Thermal Inkjet vs. Inkjet Printers—Which Do You Need, and What’s the Difference?

Let's clear up any confusion regarding thermal inkjet vs. inkjet printer types, and look at the differences that define these categories.

For companies looking to find the perfect printer for their production line, the search can be a bit daunting at first. The good news is that industrial inkjet printers are able to handle printing on most common surfaces, such as metal, plastic (soft or rigid), and glass. However, as inkjet technology has evolved over the years, new categories have emerged leaving consumers to wonder what the difference is between thermal inkjet vs. inkjet printers.

Fortunately, this topic isn’t as complicated as it may initially appear. To help clear up any confusion regarding these different printer types, this article will explore the hardware differences that define these categories as well as the different scenarios in which one machine will be a better choice than the other. 

Thermal Inkjet vs. Inkjet: What’s the Difference?

Let’s start by clearing up a common misconception; whenever people talk about thermal inkjet vs. inkjet technology, 9 times out of 10 they are actually referring to thermal inkjet (TIJ) vs. continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers. If we look back to the inception of these printing technologies, TIJ printers evolved from CIJ printing technology to accommodate the needs of smaller operations, as CIJ printers have a higher capital investment and are typically suited for larger, faster industrial operations. While both of these printers work by expelling tiny ink droplets to form larger images, their methods differ in some significant ways. 

CIJ Printers: How Do They Work? 

The printing liquids are stored in two tanks within the machine: one for the ink itself, and the other for solvent. These two liquids are then fed to a larger main tank where the mixture becomes pressurized and fed toward the printhead. 

Once there, a piezoelectric element oscillates the stream to create drops that will be propelled towards the substrate from the nozzle. Simultaneously, an electric charge is delivered to the drops. This allows for electrode plates to guide the ink toward the desired substrate, while any residual non-charged drops are routed back toward the main tank.

TIJ Printers: How Do They Work? 

TIJ printers utilize inks from disposable cartridges without the use of electrical charges. Instead, the ink within the machine is heated with resistors until a vapor bubble forms, an effect that pushes the liquid towards the nozzle and ejects a print drop. Compared to how CIJ printers use a pressurized flow to place codes using a continuous stream, the dispersion method of TIJ machines expels the ink one drop at a time. 

For a more in-depth look at this explanation, be sure to check out this episode in our video series, Printervention. 

When Are Thermal Inkjet Printers an Ideal Choice?

TIJ printers are smaller, intuitive to use, and more affordable than their CIJ counterparts. Furthermore, because of the larger number of parts within CIJ printers, they require professional installation as well as regular maintenance and cleanings—two factors increased by the day-in-day-out use of these industrial machines. In contrast, the “one-drop-on-demand” type of ink propulsion of TIJ printers resists the need for regular maintenance and makes them ideal for production lines that use intermittent movement or need printer mobility. 

These factors make TIJ printers perfect for small businesses and have led to their reputation as the “entrepreneurial printers.”

TIJ Product Spotlight: Anser Pro-S 

Coming in both mounted and mobile varieties, the Anser Pro-S is a versatile printer designed to fit the needs of small businesses. Equipped with a 3.5 inch LCD screen to display its user-friendly UI, this compact printer is built for easy-installation and maintenance-free operation, thanks to its “plug-in-and-go” ink cartridge system. And with a memory bank that’s able to save 999 unique messages, you can quickly and easily store and search for the codes needed across your full product line.

When Are Continuous Inkjet Printers an Ideal Choice?

While TIJ printers generally find their niche with smaller operations, CIJ models shine with industrial enterprises. Designed to print on constantly moving production lines, CIJ printers are able to handle these high-output needs with ease. Larger than TIJ machines, CIJ printers are mounted onto manufacturing lines where they can provide direct-to-product labeling for years on end. 

CIJ Product Spotlight: DuraCode

A workhorse machine, the DuraCode is built to withstand both the environmental factors and production speeds associated with industrial manufacturing. Constructed from modular stainless steel, these machines are able to operate reliably within a range of 41–113° F and can handle 24/7 operation. As far as printing speeds are concerned, the DuraCode’s built-in automatic monitoring system allows for continuous encoding at 1050 feet per minute, making it an ideal choice for companies that deal with large-scale bottling or food packaging.

Looking to Outfit Your Manufacturing Line with an Inkjet Printer?

Finding the right printer to fit your production needs doesn’t need to be a difficult process. Although the different categories of inkjet printers can seem confusing at first, understanding that the conversation essentially boils down to thermal inkjet printers and their entrepreneurial focus and continuous inkjet models and their industrial capabilities, the search becomes a lot less daunting. However, if you have specific questions beyond the scope of this article, the InkJet, Inc. team offers its guidance and product testing/validation services to help ease your mind. 

To learn more about the differences and applications of thermal inkjet vs. continuous inkjet printers, or to inquire about the makes and models that will best fit your needs, contact InkJet, Inc. today by dialing (800) 280-3245.

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