Ink vs Laser Print Technologies for Packaging: Which is Best for Your Business?
If you are looking to code and mark on primary, secondary or tertiary packaging, you want to make sure that the quality of your coding is of the highest standard, equipment used is providing you with the most efficient output and the technology used is cost effective and suitable.
The two main technologies used for printing on packaging are continuous inkjet and laser, both of which have their own unique advantages and applications.
Most packaging printing machines enable you to code virtually anywhere on your box or carton, in any orientation and easily code onto card, paper and a wide range of other substrates. These specific printers are ideal solutions for durable and high-quality coding and marking without the need to use expensive labels or pre-printed packaging.
Here is a handy review of the two technologies that will help you choose the right one for your packaging printing needs.
Continuous inkjet (CIJ) printing
Continuous inkjet coders are perfectly suited for printing a wide range of information onto products and packaging on production lines. They are designed for automatic printing of batch codes, dates, barcodes, number sequences, general text, and even brand & product names.
Manufacturers and packing operations often use them for reliable traceability and in specific industries, compliance with legislative requirements.
Laser coding technology
Laser marking machines and coding systems are ideal for high print volumes - such as food, beverage and pharmaceutical products. They also provide permanent traceability, making them ideal for laser part marking in automotive and aviation manufacturing.
Laser coders offer any-orientation coding alongside full touch-screen control, low running costs with minimal maintenance. They also have zero consumables - providing an affordable and effective solution compared to other marking technologies.
Printing on packaging – best solutions
Continuous Inkjet (CIJ)
Perhaps the most cost-effective choice, CIJ maintains an important place in the market as it can print on almost any substrate. A wide range of inks is available to use with CIJ printers, including inks of different colours to ensure legibility on any colour substrate, and food grade inks for applications where the code may come into contact with the product itself – for example in confectionery packs.
From cardboard and plastic, to paper, metal and glass, CIJ can print from one to multiple lines of text and simple graphics at high speeds of over 2600 characters per second. Further versatility is given by the compact printhead that can be situated above, beside or beneath a production line – even traversing from side to side across the line if necessary.
Although traditionally used for primary coding, some of the latest CIJ printers now include a carton coding feature, meaning they can produce more codes of a greater height. This enables a single model to print variable data for both primary and secondary packs, making it an extremely versatile choice, particularly lighter, portable models that can be quickly moved from line to line.
Benefits of Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) printing
- Durable, high-quality multi-line coding
- Wide range of inks to keep your codes in place on nearly any substrate
- Can withstand harsh production environments
- Range of inks for specialist marking, e.g. food grade, invisible/UV coding
- Optional IP protection for harsh environments
- Ideal for primary packaging coding
Laser marking provides a permanent, high-quality code, and is suitable for a wide range of substrates at any line speed. There is no ink involved in the printing process and therefore no drying time or risk of smudging. This can be important where coded packs are in contact with other products soon after coding. While not as flexible as other technologies – and therefore traditionally less prevalent in contract packing – lasers may be suitable for semi-permanent or permanent production lines. With its optimal quality and unrivalled permanency, it should be considered for premium products with high aesthetic standards that may be susceptible to counterfeiting.
Benefits of laser marking
- Indelible codes: Codes are etched into the surface which prevents unauthorised removal and aids anti-counterfeiting
- High quality codes: Scribing laser systems deliver quality codes which can match product branding, for discreet coding
- Clean codes: No additional materials required, just extraction of by-products generated during the laser marking process
- Low maintenance: Only a visual inspection every month; long service intervals compared to other coding technologies
- Low running costs: No consumables cost
- High reliability: With coding a legal requirement in most industries, equipment reliability is key. With minimal consumables and efficient use of laser power, laser marking systems are among the most reliable coding and marking devices on the market
- Non-contact: Enables high-speed printing as there is no physical contact with the surface to be printed
- Programmability: Enables variable information to be printed
- Complex codes: Barcodes and 2D codes containing a large amount of information can be generated
Inkjet vs laser – which is best for packaging
In principle, both technologies are suitable for printing on packaging. Here is a summary of things to consider:
- What is your substrate? Would a laser be suitable to code onto the material you use?
- Do you operate in a controlled or difficult environment such as dusty or wet?
- How important is permanency and anti-counterfeiting for your business?
- Are there any implications to using chemicals in your production environment, i.e. no flammables, no chemicals policy?
- Are there any requirements on codes applied, e.g. vector fonts or dot matrix?
- Finally, are there any budgetary restrictions you need to consider?
Both laser and CIJ have their strengths and weaknesses when in a direct comparison. The importance is to pick the best technology for your individual circumstance.
Secondary packaging printers – Large Character Marking (LCM)
When considering the best option for printing on outer packaging, you need to consider the overall cost of technology and application. If you are using labels, you need to consider other, often hidden, costs associated with this solution: recycling of backing paper, storage costs, waste generated with product information changeovers and even cost of labour to process and apply labels.
Alternative to labels and print & apply systems are Large Character Marking (LCM) industrial printers and case coders that offer a cost-effective alternative to labels and pre-printed boxes and are ideal for secondary packaging coding and marking.
Main benefits of LCM printers and box coders:
- Ability to print text, logos and graphics onto porous substrates such as paper, card and wood
- Reduce the cost of labels, waste and disposal of backing paper as well as storage space needed
- Using inkjet technology (IJ) for high-resolution, quality coding
- Ideal for secondary packaging printing
Choosing the right technology for coding and marking onto your packaging often determines the efficiency and success of your production output. Whilst both main technologies have their advantages, it is advised to carefully select the ideal solution designed to your specific needs. At Linx, we offer a free site survey where our experts can visit your production facility, review your current setup, calculate your output and costs and advise the best solution for you. They can also collect your substrates in order to offer you a free sample printing so you can see how coding and marking will appear on your product. For more information, please contact us here.