Ink Management: When is Too Much Ink Too Much?

We’ve said it before a million times, but it bears repeating: investing in digital inkjet product-decorating technology is a complex process, with many factors to consider. (You may wish to read our white paper on the subject, Direct-to-Object Digital Decoration: Practical Considerations, for an overview on the topic.) Factors such as substrate chemistry, ink chemistry, pretreatment options (see our white paper about Pretreatment Options), prepress concerns, and throughput speeds all contribute to the ROI calculation when considering making the investment in industrial inkjet product-decoration.

Given the potential pitfalls in making the conversion to digital product-decoration, it is essential to work with a company that knows about each aspect of converting to digital. In this post, we will focus on just one aspect of the calculus: ink management. Careful attention to ink management can produce significant savings, both in direct ink costs and also in increased throughput.

What is ink management? Simply put, it is the calibration of the amount of ink needed to produce a color. Specifically, the machine operator “linearizes” the color by successively adding ink up to the percentage value where adding more ink produces no gain in chroma, or purity or “colorfulness” of the color. Adding more ink will merely introduce adhesion issues or will produce muddy browns in neutral areas of the image to be printed.

The image above shows the linearization process of cyan ink. In this case, the cyan tops out at 92%. Adding more cyan ink would only add cost and decrease the quality of the image. It might also slow your line down.

It should be noted that, in industrial inkjet as in life, everything depends on everything else. With substrates with low surface tension, cyan and black have chroma top-outs of 90%. In addition, UV-cured inks top out at much lower percentages than do aqueous inks, due to their much higher pigment load.

The moral of the story? If you are thinking of making the conversion to digital, work with a company that has the bandwidth to deal with more than the actual process of throwing ink at an object. Look for a company like Engineered Printing Solutions, with expertise in parts-handling, substrate pretreatment, ink chemistry, and graphic design as well as mechanical and software engineering.

Want to learn more about making the transition to industrial inkjet product-decoration? We’ve got a free download called Investing in Digital Printing: Five Factors to Evaluate that provides a good overview of the issues to consider when making the change. Feel free to share it with your colleagues. If you would like an immediate answer to your questions, please fill out the form below.

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