The following explains thermal inkjet printer and the market trends the industry is exhibiting
Basics of Thermal Inkjet Printer
Inkjet printers come in two primary technologies. They are continuous inkjet and drop-on-demand. The drop-on-demand category includes thermal inkjet (TIJ) and piezoelectric inkjet printers. Both of these technologies have a strong presence in the consumer market. CIJ or Continuous inkjet printers are functionally very different from drop-on-demand printers and are mostly in use for commercial purposes.
In comparison to the technologies and methods available in the market, thermal inkjet printers are a low-cost option for printing offering the advantages of a fast speed with a high-quality finish. TIJ printers are usable on a wide array of material surfaces such as regular and specialty papers, plastics, metals, and cartons. The first inks used water as the primary drying agent. Consequently, these units have been the best-suited option for printing on porous paper surfaces for many years. Currently, usage of alcohol or other solvent makes TIJ units suitable for printing on a wide range of materials including PVC, PET, blister foils, and varnish coated cartons. Development in recent times in the domain of ink and printheads technology is rapidly expanding the range of compatible materials that a user can print on.
Moreover, most of these printers require no training or practice and are very simple to use. Having no requirements of a warm-up or cool-down cycle, these machines are always available for use. An important distinction is necessary here. A thermal inkjet printer is not the same as a thermal printer. A thermal printer heats special paper to form an image on the paper. This printer type is in use by equipment that prints receipts and bar codes.
Working of a Thermal Inkjet Printer
Despite not being the first ink-jet method to be in use as a product, it is the most successful method on the market today. The print heads in a thermal inkjet printer have, depending on the printer, 300 to 600 tiny nozzles that heat up the ink in the cartridge. This leads to the ink’s expansion and formation into a bubble. The ink from this bubble pushes through a nozzle onto the paper. During this process, the bubble pops and the air vacuum that forms due to the ink removal sucks more ink into the nozzles. Each of the nozzles has the capacity to apply ink simultaneously from black and white or color cartridges. Also, the print resolution can be adjusted downward if the highest resolution is not necessary for every printing task.
Although it is slower than commercial inkjet printers, the thermal inkjet printer is the most common form of an inkjet printer in households because of its affordability. Depending on its configuration, a thermal ink-jet can be a roof-shooter or a side-shooter. A roof shooter has an orifice on top of the heater whereas a side shooter has an orifice on a side near the heater. The roof-shooter design is seen in the printheads from Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark, and Olivetti. The side-shooter design is the type that Canon and Xerox print heads use. The figure below explains the two methods:
- A roof-shooter thermal ink-jet.
- A side-shooter thermal ink-jet.
There are several reasons for the success of thermal inkjet printers. A primary aspect is that of ease-of-use. Moreover, a quick change of an ink cartridge implies a new ink supply and printhead are available for use. Moreover, ink is stored in sealed cartridges. This means no risks of spills or leaks. Also, as written above, they are affordable in comparison to machines that offer the same capabilities but use different technologies. Furthermore, TIJ printing provides excellent print results with high resolution and its growing ability of usage on various surfaces due to new ink developments offers great flexibility.
Thermal Inkjet Printer Use Domains
Printing needs arise in a variety of domains. With the global increase in urbanization and with its consequential impact, a multitude of industries are in need of marking or printing methods. There are several areas that this technology is in primary use which can be categorized as follows:
On the basis of packaging type, thermal inkjet printers are in use for printing the following:
- Corrugated boxes
- Folding cartons
- Bags & Pouches
With regards to the industries that are using thermal inkjet printers, they can be segregated as follows:
- Food & beverage industry
- Dairy products
- Cosmetics and personal care
For businesses operating on a budget and wanting to keep printing costs in check, a TIJ printer is an apt technology to adopt. Its inherent functionality allows it to minimize ink usage. By adjusting the print resolution, font size, and font style, users can cut down on costs.
Thermal Inkjet Printer Market Trends
The global inkjet coders market size stood at USD 1.5 billion in 2018 and is expected to witness a CAGR of 5.1% over the forecast period. These assessments were made prior to Covid wreaking havoc. Nonetheless, the market is bound to see an incremental growth in demand owing to the growing emphasis on a number of factors. Manufacturers now have to implement anti-counterfeiting strategies, comply with strict regulations pertaining to labeling, and product traceability. As inkjet coders are non-contact printing coders used to print dates, batch numbers, and time on a variety of essential goods packaging, the market will remain relatively strong.
With the dissemination of Covid vaccines, these requirements are bound to grow. Due to the change in living patterns consumption of packaged goods has increased. Furthermore, due to an increase in the home-delivery and similar door-step delivery services, the packaging is bound to increase. This implies an increase in demand for printing and marking tools and equipment.
Some important manufacturers in the global industrial inkjet printers market are:
Hitachi, ITW Diagraph, Engineered Printing Solutions, Keyence Corporation, Domino Printing Sciences plc, ATD Ltd, Citronix, Videojet, ID Technology, United Barcode Systems, Konica Minolta, Inc, Numeric, Leibinger, Squid Ink, and Linx.
The coming years will have these companies on their toes as they shall be facing tough competition in the coming years. One can attribute this to the emergence of local players in the market. The big names will probably be focusing on the innovation of new products as well as research & development to ensure they are able to retain their lead in the market and not lose their customer base. Major companies shall be engaging in mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures with local players. This will lead not only to easier market penetration but will allow them to expand their product portfolio. Players in emerging economies are focusing on reducing their cost of production. Without the immense budgets for research and development, this will allow them to achieve profitability and sustainable business growth.
