Digital printing companies have many options when it comes to selecting which printing technology fits their needs for labels and other printed products. The printing solution you choose may depend on many factors including cost, paper type, intended use, desired longevity, and environmental impact.
It’s helpful to have a side-by-side comparison of the features, advantages and disadvantages so that you can review your options at a glance. We have put together a guide on the various technologies to help you make the best decision for your company and your customers.
Pigments are a dry, powdery substance that is typically preferred by professional photographers for printing images. Composed of solid opaque particles that sit on top of the paper rather than being absorbed, it is a water suspension rather than a liquid. These inks last longer than dye-based inks and resist fading. Continuous technological improvement has virtually eliminated many of the defining differences between these and dye-based inks. For the average user, it is difficult to tell the difference between images printed using pigment ink and those printed using dye ink, so it has become largely a matter of personal preference for commercial printers.
Since pigment inks are fade-resistant when exposed to sunlight, water-resistant, smudge-resistant, and long-lasting, it’s one of the highest quality ink choices available and referred to as “archival quality” due to its propensity to last a long time and its suitability for museum materials. As such, pigment inks have a much longer lifestyle than dye-based inks and don’t bleed or smudge.
These inks do have a few drawbacks. They offer a more limited color palette and are more expensive than other types of inks. They are also slow-drying and not generally suitable for use on glossy paper unless it has been pre-treated.
Dye inks are the standard ink chemistry used in typical inkjet printers. They are composed of fully dissolved colorant particles suspended in a liquid, and are designed to be absorbed into the paper instead of sitting on top of it like pigment inks. They are the most economical choice among ink products and are best for printing text. Color inkjet cartridges generally use dye inks.
Dye inks offer a brilliant range of color choices. It is consequently easier to color match images and text. However, the compounds added to them to enhance color have poor resistance to light, and fade in sunlight fairly early in their life cycle. In recent years advances in technology have created dyes that are more fade resistant, however, dye printed labels and signs are not suited well for outdoor use.
Inks that are dye-based are water soluble and thus are not water resistant. They are likely to bleed or smear if water droplets fall on the page due to the fact that the ink is more thinly spread on the page than pigment.
UV inks capitalize on ultraviolet technology which has revolutionized a number of industries, and rightfully so. UV ink offers profound benefits. It is quick to dry, highly durable, and sticks to most materials. It is also very economical due to the fact that all of the ink in the cartridge is used, making for lower printing costs and reduced waste. Printing is clean and clear, without smudging, and does not fade with time. UV ink is much more environmentally friendly than most other inks at 99.5% VOC (Volatile Organic Chemical) free. Consequently, these chemicals are not released into the air during printing, making for a healthier workplace for print company employees.
However, these advantages have their downside.
UV inks need to be cured with UV light in order to dry. For this reason, spills are extremely difficult to clean up, can be very time-consuming and paralyze work flow. If it is stepped in, workers can’t get it off their shoes or clothing and can unknowingly track it to other rooms. And although they are mostly VOC free, UV inks can cause skin irritation if spilled, so it is important that workers wear proper safety apparel.
Lastly, although UV ink is a cost saving choice, there is a higher startup cost involved, so that must be taken into account when considering this type of technology.
Solvent inks refer to a category of inks that are solvent-based rather than water-based. They are more durable than pigment or dye inks and are suitable for printing on a wider variety of substrates, which makes them well-suited for outdoor signage or signs that need to last a long time.
Eco-solvent inks first appeared on the market in the year 2000. They have low levels of VOC’s and are consequently low odor which reduces their environmental impact and makes the printed materials suitable for indoor signage. Low VOC also reduces wear on printer components, meaning that parts will not need to be replaced as often and resulting in cost savings for the business.
Heat is required in the drying process for eco-solvent inks, which means that they are not suitable for printing on materials such as thin vinyl. They are also more expensive than solvent inks. However, they are growing in popularity due to increased consumer interest in environmentally sustainability.
Used in laser printers, toner is the counterpart to ink and is ideal for high-volume printing jobs. It is a fine powder rather than a liquid and has become a staple in office and industrial settings. Laser printers allow for printing black and white pages at twice the speed of inkjet printers at half the cost per page. The fact that pages don’t get wet with ink during the printing process makes for a cleaner print quality for smaller fonts and images such as graphs and medium quality photos. The economical nature of laser printing has made it a widely used option in commercial applications.
Since toner printers use heat to melt the toner particles to the substrate they are an ideal choice for long lasting images, resistant to UV fade and water damage.
The drawback for toner based engines is the amount of moving parts within the printer that need to be maintained and replaced regularly. The maintenance cycle for toner based printers is typically much higher than their inkjet counterparts.
How to Choose?
Which kind of printing technology is best for your needs will depend on your budget, how your product will be used and how long it has to last, and your interest in environmentally friendly solutions for your employees and the planet, among other factors. This guide should get you going in the right direction, but you can always reach out to the knowledgeable professionals at Arrow Systems, Inc. for help in determining the best digital printing technology for your business!