products must be outfitted with required markings such as date codes, lot codes, product batch numbers, QR codes, and barcodes. Once applied, these markings must also remain clear and legible for the entire product life cycle. Meeting these requirements requires a well-developed marking solution. For industrial applications, inkjet systems are the go-to option.

In this guide, we cover all of the major characteristics to consider in an inkjet coding and marking solution. From max printing speed to ongoing maintenance needs, we examine the strengths and weaknesses of today’s three most popular production line printing options:

Although laser systems do not use inkjet technology, they complete many of the same applications and are becoming increasingly accessible to new customers. As such, it is important to include laser systems in any discussion on production line coding technologies.

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If you have any questions that are not answered in this comparison guide, contact InkJet, Inc.’s sales team to discuss your available options.

Laser, Continuous Inkjet, and Thermal Inkjet Coding and Marking Speed

When looking for a laser or inkjet coding and marking solution, speed is one of the first qualities to consider. Product coding needs differ widely from one operation to the next. While one company may need to print more than 1,000 codes per minute, another might only need to print 10 per minute.

For high speed lines, continuous inkjet printers and laser systems are ideal options. Both CIJ printers and laser systems are capable of uninterrupted coding up to 24 hours a day. CIJ printers like the DuraCode Touchscreen have a max speed of 320 m/min, which is well-suited for high-volume marking applications, such as:

Laser systems offer similar marking speeds—up to 2,000 characters/second—making them another solid option for high-speed lines. Laser systems also offer the unique ability to mark stationary materials. CIJ and TIJ printers can only print on moving materials. The ability to mark still products is a great advantage for metal shop workers and aerospace/automotive part designers who don’t have the space or need for a conveyor-powered production line.

If you don’t require the industrial strength of CIJ or laser systems, however, a TIJ printer will be a better fit for you. Although TIJ and CIJ printers have similar titles, they operate very differently. In general, most entry thermal inkjet printer model speeds are substantially lower than continuous inkjet printer speeds.

A standard TIJ such as the Anser U2 Smart maxes out at 76.2 m/min, which is better suited for smaller-scale operations. However, newer TIJ models offer speeds that challenge this generalization such as the Anser A1 and X1 printers. The Anser X1, for example, can mark products moving at 300m/min, rivaling CIJ speeds.

  CIJ Printer TIJ Printer Laser System
  • Printing speeds 300+ m/min
  • Faster than TIJ when completing small alphanumeric text and variable data
  • Excellent printing speeds when completing high-quality print applications
  • Newer TIJ models can match CIJ speeds.
  • Fastest potential speed of any inkjet coding and marking system on the market
  • Can mark stationary products
  • Slower than TIJ and laser when creating larger images or complex markings such as QR codes and barcodes
  • Slower than CIJ and laser when completing small alphanumeric messages and variable data
  • Higher DPI images and messages require more energy, causing slower print speeds.

Ink Throw Distance and Laser Focal Length

Throw distance is defined as the length between a marking machine’s printhead and the substrate. With an inkjet printer, ink throw distance has a major effect on how well a printer model can code specific surface types.

CIJ printers expel ink droplets at high velocities, which gives them a substantial throw distance of one to three inches. This enables CIJ printers to easily print on curved surfaces such as bottlenecks and PVC piping. The high ink velocity also allows CIJ printers to print upwards, as in the case of marking the bottoms of cans, and makes CIJ printers a very efficient choice for printing small alphanumeric messages and variable data text.

TIJ printers propel ink with much less force than CIJ printers. As such, the average TIJ throw distance is around ⅛ of an inch—substantially smaller than the throw distance of CIJ printers. This prevents TIJ printers from marking products with presentation variability on the production line or curved, bumpy, bulking surfaces.

Laser systems have longer throw distances than both CIJ and TIJ printers. Depending on the laser model, throw distance ranges from one inch to five or more inches. To produce a clear code, however, you must adjust the machine’s focal length until it reaches the ideal distance from the substrate.

Focal length measures the distance from the scanning head to the light’s focal point (i.e., the end of the beam that contacts the substrate). Operators must set the focal length to an appropriate distance to create a clear image. If the head is too close to the substrate, it can burn the product; if the head is too far, it won’t create the intended marking.

Thankfully, it is easy to set the ideal focal length with today’s technology. In the past, operators would have to take physical measurements themselves when adjusting focal length. Now, all of InkJet, Inc.’s laser models come with auto-focusing features that allow operators to make quick adjustments and avoid downtime when switching between products.