Seven regions comprise the global thermal inkjet printers market:
- North America,
- Latin America,
- Eastern Europe,
- Western Europe,
- Middle East and Africa (MEA),
- Asia Pacific
There already exists a high dependency of consumers in the North American region on packaged food products. This is propelling the growth of the thermal inkjet printers market in the region. Being a developed economy, affordability is also less of an issue in the region. Therefore, manufacturers operating there are inclining more towards the printing and packaging domains of the industry. The Asia Pacific region primarily comprises economies that are developing. For players in this market, TIJ costs can have a high upfront impact. Hence, manufacturers are looking towards cheaper printing solutions and thermal inkjet printers may not make it to the top of their shopping list. Country-wise, China is among the largest consumers of printers.
The region has a high production rate and this is leading in the requirement for packaging material, and consequently printers. Therefore, China shows great opportunities for the thermal inkjet printers market to grow in this region and stands as
an outlier. On the other hand, MEA and Latin America are expected to exhibit sluggish growth in the time to come.
At a global level, there is rapid growth in the retail and FMCG products sector. It will be a major driver of the market during the forecast period. Credit for this can be given to betterment in socio-economic and demographic factors such as urbanization, growing population, and improvement in the standard of living. The population increase is also leading to an increasing number of pharmaceutical stores. In the pharmaceutical industry, these printers are in use to mark packages, boxes, and blister packs for medicines and drugstore items. This enables fulfilling traceability requirements to address legal aspects and protects against counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
Price Trends of Thermal Inkjet Printers
When TIJ printers first came on the scene, they had a price tag in the region of 8000 USD, which was comparable with the cost of a CIJ printer. Technological advances and an increase in the range of systems mean customers have more options when deciding the complexity or ability of the setup they require. This is reflected in the pricing structure. Currently, a simple standalone TIJ printer installation can be approximately a third less than that of a CIJ printer. Moreover, with suppliers of CIJ technologies concentrating on the consumables revenue, it can be commonly seen that CIJ printers being given away knowing that it will be paid for indirectly in the form of ongoing consumable costs.
Therefore, meaningful price comparison can only really be drawn by looking at cost of ownership. In the majority of applications, TIJ will emerge as the lowest cost option over its lifetime.
For a price comparison, two examples are available below:
Price : $1,899.99 – $2,119.99
Price: $350 – $2000
Technology Innovation Trends
Wider Material Applications
When TIJ technology was first introduced, it was using only water-based ink as found in a desktop printer at the office or at home. However, this limits the technology to printing on porous substrates. As a result, early TIJ Technology didn’t have the ability to print on flexible films, varnish cartons, coated packaging, and plastics. Today, TIJ printers come with solvent and UV based inks to print on all of the non-porous substrates in use within the packaging industry. For use of solvents as the base for the ink formulation, changes to the cartridge design are growing every day.
The early models of TIJ printers have a throw distance of one or two millimeters. Hence, they can only print on flat surfaces such as lids, folding cartons, and labels and the quality of print depends significantly on whether the print head is very close to the product at the application point. However, recent advancements in the nozzle and cartridge design now allow TIJ printers to have a throw distance of up to 8mm. Despite not being comparable to the 10mm plus range a typical CIJ printer has to offer, this makes installation easier. Further developments now allow thermal inkjet printers to print on curved surfaces increasing application as date code inkjet printer for canning and bottling lines.
Overcoming Old Technological Issues
Cartridge leaking was an issue that plagued the TIJ printing world. This made them messy and highly cost-ineffective. As ink usage was not maximized, this resulted in a lot of wasted ink. Recent developments have done away with these short-comings. Today, TIJ printers come with built-in software allowing users to configure usage per print by adjusting the dots per inch (dpi) resolution. As an example, when printing a barcode onto a surface, a user can alter the dpi print settings. Lowering it will help in achieving better ink usage per cartridge while maintaining print quality.
Moreover, easier integration in existing production lines is now achievable with enhanced automatic inkjet printers and inkjet online technologies.
Early models of a TIJ system will take up a large amount of space due to the controller size that operates the machine. But, developments in circuit board technology are changing this aspect. That is to say, the controllers no longer occupy the same amount of space. Some TIJ machines have the controllers and HMI screens onboard the main device. The aim is to make a TIJ printer that fits in the palm of one’s hand which can be seen in the shape of a handheld inkjet printer.
Technological advancements are taking place in the development of software that controls and monitors automatic flush systems and ink viscosity. Furthermore, reducing
the mixing of air with ink as well as increasing demand for minimization of solvent evaporation rate are areas in which major research and development are taking place. By minimizing the solvent evaporation rate and substantially eliminating the ability of the solvent to evaporate from the bulk ink, the decap time can be increased. This, in turn, improves the functionality of inkjet coders.
The thermal inkjet printer market is one that shows strong growth potential. As industries increase and socio-economic demographics change, they seem to be favoring the industry. Furthermore, research by industry giants and the growth of local competition shall be keeping the solution providers on track to innovate and reduce costs. Heatsign is among the many manufacturers that distinguish itself from the competition. They provide a wide array of marking solutions among which lies inkjet printing. For exploring technologies and solutions, their website hosts a wealth of information.