There are two major types of marking and coding equipment used widely in industrial environments around the world: Continuous inkjet printers such as the Leibinger inkjet, or laser marking systems such as those carried by companies like Luxinar (formerly Rofin) and Xymark.
Differences Between Laser Coders and Industrial Inkjet Printers
Inkjet printers “spray” droplets of ink on a surface without touching it, but needs to be in very close proximity to the surface to print well. Laser coders use laser beams to “burn” the desired characters or images onto the surface making a permanent mark.
Often the biggest factor in making the decision whether to buy a continuous inkjet printer or a laser coder comes down to price. Where continuous inkjet printers have a low upfront cost, the cost of inks, solvents and fluids necessary for operating the inkjet, as well as routine maintenance costs add up.
While laser marking systems have a much higher upfront cost, most lasers require very few consumables and doesn’t require maintenance as often as the industrial inkjets. They also last far longer than the average continuous inkjet printer in a similar environment.
So, you really shouldn’t make your decision on which type of industrial coding and marking equipment to choose based on cost alone. Consider these other factors before making a purchase:
Industrial inkjet printers work best when the rate of products to be marked move at a continuous fixed speed. Most laser marking systems can operate at far higher speeds and even variable speeds because of speed sensors equipped on many of these systems.
Some surfaces such as blister foil packs, metals– especially those that are in harsh environments–are better suited by the permanent marking that a laser marking system can deliver. Although industrial inkjets have success marking most of the same surfaces, inkjet ink can fade or wear away in these severe environments making it difficult to read because it is applied to the surface, instead of “burned in” to the surface itself. So, if clear, dark and permanent marks are needed for your surface, a laser coder would probably be a better option.
However, if you are marking materials such as fabrics like cotton, nylon or polyester, laser marking systems may burn or melt these materials. Inkjet printers also may work better when printing on clear plastics and glass because it has a greater contrast than the mark of a laser coder.
Continuous inkjet printers use a lot of different industrial inkjet ink and solvents to produce dark readable text quickly and effectively. Some of these inks are also bad for the environment. Because laser marking systems do not use inks and solvents, they have a lighter environmental footprint than that of an industrial inkjet printer.
Laser marking systems may produce irritating (or even toxic) smoke or fumes depending on the marking surface. These will need to be mitigated with an industrial fume extractor.
Laser marking systems cannot print color. The closest it can come to printing in color is printing in grayscale, but this is not acceptable in situations where yellow or red colors are necessary to meet safety requirements, or if colored marks are wanted on the printing surface. An industrial inkjet is the only option you can use here.
Although the print quality for both laser marking systems and continuous inkjet printers is comparable. There are some industries, such as the pharmaceutical industry, where traceability is a must and required by law, so the darker, permanent marking produced by a laser would be a better choice.
However, in harsh environments where dust, moisture and/or (especially) vibration is present, the quality of the marks made by a laser coder can be easily compromised and an industrial ink coder might be a better option in these situations.
Conclusion: Which Is Better? It Depends.
You need to know which requirements are the most critical for your printing process and select the option that works best in your business environment. Don’t let start-up cost be the only factor in your decision.
Still Having Trouble Deciding Between a Laser or Continuous Inkjet Coder?
Let All Pro Technical Service help. Our industrial marking and coding equipment experts have over 75 years off “in the trenches” industry experience combined that can help you select the best coder for your operation. Give us a call at (636) 724-0332 or fill out our online contact form to speak to one of our industrial marking equipment specialists today.