  CIJ Printer TIJ Printer Laser System
  • Throw distance can be set over an inch, making CIJ a true no-touch solution.
  • Can print on curved surfaces at all angles (including upward printing on the bottom of packages)
  • Short throw distance (⅛ of an inch) simplifies the line positioning process
  • Throw distance ranges from around an inch to five or more inches. Distance depends on focal length.
  • Focal length focusing is simple with new technology.
  • Unable to print on stationary substrates
  • Products must be neat and uniform on the production line for the printer to create a clear code.
  • Can only print top-down or side-to-side (no upward printing)
  • Throw distance alterations require precise calculation.

Print Height

Print height requirements vary based on a few factors, including:

  • What codes or images you are creating.
  • What type of packaging you are printing on.
  • Any applicable regulations or distribution policies.

Between CIJ, TIJ, and laser systems, CIJ printers have the smallest print heights. Although some CIJ models have specialty printheads that enable larger heights, most CIJ printers can only make markings ¾ of an inch tall. At the same time, CIJ printers are an excellent choice for printing simple alphanumeric codes in large quantities. Moreover, larger images and more complicated codes (e.g., barcodes, QR codes, etc.) will significantly slow down print speeds.

Compared to CIJ printers, TIJ systems are better suited for creating larger, higher-quality codes. TIJ models like the Anser U2 SmartOne offer print heights up to one inch and can create higher-quality images than CIJ printers. Some TIJ models like the innovative Anser A1 and top selling Anser X1 can stitch multiple printheads together as well, enabling print heights up to two inches.

These size capabilities make TIJ printers valuable case coding technologies. However, be aware that stitched printheads require close care to create clean, blank-space-free markings. If you need to regularly create markings that are larger than two inches, a high-resolution case coder is likely a better fit for you.

Laser systems are another good choice for large prints. Fiber laser systems can have print windows as large as 300mm x 300mm, while CO2 laser print windows can reach 400mm x 400mm. These large windows open the possibility for diverse coding applications, including:

  • Large images
  • Machine-scannable codes
  • Multi-product coding 
  CIJ Printer TIJ Printer Laser System
  • Offers max print height of ¾ of an inch for alphanumeric codes
  • Highest speed option for small text
  • One-inch print heights come standard in many models.
  • Users can stack printheads together to make four-inch (or more) codes.
  • Fiber laser models come with print windows as large as 300mm x 300mm.
  • CO2 laser print windows can reach 400mm x 400mm.
  • Large and complicated codes can only be produced at moderate-to-slow speeds.
  • Stacked printheads require close attention and slow speeds to produce clean codes.
  • The focal lens determines the print window. Some laser models have a print window as small as 50mm x 50mm.


DPI (dots per inch) communicates the number of dots contained in one inch of a printed image or code. The higher the DPI, the better a code will look. High DPI is also a requirement for machine-scannable markings, such as QR codes and barcodes.

When it comes to inkjet printing DPI, CIJ printers do not offer high DPI capabilities. Most CIJ models max out at 100 DPI. Although this does mean CIJ printers can create machine-scannable markings, they will be a lower grade than similar markings made by TIJ printers and laser systems.

TIJ printers and laser systems can both produce codes up to 600 DPI. If code clarity and attractive images are a must, a TIJ or laser system will fit your needs. Just remember that higher-quality codes require more time to create, which can impact your daily productivity.

  CIJ Printer TIJ Printer Laser System
  • Can create machine-scannable QR codes and barcodes at 100 DPI
  • Can create codes with 600+ DPI
  • Can create codes with 600+ DPI
  • CIJ-produced codes are much less sharp than TIJ or laser markings
  • Higher-quality codes come at the expense of speed.
  • Higher-quality codes come at the expense of speed.
  • LDR laser models produce codes with lower contrast than CO2, fiber, or UV lasers.

Ingress Protection Ratings and Other Environmental Fortifications

Laser printing and inkjet coding and marking are often completed in harsh environments. Depending on what industry you are in, your facility may be home to:

  • Dust
  • Water
  • High heat
  • Freezing temperatures
  • Excessive humidity

To prevent these factors from adversely affecting your packaging process, it’s important to utilize a coding and marking system that can withstand any harsh conditions in your facility.

