Expanded Media Choices for Inkjet Printing

By: Gianluigi Rankin, Director Product Management at Memjet

Adoption of inkjet printing solutions continues to grow in print markets around the world. Print providers embrace inkjet technology because it gives them an affordable way to deliver short runs of the high-quality, customized print products their customers demand.

As more providers embrace inkjet printing, many have been frustrated to discover that their choice of substrates is more limited – and often more expensive – than the cost of substrates used in their analog printing processes.

As a leader in the development of inkjet printing technology, Memjet is investing in initiatives that expand the range and versatility of substrates used in inkjet printing while reducing the cost.

Expanding Substrates for Growing Markets

Once a provider makes a move to inkjet, it is essential to understand the range of substrates available to them – and how these substrates differ from the choices they have with an analog solution.

Their knowledge must start with inks.

Memjet’s aqueous pigment inks offer several critical advantages to users – they are lightfast, durable, and optimized for long printhead life. Because these inks contain a lot of water, they are also safer for people, products, and the environment.

During the printing process, the water in aqueous ink can be removed in 2 ways. Either a porous surface or coating is used to absorb the water and allow it to slowly evaporate over time without impacting the print, or the colorants need to be immobilized as soon as they hit the surface of the print substrate and dryers are then used for rapid evaporation of the water.

Currently, printers using inkjet printing solutions have access to three categories for paper-based substrates to choose from:

  • Uncoated offset/bond/plain paper
    Because these papers are porous, they are printable with inkjet inks. However, the colors are generally not very vibrant, and the print quality not as sharp.
  • Inkjet treated paper
    These papers are similar to an uncoated offset paper but have been treated to boost the vibrancy of the prints by keeping the colorants/pigments close to the surface of the substrate.
  • Inkjet coated paper
    An inkjet coating is generally applied to the paper by the paper mill. The inkjet coating allows for the absorption of the ink vehicle, and similar to offset coated paper it provides the paper with the intended look and feel. Film-based media is not porous, so the only option is an inkjet coated film.

Understanding Your Substrate Options

Inkjet treated and coated substrates are more expensive than substrates optimized for flexo or offset printing. This higher price is due to the cost of the treatments or coatings that are applied.

Paper sellers charge a premium for inkjet coated and treated papers. The cost premium for an inkjet treated paper is relatively small, in the range of 10 percent over the equivalent uncoated offset paper.

However, the cost premium for inkjet coated papers and films is much higher, ranging from 30 percent to greater than 100 percent. This higher cost premium creates a barrier for some applications. It also limits the inkjet-printed volumes required for media suppliers to bring down the cost of the materials.

Economics also plays a role in the cost of these substrates. While the use of inkjet printing is growing, the current demand for inkjet compatible substrates is still a fraction of what is being manufactured for other print processes, so manufacturing processes are not as efficient and, therefore, more costly.

Availability of Media

Despite inkjet’s growth, the selection of media for offset and flexo is still far higher than inkjet media. Also, some paper mills have shut down in recent years. Today, the concentration of paper production is focused on a few mills, reducing the selection of papers and driving up prices.

A Lower Cost Alternative 

To meet these challenges and help print providers fully realize the benefits of inkjet technology, Memjet has invested in the development of primers and coatings incorporated into the printing solutions developed by our OEM partners.

These primers and coatings can be applied with existing equipment either nearline or inline with the printing solution or provided to a toll coater who can apply the fluid to a customer supplied print substrate.

By integrating primers and coatings into their printing process, providers have a much broader selection of media substrates available and at a lower cost than the current selection of inkjet coated substrates.

These printing and coating R&D efforts go beyond just paper and film-based applications. Providers developing applications where the print surface is not flat (i.e., direct to shape, cans, and other cylindrical objects) can also use primers and coatings to facilitate high-quality printing processes.

A Win-Win for Print Providers

The integration of primers and coatings into the printing process will increase the volume of digital printing. That’s good news for print providers because more volume means media manufacturers will be able to more efficiently manufacture inkjet print-ready substrates – and to make them more affordable than they have been in the past.

If this expanded manufacturing does happen, print providers will have more options open to them; choosing to buy inkjet media from a supplier or treat it themselves. This expansion of choice gives print providers more options and greater control of their substrate choices and, ultimately, their business.

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