Compact, mobile, and powerful enough to create clear, machine-readable barcodes, thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers are commonly used to place essential codes on product packaging and material surfaces. More affordable than other industrial printing machines, TIJ printers can handle the printing needs of most small and medium-size businesses while still being versatile and powerful enough for integration into larger packaging lines. As opposed to continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers, which can weigh close to 100 pounds, TIJ printers generally weigh two to five pounds and can even accommodate handheld operation. Despite the smaller size, thermal inkjet printers are capable of printing highly legible markings, including barcodes, QR codes, lot codes, and best-by dates on a variety of porous and non-porous substrates.
The versatile and reliable nature of industrial thermal inkjet printers makes them an attractive choice for many industries. If your company has been considering a TIJ printer for its operation, this overview will help you decide if it is the right choice. In this guide, we will explain how TIJ printers work, examine common applications, and demonstrate the unique benefits that TIJ printers provide.
If you have specific questions about how a TIJ printer will work within your enterprise, contact the expert team at InkJet, Inc. We have been working with TIJ technology and developing TIJ-compatible ink for over three decades, and we would be happy to answer any questions.
A Brief Overview of Inkjet Printers
There are two main categories of inkjet printing technology:
- Piezoelectric printing: Uses vibrations and electricity to propel ink onto the substrate.
- Thermal inkjet printing: Propels ink using a series of small chambers and heating elements.
Printers like the DuraCode continuous inkjet (CIJ) printer use the piezoelectric approach to enable high-speed, continuous operation. However, to bring the ink toward the piezo printhead, CIJ printers need to use a system of ink pumps, multiple fluid sources, and pressure regulators. Consequently, CIJ printers are large, stationary machines that generally weigh around 60 to 100 pounds. Thermal inkjet printers are much smaller, weighing only a couple of pounds.
Below, we will take a closer look at the construction layout of a TIJ printer, using the schematic of an Anser U2 Smart as an example. Following this examination, we will delve into the thermal inkjet principle to explain how these different parts enable “drop ejection” printing.
TIJ Construction Layout
The specific part layout of each TIJ printer will vary based on the model. However, all TIJ printers share the same basic elements to facilitate the thermal inkjet technical principle.
The diagram shown above numbers the different parts of an Anser U2 Smart thermal inkjet printer. Corresponding titles and functional descriptions of the parts are provided below:
- Dust Cover: Protects the ink cartridge from the possibility of dust damage, allowing for operation in harsh environments.
- Printhead: Uses the ink supplied in the cartridge to print the text/graphic onto the substrate.
- Built-in Photocell: Senses the presence of an object, triggering the printing function.
- Alarm LED: Lights up if there is an issue with the ink cartridge, if there is no cartridge inserted, or if the cartridge is out of ink.
- Ink Low LED: Lights up when ink is low.
- Print LED: Lights up when the machine is in printing mode.
- Run LED: Lights up when the power is connected.
- Display Screen: Allows the user to access printer options or view printing content. The Anser U2 utilizes an LCD screen for this function, but newer models like the Anser X1 offer touchscreens for more intuitive operation.
- Infrared Receiver: Enables remote operation by receiving an infrared signal emitted from a remote control.
- Infrared Receiver Light: Lights up when the machine is receiving an infrared signal.
- Power Port: Connects the printer to its power supply.
- Ink Cartridge: Contains the ink that is propelled toward the substrate. While most TIJ printers can only use cartridges containing water-based inks (the ideal ink type for porous substrates), certain models like the Anser U2 Pro-S can use water-based and solvent-based inks, allowing them to print on both porous and non-porous materials.
- USB Port: Connects the printer to either a computer or USB drive to receive data or software updates.
- Infrared On-Off Switch: Turns infrared receiver on or off.
- Cartridge Latch: Secures the cartridge in place.
- RS485 Port: Connects the printer to any external devices.
The Thermal Inkjet Principle
While continuous inkjet printers use large refillable bottles as an ink source, thermal inkjet printers use smaller, disposable cartridges instead. TIJ machines propel the cartridge-stored ink toward a substrate through a process called “drop ejection.” Drop ejection is accomplished through the following four steps:
- A Heater Heats the Ink: The ink is sent from the cartridge toward a chamber where electronic resistors heat it at a rate of 1,800,032° F / 1,000,000° C per second.
- Ink Vaporization Generates a Bubble: After the ink has reached a temperature of 644°F / 340°C, the effect of vaporization generates a bubble.
- The Bubble Forces Ink Out of the Nozzle: The ink is propelled from the chamber and out the nozzle as the bubble expands.
- The Bubble Collapses: As the ink droplet breaks away from the nozzle and lands on the substrate, the bubble collapses and creates a vacuum effect. The vacuum pulls more ink into the chamber, repeating the process.
Industrial Thermal Inkjet Printer Benefits and Applications
By utilizing the thermal inkjet principle, TIJ printers offer several benefits that other printers cannot match. TIJ printers offer:
Thermal inkjet printers are simple, modular systems that use removable cartridges as ink supplies. These cartridges are designed to act as both ink reservoirs and printheads. Consequently, when an old cartridge is replaced, it provides the printer with a new printhead. In a piezoelectric system, the printheads are separate from the ink supply and require routine cleanings to maintain top performance.
