Since the mid-20th century, continuous inkjet (CIJ) printing has been one of the most prominent marking technologies in the packaging industry. Commonly found in beverage bottling lines, dairy plants, and chemical packaging facilities, continuous inkjet printers are considered a go-to marking solution for industrial processes—and for good reason.
Today’s CIJ printers are valued for their fast printing speeds, 24/7 continuous operation, diverse ink options, and compatibility with a variety of porous and nonporous materials; however, despite all of these advantages, CIJ printers also have certain drawbacks.
Depending on factors like code requirements, facility setup, and budget, CIJ printing may not be the ideal solution for a company’s marking needs. For instance, many CIJ printers aren’t capable of high-resolution printing, greatly limiting their ability to create machine-scannable markings like barcodes and data matrices. Additionally, common CIJ maintenance requirements like filter changes, fluid consumption, and evaporation that can add up to larger ongoing costs compared to solutions like laser marking systems, which carry little or no consumable expenses.
If you need help deciding whether this marking technology is right for you, look below for an evaluation of the most prominent continuous inkjet printer advantages and disadvantages.
Continuous inkjet printers have been featured on countless production lines around the world since the late 1960s. CIJ printers are a non-contact printing technology primarily valued for their ability to print at high speeds without interruption for prolonged periods. This ability stems from the CIJ circulation principle—i.e. the unique way that CIJ printers pressurize and internally circulate ink.
The circulation principle begins in the CIJ’s reservoir, where ink and solvent combine to create a printable fluid mixture. In the reservoir, a pump pressurizes the mixture and feeds it toward the system’s printhead. There, a piezo element separates the steam into individual droplets so that they can be discharged from the printer’s nozzle to create the desired code. As the printer propels the ink droplets, the remaining ink is redirected back to the reservoir to repeat the process.
Thanks to this operating mechanic, CIJ printers offer users:
These qualities make CIJ printers ideal for marking industrial product quantities with required codes and text. Other CIJ qualities that contribute to high-efficiency levels include:
The continuous inkjet operating principle enables CIJ printers to excel at a wide range of industrial coding tasks, from cable/wire printing to pharmaceutical packaging. However, they do have their share of disadvantages as well.
As mentioned above, CIJ printers choose high speeds over high resolutions. This largely restricts their applications to text codes and basic images, leaving machine-readable codes to other coding technologies like thermal and piezoelectric DOD printers.
Upfront costs can be a disadvantage as well, as today’s CIJ printers range from around $8,000 on the low end to around $20,000 for a top-tier name brand machine. If you don’t know your CIJ hardware well, you could pay much more than is necessary for your operation. Comparatively, many thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers are available for around $3,000, although these models won’t offer the speed and versatility of a CIJ.
Similarly, CIJ printers by nature have several ongoing expenses that other industrial coding alternatives like laser coding systems may not. Examples include:
However, this isn’t to say that a CIJ system is a more expensive option than a laser system. After all, laser systems cost significantly more upfront than CIJ printers do. Even when eliminating the need for printing consumables, there’s a good chance that a laser system won’t end up providing cost savings, especially when considering the facility adjustments that often need to be made to accommodate a laser system.
Simply put, continuous inkjet printers are still a staple of production lines because they excel at their intended applications. Their high printing speeds and ability to operate uninterrupted for 24 hours a day make them ideal for a wide variety of packaging operations. However, the CIJ operating principle also prohibits CIJ printers from creating things like large images and high-resolution markings. Accordingly, it’s important to understand your own coding needs before narrowing your printer search to CIJ models.
It’s also important to do a thorough cost analysis before investing in a specific printer type. Things like upfront costs, consumable expenses, and maintenance needs can greatly impact whether a TIJ, CIJ, or laser system is the best fit for a coding line. If you’re unsure about any of these factors, we highly recommend speaking with an expert before buying anything.
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