Continuous Inkjet vs Thermal Inkjet

Continuous Inkjet vs Thermal InkjetFor printing variable codes on a wide range of products, continuous inkjet (CIJ) has been the preferred solution for many years – outselling competitive technologies by a wide margin. This isn’t to say that CIJ has no competition, however, some of the alternate technologies such as laser and other types of inkjet can do an excellent job for many product coding applications.

One technology that has a high profile at the moment is thermal inkjet (TIJ). TIJ for product coding is an industrial development of the familiar HP  inkjet technology we’ve all used in our home and office computer printers over the years. Unlike CIJ (where a stream of drops of ink are constantly being formed and only deflected to the product when needed), TIJ is a drop on demand type of printer, each nozzle produces a drop of ink that is propelled to the substrate at the moment it is needed to build up the image. HP is the dominant technology supplier for thermal ink jet, Funai being another supplier. For HP based printers, ink cartridges can be sourced from HP OEMs or from third-party licensees. Usually, the inks are locked to a particular brand of printer – same with CIJ.

CIJ vs TIJ printing

You might have noticed that there is a lot of advertising around (both in print and online) that compares TIJ very favorably against CIJ – quite often these ads portray a sad looking CIJ printer sitting in a pool of ink that has leaked onto the floor. The message is clear – TIJ technology is cleaner, easier to use and needs far less maintenance. The user of CIJ printers should feel compelled to upgrade to this cool new (although it is not all that new) technology.

How much of this is true and how much is just hype? Well, we just happen to sell both types of printer (along with high-resolution drop-on-demand inkjet and also laser coders) so I think I can be pretty objective about this.

So which is best? The honest answer is that it depends, each print technology has some advantages – it all depends on your application and your objectives.  Let’s take a more detailed look:

 Thermal InkjetContinuous Inkjet
Capital CostLow - simple printers can be bought for close to $1,000Expect to pay something approaching $10,000
Cost Per PrintHigh - the HP or Funai ink cartridges are expensiveLow - CIJ has probably the lowest cost of print for all ink printers
MaintenanceVery low - replacing the cartridge effectually adds a new printer each timeRoutine maintenance is reduced on modern printers, but much more than TIJ.
Throw DistancePrinthead needs to be very close (within 1/8") of the item to be printedUp to 1" away Character size will change if distance varies.
Print Quality & ResolutionWith up to 600DPI, TIJ printers can produce excellent text and barcodesLower resolution (usually a max of about 31 pixels, total).
Print HeightLimited to 1/2", unless using multiple printheadsCan be up to 1", although less quality than smaller prints.
Substrate FlexibilityWas limited to print on porous substrates only, but recent developments in solvent based inks have opened up opportunities on films and coated products. Wide range of inks for just about every type of material.
Environmental IssuesEnclosed system leads to minimal release of VOCs and odors, even when using solvent inks. Due to solvent evaporation, higher release of VOCs and odors.
Max Line SpeedUp to 200 ft/min full resolution
Up to 500 ft/min reduced resolution
Up to 2,000 ft/min

It is clear that there are some big differences between these two inkjet technologies, which types of application is each best for?

Continuous Inkjet

High-speed applications that are going to use a lot of ink. Printing date or lot codes on bottling or canning lines are a perfect application as well as printing on extrusions or films where a lot of ink is consumed.

CIJ printers like to be running constantly (although modern printers such as our Citronix ci5000, have controlled shutdown systems that ensure the printer is ready to produce good print after restart), so are an excellent choice for lines that run multiple shifts.

For substrates that need special inks to dry or adhere correctly.

Where the printhead cannot be mounted too close to the product (or the product position varies somewhat).

Thermal InkJet

Check out our new ClearMark TIJ printer

TIJ has advantages for a number of applications:

Where the best print quality is required.

To print compliant GS1 or HIBCC barcodes for pharma or medical applications.

When the ink color needs to be changed for different jobs (just switch out the cartridge to change colors).

When multiple printheads need to be installed for multiple prints across a web.

To meet with solvent reduction programs (some companies no longer allow MEK based inks, for example).

How Can ID Technology Help?

Figuring out the best print technology to use can be difficult when there are so many variables. With a comprehensive product line and many years of product coding experience – combined with our nationwide sales and service support – we are able to help you every step of the way. We work with all kinds of customers, from the largest multinationals to small startups.

The best way to get started is to have one of our local specialists take a look at your operation and discuss your needs in detail.  Contact us today – 888-438-3242 Option#3 or you can contact me directly at We’ll get you in touch with the appropriate ID Technology expert to get you going!

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