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Blog on laser marking & traceability, laser cleaning and safety standards

Inkjet or Laser Marking Systems : How to choose

Inkjet markers and laser marking systems are common options for many industrial marking applications. In order to choose the best option for your application, let’s try to understand how both systems work. Then we’ll list their respective advantages and disadvantages and finally you’ll be better equipped to choose the best solution for your application.

Technologies Basics

Inkjet Marking

inkjet mark on aluminum.jpg

fig. 1 - Inkjet marking on aluminum

Inkjet markers are based on the same principle as a traditional office printer. Such markers have a nozzle that deposits ink on the surface to be marked and moves above it according to the desired writing pattern. Two kinds of inkjet markers are commercially available. First, the continuous inkjet marker (CIJ) uses a pump that creates a continuous and powerful flow of ink that can mark materials without touching the surface to be marked. Second, the drop-on-demand inkjet marker (DOD) keeps ink in a nozzle and when electric pulses are applied, ink drops are expelled from the nozzle and adhere to the surface to be marked. DOD provides better control of the mark to be printed, but the nozzle has to be in close proximity to the surface to be marked.

Laser Marking

2d alu.jpg

fig. 2 - Laser marking on aluminum

 

The first thing to consider is the material to be marked as every material will require adapted laser parameters and some materials are easier than others to mark with a laser.  When the Laser beam hits the surface to be marked, huge amounts of energy are transferred very quickly to a very small area. This increases the temperature locally of the material to be marked. The surface is permanently modified, changing the way light is reflected by the surface. The sweeping motion of the laser beam on the surface to be marked is assured by two mirrors whose motions are controlled by a computer.  For more information on the different laser marking mechanisms consult our blog post.

Applications & Materials

Inkjet Marking

 revised squid ink mfg. inkjet printing.jpg

fig. 3 - Inkjet printing line

 

For each material and each application, the ink used in inkjet markers is optimized to allow for a good adherence. This technique can be used for numerous tasks such as industrial marking for printing on metal. It can also mark materials like plastics, ceramics and coton.

 Laser Marking

 

 

fig. 4 - Laser marking line
Laser marking systems are versatile. They can be adapted to various industrial activities thanks to the ability to make fine adjustments in the parameters, for instance wavelength, power and beam diameter. This versatility makes laser marking machines valuable for  the medical equipment and automotive industries. Laser marking is often used in applications requiring permanent tracking codes in harsh environments. They can be used for markling aluminum ingots and other ferrous or nonferrous metals.

Types of Markings

Laser and inkjet markers are used in industrial marking systems because of their ability to make various kinds of patterns such as: 1D and 2D barcodes, logos, alphanumeric lot, serial, and model numbers. However, the inkjet marker’s lower resolution limits its ability to mark small logos and barcodes. The micrometric size of the laser beam provides a much better resolution than inkjet markers. It makes the marking of intricate logos, smaller barcodes and detailed printing a reality.

Inkjet System Performance and Costs

puce plus.png low Upfront Cost

The main advantage of inkjet markers is their ability to mark a great variety of material in a wide array of colors. Inkjet marking systems are relatively cheap to purchase.

puce moins.png High Operating Cost

The operating costs associated with this technology is higher than that of laser marking systems, primarily because of the constant utilization of ink.

puce moins.png Health and Safety Issue

The handling of ink, which may contain harmful chemicals, raises environmental, health and safety issues. Ink does not modify the surface of the material. As it dries up, it adheres to the surface of the material. No printing technique can assure permanent marking the way a laser system can. And especially when the mark is submitted to harsh environments.

Laser System Performance and costs

puce plus.png Permanent Markings

Laser marking systems can create more resistant and lasting marks due the very nature of the phenomenon involved. The laser beam creates tiny modifications to the surface of the material that can hardly be deteriorated.

puce plus.png High Resolution

As explained before, the writing resolution is determined by the laser beam size. This can easily be adapted to micrometric dimensions, which can greatly improve the level of detail and density of information.

puce plus.png No Consumables

Some laser markers (such as fiber laser marking systems) do not require any consumables apart from electricity. They don’t require much maintenance either. Fiber laser marking systems can have lifetimes of up to 100,000 hours; making them interesting economical options for the long-term.

puce moins.png High Purchase Price

However, this writing quality leads to important upfront cost at the time of purchase.

Which technology fits your application?

Inkjet vs. laser marking

In a nutshell, inkjet markers allow the marking of various patterns on many kinds of materials for a low purchase price. However, the use of ink represents higher recurring costs and might not ensure permanent identification. The initial purchase price of laser markers is higher than inkjet markers, but laser marking systems are a good solution for applications needing high quality, permanent markings in the harshest environments.

If you are interested in learning more about marking systems, you can also refer to the article about dot peen marking that we have previously published.

*Thought bubble are Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY

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Posted by Lauris Talbot

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