New to Printing In-House, Or Considering Making the Change for Your Business? It’s Important to Understand the Key Differences in Printing Technologies
While no single printing technology is perfect for all applications, it’s important to understand your specific application and the unique challenges it presents. From there, you can find the best printing solution specific to your needs.
There are a variety of printing technologies on the market today, but which one is the best fit for your business or personal needs?
What are the different fundamental printing technologies used in desktop color label printers?
There are three fundamental printing technologies used in desktop label printing: Water Based Inkjet (WBIJ), Electrophotographic (EP), and Thermal Transfer (TT). Let’s take a deeper dive into each one and examine the attributes that make each of them unique in the world of printing:
Originally a photocopying technique, EP technology (also called laser or LED printing) provided a way to do higher volume document printing at faster speeds and lower maintenance frequency. Instead of using light reflected from an original document as in the old photocopiers, a laser (sometimes an LED) was used to translate computer data into light pulses that would expose a light-sensitive, photo-conducting drum or belt. The coloring agents used in electrophotographic systems are called toners. They come in two forms – dry and liquid. Dry toners are used in all desktop and office printer/copier systems. Both dry and liquid toner systems are used in electrophotographic digital presses. Dry toners consist of pigments or dyes embedded inside polymer beads. The fusing process melts the polymer beads to the surface of the paper. In addition to the colorants within the polymer beads are “charge agents” that allow the toner to be charged opposite to that of the photo conducting drum. EP technology provides a unique capability- EP allows you to print with White ink (toner) along with traditional CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black), so these printers can offer a 5-color format – CMYK + White. With water-based inkjet (WBIJ) printers, you’re largely limited to printing on white substrates using just CMYK coloring. However, the availability of using white toner with EP printers opens a huge world of possibilities in label printing, especially on colored and clear substrates. The black matte Castle Vineyards label shown here displays the branding possibilities using white toner provides.
Water-Based Inkjet (WBIJ):
While this technology has been powering our small home and office printers for a long time now, it has matured and become robust enough for the desktop label printing segment in just the last decade. It revolutionized this segment by allowing people to rethink how to best fulfill their needs for short-run prime labels without the constraints of hiring a third party, where long lead times, high minimum order quantity, and outrageous label costs are typically the norm. As this technology continues to improve and advance, its appeal continues to attract new customers in different segments. An inkjet printer creates an image by firing tiny droplets of ink onto the paper. The complete image is built up from many small dots and it’s important to note the quality of an image is determined by the number of dots per inch (DPI) and the range of colors possible. A few different colors of ink can be combined to produce virtually any color (except for white). Cyan (C), Magenta(M), Yellow(Y) & Black(K) are commonly used colors, referred to in the industry as CMYK. The liquid portion of the inks used in these printers is predominantly water, hence “water-based inkjet”.
These water-based inks have color components that can be either dye-based or pigment-based, the ink chemistry and properties differ accordingly. In dye-based inkjet inks, the colored dyes are chemically bonded to the liquid portion of the ink, forming a “solution.” In contrast, pigmented inks are “suspensions.” That is, particles of coloration are suspended within a liquid and held between water molecules. Dyes seep into the paper substrate more easily than pigments, which primarily sit up on the surface of the paper. Ultimately, dye-based inks are brighter and have a wider color range than pigmented inks. Also, they can typically print on a wider variety of label substrates.
Pigmented inks have a longer life span and are more color-fast than dyes. If prolonged exposure to sunlight or other elements of nature is expected, dye-based inks will need some protection like lamination or varnish to prevent color fading over time while pigmented inks can withstand the elements for longer without fading. There are important niches like chemicals or even other consumer labels or packaging applications for which printed labels must withstand exposure to sunlight or moisture for extended periods of time. However, protection may still be required for pigment inks if continuous outdoor exposure over several weeks or months without any color shift is expected.
Thermal Transfer Printing is the oldest print technology around, the printers based on this technology are ubiquitous in space of monochrome or one-color printing. These printers are fast, economical, easy to maintain, and generally do a good job when the objective is to put on simple information like product manufacturing/expiry dates or bar-codes near the point of sale. At resolutions of 300 or 600 dpi, the labels out of thermal transfer printers are generally not suitable for most prime label applications. However, there are a few niche labeling applications that still favor thermal transfer technology over competing technologies, which is why you’ll still find some manufacturers making 4-color thermal transfer printing systems. There are niche labeling applications that still favor thermal transfer technology, which is why AstroNova still manufactures its QLS 4100Xe printer. A few advantages of Thermal Transfer Printing technology include:
- Availability of CMYK process AND spot color ribbons such as metallic gold, silver, white, signal red or blue, and many more
- Ability to print on low-cost substrates of varying thicknesses with a very high level of durability and resistance to solvents, moisture and UV exposure
- Low maintenance requirements & can easily handle dusty, dirty, manufacturing environments
There are several unique applications calling for thermal transfer technology. For example, many electronic applications require that the labels applied are UL recognized, which means they have been tested and proven to withstand a battery of tests as detailed in the UL 969 standard (for example). Or perhaps you’re looking to produce multi-layer flexible electronic circuits in short runs on high-temperature PET substrates. Thermal Transfer is the technology of choice for such demanding applications.
