Take a look at nearly any piece of food packaging and you’re bound to see a number of different codes printed on it. Some of these codes include best by/before dates, tracking codes, barcodes, and batch/lot codes. Beyond being helpful for both consumers and sellers, these different markings are also often needed to satisfy legal requirements and industry standards.
Accordingly, for those operating in the food packaging industry, having the right technology to properly print codes on the packaging of your products is a must. However, given how many different packaging materials exist in this diverse business, do you know what printer type is best for your unique operation? Have you chosen something that is delivering substandard results and is wreaking havoc on your production efficiency?
To provide some clarity on this subject, we have outlined some of the major considerations for printing on food packaging as well as some of the premier printers and ink choices on the market today.
Important Considerations for Printing on Food Packaging
Not all printers are created equal, which means that you need to examine your manufacturing line and understand certain factors to choose the best model to fit your business. Ask yourself the following questions to get started on the right path:
What Surface Materials Are You Printing On?
The food packaging industry is a diverse field that sees companies using a wide variety of materials in their production lines. Some of the most common of these packaging materials include:
- Assorted rigid materials
- Assorted flexible materials
In this list are both porous and non-porous substrates, a distinction that can have a major influence on which printer will be able to fit your needs. Additionally, you should consider if any of your surface materials will be curved, as is the case with bottled foods like jam or pickles. These surfaces often require specialized print heads that can only be attached to certain printer models.
What Is the Speed/Output Volume of Your Production Line?
Just as the surface material of your product affects your choice of printer, so do certain qualities of your production line.
For instance, are you working with a continuously-moving manufacturing setup? Are you producing a significant volume of your product? If so, a continuous inkjet (CIJ) printer will likely be the product of choice for you. These printers can handle the 24/7, demanding work environments of high-volume, industrial production lines.
Conversely, if you work at an intermittent rate of production with a smaller output volume, a thermal inkjet (TIJ) printer will likely be the best option. With the ability to print on nearly as many substrates as their continuous counterparts, TIJ printers are perfect for more entrepreneurial operations that don’t require the high-output capabilities of CIJ models. Additionally, these TIJ printers are often cheaper, much simpler to operate and maintain, and they typically allow for both mobile or mounted use.
What Kind of Ink Do You Need?
When it comes to printing on food packaging, you need to be very conscious of the inks you are using. After all, certain materials (e.g., low-cost plastic) can be inconsistently produced, which can lead to low-quality printing. Fortunately, as ink chemists with decades of experience, we can work with you to determine which ink solution will perfectly suit your product needs.
Some of our available options include:
- Food-Grade Ink: Crafted to accommodate the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), this ink is guaranteed to be safe for human consumption. This makes it perfect for encoding packaging that may come in contact with food, and it can even be used to print directly onto the food itself.
- HyperCook Ink: This ink is used to encode metal cans and plastic pouches before retort, which is a food sterilization technique where the contents of the container are heated after being sealed inside. What makes this ink unique is that its color-changing capacity is able to transform from green-to-blue in 19 minutes as opposed to the industry standard of 30 minutes.
- Custom Ink Solutions: For over 30 years, our on-site laboratory has been developing inks to fit the unique needs of our clients. If you are experiencing complex substrate challenges, we can work with you to find the perfect solution.
The Right Machines for the Job
This section highlights two printer models that are able to print on both porous and nonporous substrates and can cover the needs of small production lines all the way to industrial production lines. Additionally, both are able to accommodate different ink types.
The CIJ Option: DuraCode
Designed for high-output, industrial applications, the DuraCode line of CIJ printers can print on products at a rate of 1,050 ft/min. Built from stainless steel, this machine is also sturdy enough to withstand fast-paced industrial production lines. Additionally, the 3” space that exists between the printer and the product allows it to successfully print on curved surfaces when equipped with the appropriate print head.
If you’re looking for a workhorse machine that won’t have an issue with printing on food packaging 24/7, in even the most demanding production contexts, then the DuraCode is right for you.
The TIJ Option: Anser U2 Pro-S
More economical than the DuraCode, the Anser U2 Pro-S is great for smaller businesses that need to encode food packaging but don’t have the production output of an industrial operation. Despite being far more compact than the DuraCode, this machine is still able to deliver the same high-quality printing on the same surfaces as the CIJ alternative. These printers come in both mounted and mobile varieties to better fit your manufacturing line needs.
The Best Printer for Your Food Packaging Line
Although there are a number of factors you need to consider when picking the right printer for your food packaging operation, the selection process doesn’t need to be difficult. Here at InkJet, Inc., our team of experts will work with you to answer any questions and help you choose the best possible option. In addition, if you are unsure of how to best encode a specific product, we offer testing/validation services to help put you on the right track.