For example, if your work environment is prone to dust and water, look at the different IP ratings of your marking system options. Most CIJ printers are built with protected cabinets rated at around IP55. IP55 ratings mean that the unit is:

  1. Significantly protected against dust ingress.
  2. Fortified against low-pressure jets of water from all angles.

Comparatively, most TIJ models are built with little or no ingress protection. This lack of protection makes TIJ printers susceptible to water damage and dust issues, especially in the ink cartridge itself. Newer, more advanced TIJ models prevent this problem in different ways. For instance, the Anser X1 is built with an IP66 housing that protects the unit from water and dust issues.

Laser systems typically offer similar protections as CIJ printers and will usually have IP ratings at least as high as IP54. Specialty models will reach IP65 as well.

For more information on printing in harsh environments, read our blog on protecting coding and marking resources.

  CIJ Printer TIJ Printer Laser System
  • Units are typically robust enough to withstand dust, water, and abnormal temperatures. IP55 is a standard rating.
  • Advanced TIJ models separate the controller from the printhead which minimizes the threat of dust and water ingress.
  • Specialty units and high-end models offer ratings up to IP65.
  • Printhead nozzles are vulnerable to debris and water ingress while actively printing.
  • Temperature swings can impede ink modulation.
  • Most TIJ printers are susceptible to dust and water ingress because they have open cartridges and run on electrical charges.
  • May struggle in cold temperatures
  • IP54 is a standard rating. IP54 lasers will work well in basic environments but will struggle if dust, water, or extreme temperatures are present.

Material Compatibilities

Material compatibility is one of the most important qualities of any product coding solution. A printer or laser will be useless if it can’t mark your packaging materials. To prevent downtime-causing coding and marking material variables, it’s important to choose a system that you know will work with your substrates.

With an inkjet coding and marking system, material compatibility is determined by which ink formulas the system can use. In broad terms, porous substrates (e.g., cardboard, wood, etc.) respond well to water-based inks, while non-porous substrates (e.g., metal, rigid plastic, glass, etc.) respond well to solvent-based inks.

CIJ printers are compatible with a very wide range of inks, including water-based, solvent-based, and pigmented formulas. This allows CIJ printers to print on nearly any material. Furthermore, CIJ printers are compatible with specialty formulas designed for unique applications. For example, InkJet, Inc.’s CIJ ink offerings include:

  • High-temperature inks
  • Non-transfer inks
  • Brightly colored inks
  • Fast drying inks
  • Thermochromic inks
  • Invisible inks
  • UV-readable inks

The wide ink compatibility and long throw distance of CIJ printers makes them ideal for applications like wire extrusion coding and food can printing that require specialty formulas.

TIJ printers do not offer this same level of material diversity because they are not compatible with as many inks. Many TIJ printers are designed to only print on either porous or non-porous materials. Even the TIJ printers that are compatible with porous and non-porous inks do not have access to the specialty inks used by CIJ printers.

For laser systems, material compatibility is defined by wavelength. CO2, fiber, UV, and LDR systems produce beams at different wavelengths, which impacts whether one laser type can successfully mark a certain material or not.

CO2 lasers are compatible with:

  • Cardboard
  • Textiles
  • Wood
  • Rigid plastic
  • Flexible materials
  • Glass

Fiber lasers are compatible with:

  • Metals
  • Rigid plastics
  • Flexible materials
  • Glass

UV lasers are compatible with:

  • Glass 
  • Ceramics
  • 99% of plastics

LDR lasers are compatible with:

  • Cardboard
  • Rigid plastic
  • Flexible materials
  CIJ Printer TIJ Printer Laser System
  • Compatible with nearly any material
  • Specialty inks are available for demanding applications
  • Can print on porous, non-porous, and semi-porous materials depending on what inks a certain model is compatible with 
  • All laser technologies are compatible with multiple materials
  • Compatibility hinges on proper ink selection
  • Sample prints are required 70% of the time
  • Material compatibility varies based on printer model
  • Struggles with glass and waxy materials. 
  • Ink cannot withstand other chemicals or water/condensation
  • Does not offer the same substrate versatility as CIJ
  • Print samples are required whenever printing on new materials

Ease of Installation

CIJ printers, TIJ printers, and laser systems significantly differ when it comes to installation difficulty.

