When it comes to high-speed direct product marking, two technologies currently dominate the market: continuous inkjet printers and laser marking systems.
Despite using two very different methods to mark materials (expelling liquid ink vs. releasing concentrated beams of light), CIJ printers and laser marking systems offer many of the same advantages to users. For example, both options are capable of:
These qualities make both CIJ and laser marking systems popular in a wide variety of manufacturing and packaging fields, including food canning, beverage bottling, automotive part production, and chemical packaging. In many of these sectors, the laser marking technology of choice is fiber laser due to its high-resolution marking capabilities and compatibility with popular packaging materials such as metal, PVC, glass, and rigid plastic.
Although CIJ and fiber laser systems can be used for many of the same applications, they expectedly differ in many ways as well. In this CIJ vs. fiber laser comparison, we take a look at the practical differences between these two marking options to help consumers determine which system will work best for their needs:
Material compatibility is a great place to start any marking technology comparison. After all, if a coding solution isn’t able to mark your materials, it will not be very useful.
Broadly speaking, continuous inkjet printing is one of the most versatile marking technologies on the market. CIJ inks are diverse, plentiful, and compatible with porous, semi-porous, and non-porous substrates. With this ink diversity, CIJ printers are able to print on seemingly everything, including materials that require special accommodations such as:
Moreover, CIJ printers use non-contact printhead heads, which allows them to easily handle both curved and flat surfaces.
Fiber laser systems are more limited when it comes to substrate compatibility. Although they are equally adept at printing on curved substrates, they are not well-suited for many porous materials (e.g. paper, paperboard cartons, cardboard, wood, rubber, and textiles). However, fiber lasers are excellent at marking metals and many rigid plastics, which makes them a great choice for canning lines and other industrial packaging applications.
See the chart below for a quick glimpse at how CIJ and fiber lasers differ in material compatibility:
|CIJ-Compatible Materials||Fiber Laser-Compatible Materials|
- Rigid Plastic
- Flexible Material
- Flexible Film/Shrink Wrap
- Rigid Plastic
- Flexible Material
Expenses are another major difference between CIJ and fiber laser systems. Factors like upfront cost, consumable expenses, and maintenance requirements significantly vary between these two options, and all impact the total cost of ownership.
In general, CIJ printers are far more affordable upfront than fiber laser printers. For a mid-market CIJ, customers can expect to pay $8,000 to $10,000. For an industry-leading CIJ, customers can expect to pay $13,000 to $20,000. Comparatively, the upfront costs associated with fiber laser systems tend to be much higher.
Although CIJ printers require a smaller upfront investment, they have larger consumable expenses and maintenance costs than fiber systems. After all, CIJ printers need periodic fluid refills and regular cleanings to operate correctly. These expenses accumulate over time and increase the overall cost of ownership.
The only consumable costs associated with fiber laser systems are regular filter changes and tube replacements after around five years. Basic usage-based maintenance is also required, but is much less intensive than CIJ printers. Given these different factors, it’s important to do a full cost analysis before deciding which coding solution is right for you.
Continuous inkjet printers are relatively easy to install into existing production line setups. They do not require many line accommodations, they do not take up much space, and basic setup instructions are delivered to users via the printers’ computer interface. The most difficult part of CIJ installation is often just moving the system to its spot on the production line.
Fiber lasers, on the other hand, have a number of safety concerns that must be addressed in order to keep workers healthy. For instance, laser systems often release noxious fumes into the air during operation. To protect workers, operators need to outfit their lines with fume extractors to filter out any harmful substances (view the adjacent diagram to see how this process works). Beam shields and sturdy mechanical mounts are also required to ensure that the laser beam safely connects to the substrate.
Before investing in a fiber laser system, make sure that your facility has the space necessary to accommodate these different safety precautions. If you have limited room on your line, CIJ printers are likely a better option for your operation.
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