May 19, 2022 

FAQs on Substrate Versatility for Inkjet Printing

Substrate versatility for inkjet printing.

Inkjet printers have been popular throughout the industrial packaging field for more than 50 years. Continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers, which first hit the market in the 1950s, are prized for their high marking speeds and ability to print on curved surfaces. In the 1980s, thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers emerged as another inkjet printing option. Compact, yet capable of creating DPI-rich images and codes, TIJ printers are valued for being lightweight, highly mobile, and cost-effective.

Although continuous inkjet and thermal inkjet printers are widely popular, they aren’t ideal for every coding/marking application. As is the case with any marking hardware, users need to consider several factors before deciding upon a specific machine, including:

Material compatibility is also one of the most important considerations, as it is an indispensable quality when marking product packaging, whether using CIJ or drop-on-demand (DOD) inkjet printers, laser date coders, case coders, or any other type of marking hardware. No marking solution is compatible with every single packaging form, so it’s essential to do the necessary research to guarantee coding success.

In this article, we explore the substrate versatility of inkjet printers by answering the following FAQs: 

Which Substrates Are Inkjet Printers Compatible With?

Continuous inkjet printers can print on a wide range of porous and non-porous materials, which is one reason why they’ve continued to remain popular in the coding and marking industry.

Each continuous inkjet printer contains a slot for two fluids: ink and makeup. Unlike some other printer types, CIJ printers can use a variety of solvent-based fluids in these slots; as a result, they can print on a diverse range of materials. Moreover, users can print on multiple materials using the same printer as long as they flush the printer or swap cores before switching ink cartridges. 

Conversely, thermal inkjet printers in general are more limited when it comes to application and substrate versatility. Most TIJ printer models are designed to use only one of two ink types:

  1. Water-based ink, ideal for printing on porous materials
  2. Solvent-based inks, ideal for printing on non-porous materials

As a result, TIJ users must perform diligent research to ensure they purchase the ideal printer model to fit their product packaging. On the other hand, CIJ users not only have access to water- and solvent-based ink formulas, but they can also use several specialty formulas as well, including:

  • Bio-based inks.
  • LED-curable inks.
  • UV-curable inks.
  • Thermochromic inks.
  • High-temperature-resistant inks.
  • Alcohol-resistant inks.

For quick reference, see the table below for a breakdown of popular porous and non-porous materials:

Popular Porous PackagingPopular Non-Porous Packaging
Cardboard Metal
Unvarnished woodVarnished wood
RubberTetra Pak-style materials

Do Any Factors Limit the Substrate Versatility of Inkjet Printers?

As we explained above, many thermal inkjet printers are exclusively compatible with either porous or non-porous materials. Naturally, this places great limits on which materials certain TIJ models can mark. Moreover, TIJ printers are only capable of throwing ink over a short distance, which inhibits their ability to mark curved surfaces such as bottles and jars. 

Due to the thermal inkjet principle (i.e. how TIJ printers heat ink in order to build pressure and mark a surface), TIJ printers offer a maximum print distance of around 5 mm*. This short ink throw distance prevents most TIJ printers from being able to mark surfaces that have anything more than a minor curve. 

CIJ printers do not have this issue due to their formidable throwing distance—up to 50 mm for some models. Whereas TIJ printers use heat to pressurize ink, CIJ printers use internal pumps to create an uninterrupted cycle of ink that runs in a loop from the ink source to the printhead and back. This higher level of pressure increases throwing distance significantly, enabling CIJ printers to mark curved surfaces such as:

  • Bottles. 
  • Jars.
  • Wires.
  • Cables.
  • Pipes.

Which Type of Inkjet Printer Will Work Best for My Packaging Line?

The substrate versatility for inkjet printing is shaped significantly by whether a CIJ or TIJ printer is used. However, there are also many instances where both CIJ and TIJ models are valid choices for a given application. For instance, either a continuous or thermal inkjet printer can be used to code the following packaging types:

  • Plastic bottle lids.
  • Aircraft components.
  • The tops and bottoms of metal cans.
  • Cardboard cartons.
  • Wood pieces.

So, how do you decide between a CIJ or TIJ printer for these applications? The answer is to look at the major operational differences between these two printer types. In the table below, we break down some of the most important CIJ and TIJ specifications to help illustrate which of these printer options will work best for potential users:

Continuous Inkjet PrintersThermal Inkjet Printers
Standard Upfront Cost$8,000-$20,000$750-$5,000
Maintenance NeedsAnnual professional maintenance, regular filter changes, and nozzle cleaning requiredMinimal care required aside from occasional nozzle cleaning
Max Printing Speed 300 m/min-1,000 m/min.120 m/min.-300 m/min.
General Size and Weight50-90 lbs.5 lbs.

* Based solely on a 2.5 HP cartridge.

Want to learn more about the substrate versatility for inkjet printing and other coding/marking subjects? Stay connected to C&M Digest by subscribing to our newsletter. With information on hardware, formulas, and other important marking topics, our newsletter will keep you updated on the latest industry developments. To get in touch with us about possible collaborations or ideas for coverage, contact us today.

C&M Digest Team

The C&M Digest Team is composed of experts from across the coding and marking world. Comprised of ink developers, hardware veterans, and engineers, our News Team delivers informed coverage that is always free from brand bias.

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