Industrial-level coding is a necessary process for countless manufacturing and packaging operations around the world. Dairy producers, for example, are frequently required by state regulators to mark their products with traceable lot codes, expiration dates, barcodes, and more. Other industries, such as chemical production, pharmaceutical development, and beverage packaging, face similar requirements from either federal legislators or supply chain partners.
To comply with these marking demands, companies need reliable coding equipment that can keep up with their output volume and accommodate potentially challenging workplace conditions. Today, two of the most popular choices that meet these conditions are continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers and thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers.
Below, we take a look at the CIJ printer vs. TIJ printer dynamic, profile their differences, and illustrate where they work best to help manufacturers determine which option will better suit their operations.
Although the names and acronyms of these two printer types are very similar, there are many differences in their hardware, operations, and price points.
Based on hardware differences alone, it’s easy to differentiate a CIJ printer from a TIJ printer. For one, there is a substantial size difference between these two types of printers. CIJ printers like the Videojet 1880 stand around a foot and a half tall, weigh around 50 pounds, and have large external printheads that are connected with umbilicals. TIJ printers, on the other hand, may only be a few inches tall, weigh around five to seven pounds, and utilize printheads that are built directly into the ink cartridges.
Another major difference between CIJ and TIJ printers is the ink cartridges. Within every CIJ printer is space for two chipped cartridges—one filled with ink, and the other filled with solvent/make-up. These cartridges generally contain approximately a liter of fluid, and they blend within a reservoir to create a consistent printable mixture. Conversely, TIJ printers use small disposable cartridges with built-in printheads.
With these hardware differences in mind, let’s take a look at how they influence the CIJ and TIJ printing processes.
Although CIJ and TIJ printers both use liquid ink to mark substrates, they propel this ink through very different means.
CIJ printers code products by creating a pressurized stream of ink that circulates from the printer’s main reservoir, towards the machine’s printhead, and back to the reservoir. When the stream reaches the printhead, piezoelectric elements turn part of the stream into individual ink droplets that are then propelled toward the substrate’s surface. The remaining ink is rerouted back to the reservoir where it is immediately used to continue the printing process uninterruptedly. This circulation principle allows CIJ printers to mark materials at industrial speeds of 300 m/min and above.
In contrast with CIJ printers, TIJ printers don’t use pressurizing pumps or piezoelectric elements to create product codes. Instead, they use heating elements to create an air bubble within the ink cartridge. As the bubble expands, it propels the ink out of the cartridge’s nozzle and onto the substrate. After the ink droplets are launched, the bubble collapses, creating a vacuum effect that allows the process to repeat itself.
Other different operational principles that make TIJ and CIJ printers ideal for distinct purposes include the following:
When accounting for upfront costs, consumable expenses, and maintenance needs, CIJ printers and TIJ printers carry very different cost structures.
For example, CIJ printers require higher upfront investments than TIJ printers. However, the cost of CIJ ink cartridges is significantly lower than TIJ cartridges, so if a company is regularly marking industrial-sized product quantities, a CIJ printer will quickly provide overall cost savings.
Another important cost consideration is maintenance. CIJ printers require regularly scheduled maintenance plans to ensure ongoing marking success. During a maintenance visit, an expert will evaluate the system, change filters, clear out any ink build-up, and perform other actions that guarantee extended uptime. TIJ printers don't require regular maintenance, as they don’t use filters, and they experience a printhead change with every new cartridge.
With all of these different elements in play, it’s important to consult with an expert to determine whether a CIJ or TIJ printer will end up being a better choice in the long run.
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