Inkjets: How Do I Choose the Right Inkjet Printer?
That’s the million dollar question! (Don’t worry. It won’t cost that much.) We’ve already outlined how you might benefit from the addition of an inkjet printer, and how to justify the cost of another piece of equipment, in a previous post. Now you have to match your workload and job requirements to the right machine configuration.
What’s the best inkjet machine solution?
That depends. Here are a few criteria used to get that answer:
Image quality – higher resolution means higher priced heads (or more passes).
- Throughput – there are “multi-pass” versus “single-pass” options (more on that later).
- Part size – limitations on height / width = machine size.
- Image size = part size = machine size.
- Substrate used – Regardless of the print technology, some substrates (PP & PE come to mind) still require pre-treatment for best image adhesion.
- Number of colors required – dark substrates will need White base-coat layer, plus CMYK
What’s the best inkjet technology for me?
Do you need high volume / throughput with minimal part handling? Consider an automated conveyor, single-pass inkjet printer. You’ll typically get:
- Up to 14″ per second of print speed
- A print width that will be a minimum of 2.75″ and can be wider on a custom configuration.
- Print resolutions up to 720 dpi in a single pass.
This is a great configuration for in-line applications, especially when pre-treatment is required. In many applications, you might require tooling of some sort to make sure parts are spaced and aligned consistently. Some units will incorporate a series of sensors to detect the part, and software that tells the heads when the part is in position for printing. We’ll help you with those.
Do you need higher resolution (up to 1200 dpi) but less speed? Perhaps a flatbed printer is your best option. These units offer:
- An advantage for smaller / identical parts that can be placed in machined trays or nests.
- A vacuum platen so you can print flat “stock.”
- A series of print heads (arrays) on a rack that moves across the bed, printing and curing as it goes, giving you the capability of printing in a single direction, or printing in both directions, depending on your needs. It’s not as fast, but print resolution may be a higher priority.
With either of the above technologies, you will have the capability of adjusting print speeds, ink density / droplet size, head heights, and color hues. Speaking of colors, if you are printing process color on a dark substrate, you will need to print a white base layer first, but both technologies can accommodate that. In addition, it’s possible to print a clear-coat to protect the image or provide a more glossy appearance, but you’ll probably have to sacrifice one of the white arrays.
Do you only print in one color? Obviously, it’s possible to print monochrome or spot colors with inkjet, but keep in mind that it’s not practical to change or flush colors in the same array. With most high end industrial inkjets, ink is fed from bulk tanks, not cartridges (helps to keep the consumable costs down).
Therefore, if you are thinking of printing with one color only, monochrome machines are available, but you need to be very sure that you will only require that one color. Custom machines have been built with white and black arrays, so the customer can print either (and even mix both to get a gray hue).
Does your customer ask to make changes on press or repeat exact specs? Inkjet will usually provide the capability to manipulate the images at the machine, with the assistance of on-board graphic art software such as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW. Some machines are capable of storing jobs (or job “queues”) so operators can simply select from a drop-down box. Custom machines are network-capable, so jobs can be entered remotely, and many in-line / automated units can be accessed remotely for both job entry and diagnostic capabilities.
Now you know a lot more about inkjets than the average pad printer. Don’t forget: at PPMoVT we build your inkjet the same way we build your pad printer — from the ground up to your specifications. That makes it clean, efficient and engineered for accuracy and cost effectiveness.
Call our toll-free number 800-272-7764 or go on-line at Ink Adhesion Part 3: Ink Mixing, Contamination, Blooming and Mold Release Agents and click on Live Chat. We’ll start you down a two-lane inkjet/pad printer highway to greater success.