Albeit a small part of the overall production process, coding and marking is a crucial one, for many reasons. It’s essential in order to meet regulatory requirements, allow for traceability and to display important information to the consumers, such as use by dates.
When looking for a solution – a printer or system – to apply these snippets of data to your product, you ought to consider the following:
1. The substrate you’re printing onto
Is it porous? Non-porous? Is it glossy or matte? These substrate ‘properties will help determine the type of printer, and ink that you require, to achieve a print that is legible and durable.
Nowadays, with all the ink wizardry that has occurred over the past few years, thermal inkjet technology can reliably print onto most surfaces – even materials that it previously struggled with, such as metal and glass.
We’ll always ask for a packaging sample before fully committing to a printer/ink combination. This allows us to carry out in-house print tests to ensure that you are offered the best solution for your exact application needs.
2. The shape of the product
There are two types of printers – contact and non-contact. Contact printers require the printhead to be in direct contact with the substrate they are printing onto, whereas non-contact printers do not, instead they ‘throw’ ink onto the surface from a distance.
Contact technologies include thermal transfer and hot foil, whereas contact-free technologies include laser, continuous inkjet (CIJ) and thermal inkjet (TIJ).
If your product is flat, then you could choose either a contact or contact-free printer. However, if the area in which you want to print is curved, you’re limited to a contact-free option. The option you choose will usually be determined by the curvature of the print area. If it is slightly curved, then a thermal inkjet printer may do the job perfectly. However, if the curve is considerable, laser or CIJ will usually be the safer bet.
3. The range of products to be printed
Are you looking for one solution to print or mark just one product, or a whole range?
If the latter, then the flexibility of the system will need to be considered. Can it be easily adjusted between products?
There are future-proof systems available that can help see you through company growth/product expansion. Just make any visions known to your coding and marking solutions provider.
4. Print size and quality
The print size and quality required is often determined by the type of packaging. For example, when printing onto a perfume carton, the code will be high quality, yet discreet as to not detract from the overall packaging aesthetic.
What you are printing will also determine size and quality. A company logo or graphic will usually need to be printed at a higher resolution than a standard date code consisting of just numbers and letters.
Other things to consider:
- Does the code need to be readable by a scanner or camera?
- What is the size of the print area?
- How much information do you need to print? A small best before date or an entire ingredients declaration?
Answering the above will help select a printer capable of producing the size and quality of print that you need.
5. Colour of print needed
For the majority of coding applications, a standard black print is sufficient.
However, there may be occasions where a different colour is required – a yellow part number on a black pipe or a white date code on a dark-coloured chocolate box.
The range of colours available varies depending on the technology, so if you require anything other than a black print, it’s important to mention this early on.
6. The information to be printed
Do you need to print static data such as a company logo or part number? Or do you need to print variable information, for example date codes or batch numbers?
If you do need to print variable information, you will want to consider how often it needs changing – do you want a solution that automatically updates? Or do you want an operator to be able to manually change the information, as and when required?
7. Integration with your production line
Do you require a solution that can be seamlessly integrated into your existing production line? What equipment have you already got in place that you would like the printer to work in conjunction with?
8. Operation and set-up
How much downtime are you willing to tolerate in order to get your new printer up and running?
Some printers are classed as ‘plug-and-play’, meaning that they can be set up and fully operational in no time at all.
9. The speed of your production line
To prevent delays or bottlenecks occurring on your production line, you’ll need to be familiar with the line speed (usually measured in meters per second). Different coding technologies work at different speeds so knowing what they will have to keep up with is extremely important.
10. Production environment
If you’re operating in a harsh production environment, for example a dusty warehouse or an area that is regularly washed down, you’ll need to check that the printer can withstand such conditions and more importantly, still reliably produce a high-quality print.
Another thing to consider is the temperature in which the printer is to be installed, and whether it varies at all.
11. Environmental impact
Unfortunately, there is yet to be a coding technology that can be classed as completely environmentally friendly or sustainable.
However, the energy consumption, waste produced and chemicals used by each technology differ greatly. Continuous inkjet uses volatile solvents (MEK), an irritant that is classed as hazardous waste that requires expensive, specialist disposal, whereas thermal inkjet technology uses self-contained cartridges that can be safely disposed of after use.
12. Budget – how much can you spend?
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as looking at the price of the printer or coder itself.
You will need to look into the cost of installation, the ongoing maintenance and repair costs that you’re likely to endure and of course, the cost of the consumables that you will need to purchase to keep your printer running.
If you would like to talk through any application requirements with our team of experts, please contact us, [email protected] or give us a call 01707 393 700.