Key Concerns When Inkjet Printing on Transparent Plastic

Of all product packaging materials available on the market today, few options are more versatile than plastic. Used to create bottles, boxes, pouches, films, and more, plastic is in popular demand around the world and across industries. Available in rigid and flexible varieties, plastic packaging’s various forms can be found everywhere, as they commonly house:

Although plastic has a high number of packaging uses, it isn’t always an easy material to print on. This can prove problematic for companies that are required to mark their products with traceable codes and important product data (e.g., expiration dates.) to comply with government regulations and distributor policies. 

As is the case when printing on any material, one must make sure that they’re using the right printer/ink combination when marking plastic. For most industrial plastic coding applications, experts suggest using inkjet printers due to their speed, reliability, and diverse ink compatibility.

With the right hardware/formula combination, users can accommodate plastic’s unique surface properties to create long-lasting, highly-readable markings. 

However, if one is inkjet printing on transparent plastic materials, there are a few additional elements that must be accounted for. Here’s what you need to know.

Use the Right Marking Technology for Your Production Needs

A natural place to begin this conversation is with printing technology itself. When starting out with direct product marking, it’s essential to use hardware that is:

  1. Compatible with the substrate
  2. Able to fit into your production processes
  3. Efficient enough to help you meet production quotas

For decades, continuous inkjet printers (CIJ) have been considered the go-to option for industrial plastic printing. Not only are these printers able to use plastic-compatible ink formulas but their internal ink circulation mechanics also allow them to perform high-speed coding for up to 24 hours a day. Consequently, they are commonly found in manufacturing and packaging facilities around the world. 

While CIJ printers are well-suited for plastic printing, not every company requires industrial-speed coding machinery to complete their plastic printing applications. In these cases, thermal inkjet printers are the more cost-effective and appropriate option. Lightweight, highly mobile, and capable of creating DPI-rich barcodes and text, TIJ printers like the Anser U2 Pro-S are ideal for both smaller-scale operations and large-scale companies that need a portable printing option.

Beyond inkjet printers, two additional marking options include:

Consider the Opacity of Your Code Needs

This is one of the most important elements to consider when printing on any transparent substrate. When printing on transparent materials, codes will naturally have lower readability due to a reduced contrast between the material surface and the marking itself. 

To compensate for this effect, many experts suggest using colored inks. Pigmented formulas, for example, can increase readability significantly and aid machine-scannability in the case of barcodes. Of course, one should always test code scannability with a machine scanner to ensure that the code works as intended.

Outfit Your Production With a Retro-Reflective Photo Eye

Along with reduced code contrast, one of the biggest issues related to inkjet printing on transparent plastic relates to potential production line problems. 

In many production line setups, operators utilize photoelectric sensors to trigger printers into marking approaching materials. Termed “photo eyes” for short, photoelectric sensors detect materials by emitting light towards a receiver. Once this light beam is disrupted, the sensor triggers the printer to create a specified code. 

Generally, opaque materials easily interrupt these light beams, leading to consistent coding quality. Conversely, transparent materials are less adept at breaking light, leading to less consistent coding results when used with certain photo eye systems. 

To avoid coding mistakes, it’s important to use a photo eye system that can overcome the challenges posed by transparent materials. More often than not, experts suggest using retro-reflective photo eyes to accomplish this. 

As opposed to a standard through-beam photo eye—which simply emits light to a receiver—a retro-reflective photo eye sends light to a retroreflector. The retroreflector then sends the beam back to the emitter where another element is ready to receive the beam. This system can more effectively pick up the presence of transparent materials and boost printing success. 

Ready To Begin Inkjet Printing on Transparent Plastic? InkJet, Inc. Can Set You Up for Marking Success

Whether you’re using transparent plastic to wrap your pallets or bottle your drinks, InkJet, Inc. can help you achieve coding success. 

Since 1989, we have been supplying companies of all industries with quality printing solutions. From industrial-speed CIJ printer systems to highly mobile TIJ models, we carry printing hardware fit for industrial production lines, small-scale setups, and everything in between. Our ink diverse ink catalog also runs the gamut from cost-effective aftermarket formulas to custom-made specialty inks, ensuring that no matter what type of plastic you use, we have an ink made for it.

To learn more about how we can help you with inkjet printing on transparent plastic, contact us online today or call 1(800) 280-3245