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Thermal Inkjets vs Continuous Inkjet. Which is best for your business needs?

CIJ Printing on glass

There are multiple factors to take into account regarding industrial printing, from the substrate to the actual production environment and cost of ownership. With multiple variables in production lines and business objectives, it can be difficult to decide which type of printer is ultimately best for your requirements. In this article, we're looking at thermal inkjets (TIJ) and continuous inkjet printers (CIJ) - both of which have their own benefits - helping you determine which option would be the most suitable choice depending on the needs of your business. 

Whilst on the surface they both use inkjet technology, the applications can have significant differences. As a whole, advancements in inkjet technology has resulted in an increasing number of businesses now exploring inkjet technology as a viable coding and marking solution.


TIJ vs CIJ printers: Overview

Commercial printing operations have a number of key factors that influence decisions around the type of printing technology utilised, including speed, cost and what type of output is needed. TIJ printers are relatively low cost on the front end and offer fast printing speeds, but with more limited features. They are smaller, which comes with its advantages, though they suffer in terms of high volume/speed production lines and certain substrates. 


How do they work?



Thermal inkjet utilises a drop ejection system, also referred to as ‘drop on demand’. Ink is stored in a disposable cartridge that delivers the necessary ink pressure for the printer. Ink is electrically heated within the firing chamber and a 0.1 micrometer film of ink is heated to 340 degrees centrigrade, forming  a bubble that expands and propels the ink onto the printing surface. As the bubble collapses, the firing chamber is filled and the process repeats.



Continuous inkjet technology works through electrically charging the ink, rather than using heat as in the case of TIJ. A jet of ink is broken up inside the chamber through the use of a piezoelectric crystal. There’s a continuous flow of charged ink droplets leaving the nozzle. These droplets pass through an electrostatic field created by deflector plates, which govern the placement of the droplet on the substrate. 



Cost comparison

As per above, in terms of costs associated purely with the acquisition of the machinery, thermal printers will appear to be the more cost effective option. The initial cost of the machinery will clearly be a significant consideration, especially on large production lines. However, as discussed in previous articles, businesses should be taking the total cost of ownership (TCO) into account when deciding on their printing technology. 

Whilst thermal printers are versatile due to their smaller physical size and low acquisition cost, they use smaller disposable ink cartridges and the expensive consumables result in higher output costs, increasing the TCO of thermal inkjet printers.

CIJ printers represent a higher initial cost of investment, though become far more competitive in terms of TCO and future proofing for businesses. Whilst they are more complex machines and therefore come with their own maintenance considerations, they also have their own advanced systems to automate these processes. CIJ printers use fast drying solvent based ink, providing fast drying ink on almost any surface. The larger (0.5 litre containers) alongside higher print rates mean that they represent significant efficiencies in larger production lines, allowing businesses to take advantage of economies of scale.


Print quality and speed

Industrial inkjet printers offer many advantages for businesses, most notably in terms of printing quality and speed. Inkjet printers have a higher resolution capability than other types of printers, which means that prints are sharper and more detailed with better colour accuracy.

However, there are specific differences when considering thermal inkjet vs continuous inkjet technologies. As noted, when discussing production line speeds, CIJ outperforms TIJ. Thermal inkjet is capable of printing on products moving at speeds of up to 1.5m/s, whereas CIJ can print on products at speeds in excess of 9m/s. As such, combined with the higher initial costs, this tends to make continuous inkjet more applicable to industrial production lines.

In addition, whilst thermal printers may be more portable than CIJ, they have a smaller throw distance and therefore need a high level of accuracy during setup which can somewhat negate their smaller size and portability in terms of adaptability to different lines. 

Both printers offer high levels of print quality. TIJ provides high resolution letter quality print on flat surfaces, mainly onto porous and non-porous surfaces. In fact, the technology is not dissimilar to home office printers. On the other hand, CIJ can print onto almost any surface and material. CIJ provides human readable and machine readable dot matrix printing, designed for industrial printing applications. It also outperforms in certain processes due to its ability to print at multiple angles, including upwards which is something that TIJ cannot offer. As an example is unable to print on glass so would not be applicable if a business required high speed printing on to the bottom of glass bottles.

Selecting an industrial inkjet printer for your business needs

Industrial inkjet printers offer reliable and cost-effective solutions. They provide a high image quality and versatility alongside a number of additional features such as waterfastness, full colour choice and fast printing speeds. 

Whether thermal inkjet technology or continuous inkjet technology is suitable for your production lines, as seen above, depends on multiple factors. If you were to remove these factors, CIJ is the superior technology and whilst it does offer its own complexities it offers many advantages, especially to industrial production lines. 

At Linx we work with our clients to help them determine which technology is most suitable for their environment, taking into consideration factors such as budget, product and setup. We also offer free site surveys which allow us to review the production environment and recommend the best solutions, specific to requirements. Get in touch today to book a free site survey or to speak to one of our experts.