Choosing a Date Coder for Bottles—Reliable Options for Glass and Plastic

Printing dates on plastic and glass bottles can be a tricky task, but with the right equipment, it doesn’t have to be. Read on to learn how to select the best date coder for the bottles on your assembly line.


Beverages, medicines, cosmetics, spices, and cleaning products—what do all of these have in common? Well, these are just some of the countless goods that are placed in glass and plastic bottles for distribution. Even looking at just this small product sampling makes it easy to see that many of these substances have limited shelf lives before they become ineffective, or even dangerous to use/consume.

Consequently, companies that bottle these goods are held to both federal regulations and industry standards requiring that certain date codes be placed on the packaging. For example, baby food manufacturers are required to have both “use-by” dates and accurate nutrient information on each bottle in order to satisfy FDA regulations. Producers of other prepared food/drinks (e.g., juices, sodas, jams, etc.) are held to similar standards as well. 

Of course, to adequately abide by these guidelines, you need to choose the right machinery for the job—a decision contingent on your specific products and unique production line configuration. Two of the most common options are a laser marking system or an inkjet coder. Understanding the differences between these two solutions can help you choose the one that best suits your needs.

Laser Date Coder

Laser encoding technology has existed for nearly 50 years, and today’s models have seen tremendous advancements. This method is appropriate for both glass and plastic bottles, though those used for glass are generally higher powered. 

How Do These Machines Work?

Using highly focused beams of light, laser encoders interact with a material surface to alter its properties and appearance. This results in precise, easy-to-read codes with high visibility that cannot be removed. Furthermore, given the extreme precision of laser encoders, there is no need to worry about detrimental effects to the structural integrity of your products.  

When to Use This Type of Date Coder for Bottle Operations

Laser encoders are able to mark a wide variety of materials, including plastics, glass, and a range of metals. However, some laser encoders do not fare well with glass if they are not powerful enough, and they can turn the encoded section sharp enough to cut a finger. But for plastic bottle lines that need high-volume results day in and day out, laser encoders are perfect. This is because certain encoders are able to generate 4,000 unique characters per second, even meeting the output needs of industrial bottling enterprises. Additionally, because laser encoders aren’t transferring ink and are instead altering the substrate directly, they can excel in harsh, dirty, and wet environments. 

On the other hand, smaller bottling operations rarely require these high-speed capabilities. Therefore, the less expensive inkjet printer variety is almost always a better option. 

Inkjet Date Coder

First developed in the 1950s and coming to widespread usage in the 1970s, inkjet printers are one of today’s most common printing devices. Akin to laser coders, these machines have come to employ slightly different application methods over the years, although these differences largely impact speed and output volume rather than surface material printing effectiveness—a topic explored in more depth below.

How Do These Machines Work?

The inkjet process is simple. Using a print head containing a series of nozzles, an inkjet printer expels tiny droplets of ink onto a surface to form a larger image. With that in mind, today’s inkjet printers largely break down into two categories: continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers and thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers. The major difference between these options is that CIJ printers propel a continuous stream of ink drops whereas TIJ printers use a more “on-demand” type of output.

When to Use This Type of Date Coder for Bottle Operations

Similar to a laser encoding system, both types of inkjet printers are able to print on either glass or plastic. However, CIJ and TIJ printers typically require a clean and dry substrate. Whether a CIJ or TIJ printer will best fit your needs will largely depend on the speed of your printing line. 

For companies that employ continuously moving, high-output lines, a CIJ model, like the DuraCode industrial printer, will be the preferred option. High-quality printers like these are able to produce codes at a maximum printing speed of 1,050 feet per minute, meeting the high-volume needs of major operations. 

However, if your company has smaller production output and speed requirements, a TIJ option, like the Anser U2 Pro-S, will be a better fit. With the ability to deliver the same high-quality results as the DuraCode series but in lower volumes, these cartridge-based printers are a more economic option, especially for small businesses like craft breweries. Additionally, the Anser’s compact size, mounting brackets, and intuitive plug-the-cartridge-in-and-go set up makes for an incredibly easy installation process. 

We Can Help You Select the Right Date Coder for Bottles

To keep your products in accordance with the regulations and standards unique to your industry, finding the printer that enables reliable best-by codes, lot codes, and other inventory markings is a must. Which of the discussed types of printers is best for you depends on the specific qualities of your manufacturing line and product output. If you need a bit more guidance on which machine will best fit into your production setup, the team at InkJet, Inc. is happy to offer testing and validation services to ensure that you make the most informed decision possible. 

For more information on how to select the best date coder for bottles in your production facility, contact InkJet, Inc. online or by phone at (800) 280-3245.

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