TIJ printers are by far the easiest of the options to install and use—they often come with easy-to-assemble mounting brackets and basic instructions on how to install the printer on a production line. As long as instructions are followed, a TIJ printer should be able to be installed and used without expert help.

Compared to TIJ models, CIJ printers are more complex to install and operate. The majority of CIJ coding and marking printer setup steps need to be completed by a trained technician. Unlike TIJ printers, CIJ printers carry  risk of user error, especially at the installation stage. Fortunately, CIJ installation only takes around an hour to complete and offers a high level of application flexibility once installed.

Laser systems must also be installed by a trained technician, not only to ensure proper operation but also to guarantee the safety of the facility’s workers. During operation, laser systems release potentially harmful fumes into the environment. Laser beams themselves are dangerous as well, as they can burn skin upon contact.

To comply with safety regulations, any laser-equipped facility must have:

  1. Fume extractors installed on the line to prevent harmful materials from entering the air.
  2. Beam shields installed to protect workers from injury.

Following installation, laser system use becomes much easier thanks to built-in software guides and programs that show workers how to use the system.

  CIJ Printer TIJ Printer Laser System
  • Installation can be completed in an hour.
  • Printhead offers massive application flexibility.
  • Installation is simple and does not require an onhand expert.
  • Easy to use in general
  • Built-in software guide can help non-technicians make small adjustments.
  • Installation requires a trained technician to complete.
  • Significant potential of user error
  • No printhead flexibility. The whole unit must be moved to change print location.
  • Installation requires a trained technician to complete.
  • Protective shielding must be installed on your production line.

Maintenance Requirements and Ongoing Expenses

Inkjet printer maintenance largely follows the same pattern as inkjet installation. TIJ printers are easy to maintain, while CIJ printers require a higher level of expertise.

TIJ printers are frequently called “maintenance-free machines” because they never require printhead cleanings or other daily maintenance. TIJ printheads are built directly into the ink cartridge. Once the ink cartridge is replaced, the printhead can also be replaced to prevent issues related to ink buildup.

CIJ printers require more attention but are still relatively simple machines. To maintain proper performance, you must perform basic printhead cleanings, periodically change filters, and schedule annual maintenance from a trained professional.

Like TIJ printers, laser systems have few maintenance requirements. As long as you are cleaning the basic components of your system, you should not need professional help. You will need to replace the system’s tubes and filters on an ongoing basis, however. These expenses are much smaller than the ink refills required by CIJ and TIJ printers.

CIJ Printer TIJ Printer Laser System
  • With proper maintenance, a CIJ printer can operate uninterrupted for up to 24 hours a day.
  • Minimal or no maintenance is required thanks to the cartridge printhead design.
  • Requires no regular maintenance as long as there are no product changes
  • No fluid needed
  • Printhead must be cleaned daily.
  • Proper startups and shutdowns are required.
  • Filters must be changed yearly at a minimum.
  • Ink cartridges are more expensive than CIJ cartridges.
  • Product changes require realignment, which can lead to downtime.
  • Minimum yearly PM.
  • Heat bulbs will need replacing based on the laser model.

Integration Possibilities

Larger operations running 24/7 will want  the printer integration with their PLC and further integration into information systems at their production lines—they’ll want to integrate their printers into their information systems.

Laser systems have the most integration possibilities and can communicate with UDP, TCP/IP, Serial/RS232, and remote internet systems. Innovative TIJ systems such as the Anser A1 have advanced I/O capabilities designed for quick data integration with ERP systems such as SAP. TIJ and CIJ printers have fewer capabilities but can be integrated into PLC systems.

  CIJ Printer TIJ Printer Laser System
  • Most systems offer high-level integration with PLC systems.
  • Advanced systems can be integrated into PLC and SAP systems.
  • Offers powerful integration options with UDP, TCP/IP, Serial/RS232, and internet remote connections
  • Advanced integration setups can be expensive and increase the potential for miscommunications.
  • Most units have limited integration possibilities.
  • N/A

Have More Questions about Laser or Inkjet Coding and Marking Systems? InkJet, Inc. Has Answers

No matter what industry you are in or which packaging materials you use, InkJet, Inc. can help you find the best marking solution to meet your unique needs. From diverse laser models to industrial-strength CIJ systems, InkJet, Inc. carries a wide range of marking solutions for every application. Contact us today to learn which option is right for you.

For more information about laser/inkjet coding and marking, contact InkJet, Inc. online or call 1(800) 280-3245.