Now that you’re aware of the three key technologies available in a desktop format for printing color labels, you can start identifying the right printer and label materials that fit your needs. When buying a label printer for the first time, it’s advised to consider professional installation and a training package. This is not only to ensure the label printer is installed and works properly but to also ensure that you or any employees who will be using the printer are trained to use it properly and perform essential maintenance on a periodic or as-needed basis.
Have any questions on which label printer, inks, or materials will best suit your business and printing needs? Contact us today, we’re here to help!
There’s more to labels than meets the eye. There has to be some consideration taken into the presentation, storage and intended use of the product. That’s why we’re here to make it easy for you. So what media products does QuickLabel have to offer?
What Media Products does QuickLabel Have to Offer?
We have four main types of labels and ribbons, each with a variety of options to best suit your product and design, whether it be beverage, shipping, medical, chemical labeling or more.
Let’s break it down for you.
1. Inkjet Labels
QuickLabel has developed special materials that are capable of absorbing the Kiaro! inks so that printed labels do not smear and are able to produce the most accurate colors possible.
Whether you choose a textured paper label for wine labels or a glossy clear synthetic label for cosmetics labels, there is an ideal Kiaro! inkjet label for you.
We don’t stock a large inventory of finished labels – they are made fresh to order. When you place your order, we produce each order from raw material, using our efficient just-in-time production management system.
QuickLabel also produces and sells die-cut labels for use on our own line of label printers and offer multi-color and single-color thermal transfer label printers that resists fading, abrasion, smudging, and incidental moisture contact.
We even sell labels for use on other printer brands.
Carrying over 100 different label and tag stocks, if we don’t have the material you’re looking for, we can source and test new raw materials to meet your end use requirements. Just ask one of our Media Sales Specialists!
See how Browndog Creamery uses our inkjet labels to not only create delectable designs to match their delicious ice cream, but how our labels maintain color-fastness and quality even in their freezing storage conditions.
To read descriptions of our inkjet label and tag materials, click here.
2. Thermal Transfer Labels
Enhancing print performance, QuickLabel’s Media Lab created our line of thermal transfer label materials. These produce excellent print quality and end-use durability – especially when used with QuickLabel’s own line of thermal transfer ribbons and label printers.
Our labels also produce high-quality printing on other brands of thermal transfer and barcode printers. Like the inkjet labels, all of our labels are made to order.
With QuickLabel, you have the choice of 70+ Materials.
We manufacture and stock over seventy different pressure-sensitive and non-adhesive printing materials.
To read descriptions of our thermal transfer label and tag materials, click here.
3. Thermal Transfer Ribbons (Black or Color)
The question is “What media products does QuickLabel have to offer?”, which means we are not limited to labels.
We also manufacture and sell barcode ribbon (also known as thermal transfer ribbon) for your barcode printer at a factory.
Our barcode ribbon is sold at a direct low price. From general-purpose black wax ribbon to black wax-resin ribbon and black resin thermal transfer ribbon for every thermal printer brand.
We also sell process color thermal transfer ribbons for our family of digital color label printers which use thermal transfer technology.
- Black Barcode Printer Ribbon: Wax, Wax/Resin, Resin, Premium Resin, Special Resin
- Color Thermal Transfer Ribbons: Wax, Wax/Resin, Resin, Premium Resin
4. Laser / LED Labels
We’ve even developed special materials that are capable of withstanding high fusing temperature while producing vivid, long-lasting printed labels. These labels can also resist moisture, UV light, abrasion, and most solvents – even without lamination.
Our labels are able to portray highly accurate design and multi-level shading for superior print quality and clarity. To read descriptions of our Laser / LED label and tag materials, click here.
Ultimately, we have label materials for any and all product labeling requirements. No matter what industry or storage specifications, we make sure our labels always remain durable and maintain high quality and color-fastness.
To shop our complete list of labels and ribbons and learn more about what we offer, check out our supply store.