Portable marking solutions laser marking and portable inkjet printing machines are critical players among the plethora of devices available in the marking industry. This article will help its readers understand the working of both these devices and how their outputs differ.
Understanding these aspects is critical to differentiate the usage of these machines and selecting the right technology for the task. We will also look into features that manufacturers offer to improve the efficiency and usability of these devices. By the end of this article, readers shall also know the current applications.
Furthermore, a brief price comparison of a few devices leading the market will help users get a grasp of price points at which portable laser and ink marking machines are available in the industry.
Inkjet technology is among the oldest technologies available in the market that is catering to printing and marking needs. The industry aggressively worked on this technology in the 1950s and by the late 1970s, the first digital printers came into being.
With time multiple methods were developed to implement this method for practical applications ranging from desktop usage to reproduction of digitized fine art.
Let us summarily look into the various technologies at work in inkjet marking.
CIJ or Continuous Inkjet
Continuous Inkjet marker has a print-head nozzle that expels ink droplets that have an electrical charge. The device deflects these droplets due to the charge they have on them, orienting the ink to form the pattern a user wants. It can be a graphic, date, or other similar information.
TIJ or Thermal Inkjet
A thermal inkjet printer has cartridges that have heating elements. A signal tells the heating elements to heat up which causes an ink droplet to form precisely when it is to transfer to the marking surface.
DOD or Drop-On-Demand
DOD systems have multiple holes on their print head that operate independently. They open and close ‘on-demand or as instructed by the driver module. The relative motion between the print head and the printing surface leaves a continuous mark delivering the required graphic or marking.
Portable Inkjet Marking Machines
The need for portability arises in multiple environments and situations. For instance, if the surface is too large to position under an immovable printer head. Similarly, processes also exist that make it unfeasible to set up a marking system.
For instance, a grocery shop might want to mark cartons according to their inventory. It will be extremely expensive to develop an independent marking system to serve this purpose unless they host a large warehouse. Hence, portable solutions offer flexibility that fixed systems do not.
Handheld inkjet printers mainly use TIJ technology. There are a few key elements applicable to conventional inkjet printing and some specific concerns pertaining to portable inkjet machines that users must keep in view.
Having the right printing resolution is critical for the right result. Not knowing what a machine can do can often lead users to blame the machine whereas a knowledgeable user will understand this aspect before finalizing a purchase option.
Various printers offer various resolutions. NCB Marking’s EBS 250 and 260 models are a good comparison in this regard. The EBS 250 has a print matrix of 16 nozzles while the 260 model has 32 nozzles. The increase in nozzles implies greater resolution.
Please bear in mind that the term resolution itself is used interchangeably in the industry. It can mean the quality of print within a specific area or it can imply the overall area that the print head can encompass. The example quoted above refers to the latter and implies the same in most cases.
For a print head to print a required graphic it needs to have a design that allows it to do so. DOD machines are comparatively simpler than desktop printers in common use today.
The reason is that in almost all use cases they do not have to print complex, multicolored graphics. A simpler print head design also reduces the cost of the machine. Certain manufacturers allow the programming of a handheld inkjet printer on the fly.
Hence, machine manufacturers tend to specify the graphics their machine can handle. A subset, but an extremely significant aspect, of graphics, is ink handling by a particular model.
As quoted in the example above, EBS 250 has a design that allows for the usage of different color inks. In contrast, the EBS 260 best handles black color. Apart from color, the type of ink will vary depending upon the surface of the application.
Absorbent materials, such as paper and cardboard, shall have a different type of ink in comparison with non-absorbent materials, such as metal and plastic.
Technical parameters cover several important factors. These parameters help understand the mobility aspect of a portable inkjet printer. Factors such as weight, dimensions, and battery life are important characteristics.
They truly define whether a particular model or make of device shall be able to deliver the portability needed. Normally, machines weigh around 1kg but these can vary depending on whether the value is quoted with the battery and ink cartridge installed.
Also, a good parameter to determine battery life is to see how long a machine can function when printing graphics of a particular nature. This data can help users extrapolate the information to make a data-based decision when choosing a machine.
Applications of Portable Inkjet Marking Machines
Portable marking solutions like inkjet marking machines are best suited for secondary packaging and carton coding, fiber cartons, and shrink-wrap. They are primarily in use by the industry for purposes such as product descriptions and batch numbers, and hardware product marketing.
For instance marking of timber, metal products, steel pipes, roofing, concrete, and plastic substrates are commonly carried out. Furthermore, 2D codes on a variety of packaging materials are also a common use of the technology.
However, it is not suitable equipment for most retail packaging. The disadvantage of inkjet printing is that the printing results can be erased by some special liquid, so the marking result is not permanent from a marketing and end-user perspective, other technologies shall deliver better results.
Laser technology was first developed in 1960 and since then has found its way in more domains than one can imagine. Among its diverse applications, it is also in use by the marking industry. Laser marking, engraving, and cutting machines are important tools in a professional as well as a personal workshop.