The effortless printhead replacement enabled by TIJ construction allows the printers to successfully operate for years without maintenance. Further, if there is any damage to the printhead, repair costs are limited to simply replacing the cartridge altogether. When compared to other printing systems, this zero-maintenance operation allows for a much lower total cost of ownership.
High Mobility and Easy Line Integration
The simplicity of the thermal inkjet principle eliminates many traditional inkjet printer components (e.g. pumps, filters, pressure regulators, etc.). As a result, TIJ printers are compact machines that often weigh two to five pounds. For instance, the Anser U2 Pro-S sports dimensions of 114 (L) x 76 (W) x 60 (H) mm.
Clearly Legible Codes
TIJ printers are widely used to place batch numbers, lot codes, and expiration dates on product packaging. These codes help prevent material counterfeiting, aid inventory counts, and enable traceability. Distribution channels often require their presence as a result. Failure to apply the required codes legibly can lead to large fines from retailers, and even place manufacturers in violation of federal and state laws.
Companies avoid these issues by properly marking their products in correspondence with retailer requirements and governmental regulations. TIJ printers accomplish this by applying ink at a high resolution. Anser series printers are capable of printing at a DPI resolution of 600 x 300.
High resolution not only ensures that the codes are legible to human eyes, but it also allows barcodes or QR codes to be successfully scanned by a Barcode/QR Code Reader. Given how essential barcodes are to directing shipments, many companies also utilize TIJ printers to mark their shipping cartons with the appropriate labels.
Versatile, High-Power Application
Today’s TIJ printers can code a wide variety of substrates with industrial strength. When TIJ printers were first introduced to the market in the early 1980s, their applications were limited to only certain substrates such as paper and cardboard. Speed was generally capped to around 30 m/minute.
Now, thermal inkjet technology has evolved to the point where certain models have industrial capabilities. Machines like the Anser U2 Pro-S can use both solvent-based ink and water-based ink, allowing a single printer to print:
- Non-Porous Substrates: including metals, varnished woods, plastics.
- Semi-Porous Substrates: including concrete, plaster, coated paper, waxed surfaces.
- Porous Substrates: including cardboard, paper, untreated woods, sponge.
Operating speed has also evolved. The average TIJ printer can operate at a speed of around 100 m/minute, meeting many of the line needs for small and medium-sized businesses. Additionally, industry-leading models like the Anser X1 are now achieving speeds as high as 300m/min—a printing speed that was previously only possible with a CIJ printer.
The versatile nature and industrial-strength capabilities of TIJ printers have made them useful for a wide range of industries, including:
- Food Packaging
- Beverage Bottling
- Personal Care Product/Cosmetic Packaging
- Chemical Packaging
- Pharmaceutical Packaging
The Anser X1: The Future of Thermal Inkjet Technology
Ever since TIJ printers first entered the market in the 1980s, manufacturers have continuously improved the technology by increasing print speed, the resiliency of printer enclosures, and by delivering higher-DPI codes. Today, the Anser X1 is at the forefront of TIJ technology advancements. Featuring both industry-leading speed and unrivaled protection due to the IP66 enclosure, the Anser X1 also offers the following benefits:
- One Printer for Two Production Lines: The X1 can control two different production lines simultaneously, providing operations with a way to save costs and boost productivity.
- High-Speed Coding: The X1 offers a maximum printing speed of 300m/min—a speed that rivals many flagship printers.
- Large-Image Coding: As a single printhead, the X1 is capable of creating 1-inch codes. As a stitch printhead, the X1 can make 2-inch codes.
- High-Resolution Coding: The X1’s maximum printing resolution is 600 x 600 DPI, a level that alternative TIJ printers simply can’t match.
- IP66 Construction: The X1 is built with an IP66 enclosure, meaning that it offers the greatest possible protection against dust particles and a high degree of water protection, including from powerful jets.
- Wide Operating Temperature Range and High Humidity Resistance: The X1 can successfully operate in temperatures ranging from 0°- 40° Celsius (32°-104° Fahrenheit), as well as relative humidities ranging from 0% - 90% (non-condensing).
- Robust Screen Protection: The X1’s touch panel is built with industrial-grade strength, protecting it against many accidental work site impacts.
The X1 is a tough, high-performance printer that can handle almost anything you can throw at it.
Find an Industrial Thermal Inkjet Printer that Works for You
Thermal inkjet printers are one of today’s most utilized industrial printing options—and for good reason.
- The compact size and lightweight construction of TIJ printers allow them to easily fit into a variety of line setups.
- The thermal inkjet operational principle eliminates the need for regular maintenance, increasing overall uptime and lowering the total cost of ownership.
- Certain TIJ models use both water-based ink and solvent-based ink formulas to print non-porous, semi-porous, and porous substrates.
- Industrial TIJ printers can print at a high enough DPI to reliably create scannable barcodes and QR codes.
As cost-effective, versatile, and powerful machines, TIJ printers are attractive to businesses of different sizes and specializations. However, the market for thermal inkjet printers is large enough that it can make finding the right TIJ model an intimidating task. Countless TIJ printers are available for purchase and each one differs in price, technical specifications, and ink compatibility. Fortunately, the InkJet, Inc. team can help refine your search.
With over thirty years of experience in ink development and printer sales, we have a deep understanding of both TIJ technology and the needs of different industries. We are happy to share this information with each potential customer. Simply give us a call and describe your printing needs, and we can help you find the right model for your operation.