It is important to clarify a few terms in use before further elaboration on the subject. The terms engraving, etching, and marking are in use while consumers often face difficulties differentiating between the two. All three methods or terms use energy from the light to alter the working surface.
Yet their outputs differ. A portable laser etcher or engraver will remove or melt a material and displace it in the process. This means there will be a depth to the marking. An engraver will make a deeper mark whereas an etcher will leave a mark around .001” deep.
A laser marker on the other hand will use intense light energy to discolor the surface. This discoloration results in a contrasting pattern or mark, differentiating it from the remaining surface. Following are two laser technologies most commonly in use by the industry.
Fiber laser technology is one of the recent entrants in the laser market. Laser technology relies on the amplification of light and there are different means available to achieve the result. In fiber lasers, rather than the electronic amplification of a signal, optical amplification takes place.
A gas laser produces a high-intensity light beam by passing a current through a gas. Scientists and engineers have made gas lasers from a variety of gasses. One of the most common is CO2 lasers.
A CO2 laser cutter operates by using light produced by electricity running through a gas-filled tube. This tube has mirrors at both ends. One mirror is fully reflective while the other one partially lets light come through. These mirrors guide the laser beam onto the material that is to be cut.
Portable Laser Marking Machines
Portable laser marking machines primarily use fiber technology. One of the biggest benefits is its stability. Other lasers are sensitive to movement and laser alignment is a critical aspect. Optical misalignment can require a specialist to realign and get the machine operational again.
However, a fiber laser does not require sensitive optics. Another benefit is high beam quality allowing for finer marking results. Considering the robustness and flexibility of fiber lasers, they are the best technology for developing portable marking solutions in this domain.
A handheld laser printer will primarily comprise of two elements ar structures. The first is the controller and laser generation module. This unit houses the core unit, electronics, and possibly the human-machine-interaction interface.
The second is the laser marking unit. This section is where the laser emits and marks the surface. Some important considerations regarding portable laser engraver machines in the text below help elucidate the parameters of the machine.
Marking Area and Speed
Considering that the laser marking end is stationary and the laser propagates internally within the marking end, the marking area is a key feature. Latest machines in the market offer up to 100mm x100mm of area. Speed is another critical factor.
High marking speeds can improve output at downstream processes and lower speeds can significantly impact efficiency. Sped is measured as to how fast the laser can traverse the marking surface. These range from 7000 mm/s to 9000 mm/s, depending upon the model and make of the machine.
The power of a machine requires considerations from two perspectives. A higher power machine will be better work efficiency. On the flip side, a higher power machine will increase operational costs as it is consuming more electricity.
For marking purposes, 20 watt or 30W laser marker machines are available and cover most requirements that a portable laser marking machine may encounter.
- Laser Life
Despite being low maintenance, laser sources have a life. The operational environment and usage frequency dictate how long a laser will deliver its optimum output. Despite that, Laser marking machine manufacturers estimate a laser with a theoretical service life of 100,000 hours.
Lasers, when coming in contact with a surface, form a small dot of light. This high-intensity dot traverses the surface, leaving a ‘burn mark as it moves. The diameter of this dot and the equipment controlling its motion define the resolution. Dot diameters can be around 0.05mm or lower and characters can be range from 0.2mm to 0.5mm.
Applications of Portable Laser Marking Machines
Marking products may not be a matter of choice in today’s industry. Medical and aviation regulators mandate that devices and components to be brought into use in their respective industries must be traceable.
A similar scenario is applicable to the automotive industry. A handheld laser engraver for metal is a common tool in a sophisticated setup. Furthermore, the electronics industry employs laser markers to mark part numbers and branding on miniature ICs.
Handheld Inkjet Printer VS Handheld Laser Printer
Portable marking solutions like portable inkjet solutions have a low upfront cost. However, continuous refills of ink can lead to an increase in operational costs. Furthermore, certain manufacturers employ proprietary technology where only their ink cartridges can be used.
A case one can most commonly observe is the market of desktop printers. Fiber laser marking machines, on the other hand, have a high upfront cost but apart from electricity consumption, have no additional costs.
Another aspect is marking permanence. Safety-critical industries cannot rely on markings that easily fade. Inkjet cannot hold up to laser marking standards and are usually not in use in such industries.
With regards to portability, inkjet solutions can be run on batteries whereas laser solutions will rely on wall-socket power. This reduces the latter’s portability significantly.
With reference to markings, the laser gives a much higher resolution. However, the marking color is not customizable as is the case with inkjet. An inkjet coder is able to print different colors by using different color cartridges.
The question of which technology is right for an intended marking comes down to the operation. Factors such as how well does a system fits a particular application, how much faster, and how much more cost-effective can manufacturing be made, will need looking into.
With this in mind, it will be necessary to make a careful analysis of the pertinent data, including application range, operating costs, throughput, cost of ownership, and, of course, the investment costs for the portable marking solutions.